Author: Sarah Harris

Senior Analyst, Records and Archives

Over the last 18 months, PROV has been working extensively with Births Deaths and Marriages (BDM) to transfer previously undescribed adoption records from various courts across Victoria to our collection. Since the beginning of the project, over 9000 adoption case files and court registers have been diligently processed, described, documented, and accessioned into PROV’s archival collection, allowing the records to be easily searchable so that BDM, the County Court, and the Adoption Information Service can provide accurate information and prompt services to Victorians. These records are closed to the public under section 9 of the Public Records Act 1973 to protect the privacy of the individuals described in the records, however eligible people may access information through the Adoption Information Service.

Records transferred include those from the Court of Petty Sessions, County Court and Supreme Court of Victoria

court house
VPRS 10516/P0001, Bairnsdale Court House

They come from all over the state, including Melbourne, regional centres such as Ballarat, Shepparton, and Warrnambool, and around 80 other towns throughout country Victoria. 

Adoption case files created by courts generally include adoption orders and/or certificates, affidavits, birth certificates and other identification documents, summonses, guardian’s or biological parent’s consent, memoranda and other related correspondence, and medical reports of the child. Court registers usually include summary information about the case and hearing, as well as the child and the adopting parent(s).

Bringing the records together

Adoption is a deeply personal experience for all those involved and has a significant impact on people’s lives and identities. Since the passing of Victoria’s first Adoption legislation in 1928, it is estimated that around 64,000 Victorians have been adopted. Many records documenting these adoptions were either undescribed or incorrectly described in aging databases, while the records themselves were stored in various courthouses and storage facilities throughout the state, making access to information difficult for those born in regional areas.

This transfer project has been made possible thanks to many hours of hard work by staff from BDM, who have described each record with names and dates, sorted bundles of confusingly numbered files, researched each case to ensure all data available is accurate, and provided updated descriptive metadata to records already in PROV custody. The project has also been made possible by the assistance from the County Court of Victoria, who visited regional courthouses to collect adoption records on behalf of BDM. 

Additional records transferred under Adoption Acts

In addition to the transfer project led by BDM, the County Court of Victoria and Supreme Court of Victoria have also recently transferred adoption records under their own jurisdiction. Under the Adoption Act 1984, the County Court is responsible for a vast majority of case records created from 1 January 1989. The County Court has recently completed two projects with PROV to transfer adoption case files dated up to 2020, which included cases heard in Melbourne as well as the County Court’s past and present regional circuit locations. The Supreme Court has also recently completed a number of projects with PROV to transfer records related to interstate and international adoptions. Interstate adoptions were first legislated in Victoria by the Adoption of Children Amending Act 1942, which permitted the state to make reciprocal agreements with other Australian state authorities. These first agreements were included in the transfer projects and are available for public inspection. The records can be found in VPRS 19745 Interstate Adoption Reciprocal Agreements

PROV wishes to thank the records managers and archivists at BDM, County Court of Victoria and Supreme Court of Victoria, as now around 95 per cent of Adoption Case Files generated by the courts are preserved in PROV’s collection.

What’s next?

This work is set to continue as more records are identified and collected from regional centres. Work on describing and processing the next group of records has already begun as further records from the Mildura and Maryborough regions have been collected for processing.

Cases files documenting the dispensation and revocation of consent of parents and guardians from the County Court in Melbourne are also amongst the next group of records scheduled to be transferred. Having these records adequately documented and described will be vital to those impacted by practices of forced adoption as they seek information and reparations through the Historical Forced Adoption Redress Scheme and the Stolen Generations Reparations Package.

More information about adoption records in our collection

Can be found on our Adoption, Ward of State and Care Leaver Records topic page
Looking for information on births, deaths and marriages? Contact BDM directly. 


Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

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