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Early Adopters
If an adopted or orphaned ancestor is impeding your research progress, use these 11 strategies to foster new family tree finds.

It's 1744, and a 7-year-old boy's life is about to change course. His father, a minister, has just passed away. Now he's leaving his home in Quincy, Mass., for Boston, where his uncle Thomas — one of the city's wealthiest merchants — will raise him. As Thomas' adopted son, he'll graduate from Harvard at age 17, then inherit his uncle's business after Thomas' death in 1764. Five years later, the young man will win a seat in the Massachusetts legislature, and ultimately become one of the most recognizable names in US history as a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

That boy's identity? John Hancock. And he's just one of many well-known American adoptees or orphans: Naturalist John James Audubon, author Edgar Allan Poe, singer Ella Fitzgerald and burger baron Dave Thomas are all in Hancock's company. Even two US Presidents — Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton — were adopted by their stepfathers.

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