His Name Is John Johnson

I searched in vain for the birth of my great-grandfather, John Johnson born circa 1866, who appeared on the 1881 Census with his parents, Mary and John Johnson. I then found his father, also John Johnson, on the 1871 Census living with his housekeeper, a widow named Mary Coshman, and her son, John, whose age fits with my great-grandfather. Does this mean that John Johnson senior married his housekeeper and adopted her son? Where would an official record of the adoption be found? Anthony Kopf-Johnson Ontario, Canada

I Adoption in the modern sense did not take place in England and Wales until 1927 when the Adoption Act came into force. Before this, any formal agreement would have required a legal document making the child the property of the adoptive parent. This was rare, however, and expensive, so most adoptions were informal undertakings of parental responsibility. With mortality rates high, many children were supported by stepfathers and it would have been more acceptable for John to have the same surname as his mother, her husband and his younger siblings.

I suggest that you search for the marriage records of John Johnson to Mary Coshman and John Johnson or Coshman to his wife Rosetta, who he appears with on the 1891 Census for Gravesend - his late father may be named on the certificate. Sometimes probate records name someone as an adopted child, but as John's stepfather was a basket maker he is unlikely to have left a will. KB

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