Until 1921 adoptions were arranged privately and records are difficult, if not impossible, to locate. There was no central repository and in many cases no official record was kept.
In 1921 Ontario passed the Adoption Act which introduced strict guidelines that governed the disclosure of information about the adoption. Additional guidelines introduced in 1927 required that adoptions be sealed and placed under the jurisdiction of the Registrar General.
This made it so neither birth families nor the adoptee could obtain a copy of the adoption record. Society at that time felt that children born to unwed parents would be better off being placed for adoption, and that these adoptees would be uninterested in knowing their birth families.
Secrecy around adoption lasted for decades and the only way an adoptee could learn about their birth family was if their adoptive parents had the information. Then, in the late 1980's, it was made possible for adoptees to gain access to their original adoption order. At this time the Ministry of Social Services created the Adoption Disclosure Registry
allowing adoptees and birth relatives to register in the hopes of making a match.
The Access to Adoption Records Act was passed in 2008 opening the records to both adoptees and birth relatives. Adoptions prior to 1 Sep 2008 allow a disclosure veto for those who don't wish to be contacted or would like restrictions on the method of contact. Adoptions after 1 Sep 2008 are open but either party can file a 'no contact notice' if a reunion isn't desired.
If an adoptee was born in Ontario there are two types of information available: Identifying Information includes adoptee's birth and adoptive names, date and place of birth, names of birth and adoptive parents. This information can be requested by adoptees over the age of 18 or birth parents if the adoptee is over the age of 19.Non-Identifying Information includes the date of adoption, the name of the adoption agency, the birth family's social or medical history, and an overview of the care the adoptee received prior to adoption. This information can be requested by adoptees over the age of 18 (or those under 18 with their adoptive parent's consent), adoptive parents, birth parents, birth grandparents, birth siblings, and children of deceased adoptees.
If an adoptee was born outside Ontario, but adopted in Ontario, the adoptee can receive identifying or non-identifying information but it will not include their birth registration. Birth parents of adoptees born outside Ontario cannot obtain identifying information, they can however register with the Adoption Disclosure Registry.
The Adoption Dislosure Registry is open to adoptees over the age of 18, birth parents and some birth relatives (such as siblings and grandparents).
When someone registers their application is entered into the registry. If another application matches the information provided the ADR will contact both parties and guide them towards reunification. Matches can happen within a few months or may take a few years, it's all dependent on when the matching application is added to the registry.
For those with severe medical conditions it's also possible to apply for a 'severe medical search' making it possible for adoptees and birth families to share critical medical information. Adoptees, adoptive parents, children of adoptees, birth families, legal representative, and some relatives of deceased adoptees can apply.
Regardless of the year or circumstance, Ontario adoption records cannot be searched online.