Adoption was unknown at common law. Modern statutes permitting adoption are largely derived from Roman ideas, which were introduced into this country first through the civil law of Louisiana and later by statutes, beginning with Massachusetts in 1851.

Under the English common law, the only persons capable of inheriting property were blood relations of the deceased. On the other hand, most modern adoption statutes permit inheritance by adopted children equally with natural children. Adoption being purely statutory, the early cases denied the right of inheritance by supposedly adopted children when the statute was not strictly followed. Though still purporting to require strict compliance with the adoption statutes, equity has evolved a remedy during the last sixty years which, in effect, allows a supposedly adopted child to claim the property of the deceased. This remedy is a decree of specific performance of a contract to adopt.