Not every adoptee wants to search for their birth families–and that’s fine. But others are very interested in knowing more about where they came from. As we transition out of an era in which closed adoptions and closed adoption records were the norm, these answers are not always readily available. So here’s what you need to know about searching for–and reuniting with–your birth family. (Please note: this article was written primarily with adoptees in mind, but the principles can also apply to birth families searching for adoptees as well.)
1. Searching isn’t a rejection of the family you have now.
“Why would you search for your birth family when you’ve got a perfectly good family already?”
When considering an adoption search, adoptees often get asked something along these lines. It’s a question you might have asked yourself. More painfully, it’s a question your (adoptive) parents might have asked.
But the truth is, the adoption search often has nothing to do with whether or not you had a happy childhood or a good relationship with your parents. Adoptees search for birth family for a variety of reasons. These might include:
- Curiosity (Why was I placed for adoption? What is my ethnicity? Do I have biological siblings? Is there anyone out there who looks like me?)
- Need to know more about their family medical history.
- Desire to let birth parents know that they are doing well, and to say thank you.
- Interest in the well-being of their birth parents.
- A sense that “something is missing” and an interest in making a connection with biological relatives. (People who were not raised outside of their biological families often have difficulty understanding this one . . . but it’s a real thing!)
If you’re concerned about how your parents will feel about you searching for your birth family, approach them gently. Reassure them that you will always love them and that they will always be your mom and dad. Show them this article and other articles explaining the reasons behind a person’s desire to know more about their biological roots.
2. It’s important to be in a good place emotionally before you begin searching.
Going in, you should be honest with yourself about your reasons for searching. If you’re expecting an adoption reunion to heal all of your emotional hurts, you should prepare to be disappointed. You should not put the burden of your own healing on the shoulders of another person–not only is that an ineffective way to achieve inner peace, it is also likely to drive them away.
Many people are afraid to search–or reach out to birth parents once the search has been successful–because they are afraid of either being rejected or creating a disturbance in the life of the found person. While this is a possibility, polls have shown that the majority of birth parents DO want to be found.
Every successful adoption search ends in an adoption reunion. This is something to prepare yourself for. It may be wonderful. It may be painful. Likely, it will be something in between those two extremes. That said, many people who have reunited with birth family have said that–regardless of the outcome of their search–they were grateful to have found some answers and gained a sense of closure regarding that portion of their life.
As you prepare to make contact with birth family, make sure you have a good support system in place. You may also want to read about others’ experiences with reunion and connect with a supportive online community of people who have been there or who are also searching.
3. Searching for birth family will make you feel like a super sleuth.
You will never feel more like a detective in your life than you will while hunting down birth family.
Like any good detective, you’ll have to begin your search by gathering all the clues you can. You’ll want to keep a record of everything you find out along the way, whether or not it seems useful at the time. A simple notebook or computer document will do–just keep everything together so you can refer back to it as needed.
Begin by finding out as much information as you can about your birth and placement. Your (adoptive) parents may be a great source of information. Other family members–aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings–who were around when you were adopted may also have information that will be helpful to you.
Some foundational information to begin with includes:
– Your birth name
– The city and state of your birth
– Your birth date
– The hospital you were born at
– The adoption agency that facilitated your placement
– Any maternity homes that might have been involved
– Birth parent names, if available, or descriptions
The adoption agency involved with your placement will be a key place to begin. Some agencies allow birth parents to leave contact information for placed children who have turned 18. Others should be able to provide you with non-identifying information about your birth parents.
Then you’ll need to follow these clues wherever they may lead. Once you have some foundational information, you’ll need to start digging deeper, searching through directories, social media sites, yearbooks, phone books, and genealogy websites.
4. You’ll want to make sure to register your search.
There are adoption search registries that you can sign up for to help aid in your search. These registries allow you and anyone searching for you (typically birth parents or siblings) to enter in information about your birth and adoption–dates, names, hospitals, adoption agencies, etc.
If the people you’re seeking are also signed up for these registries, you’ll be able to make a connection. Two of the most popular adoption registries online are the Adoption.com Reunion Registry and the International Soundex Reunion Registry. Many states also have official registries that you should sign up for as well.
5. Angels can help you with your search.
Adoption search angels, that is. Adoption search angels are volunteers who help people searching for birth family or a child they placed for adoption. If all this sleuthing seems a little bit intimidating to you, a search angel will be able to help you figure out the process and help you with your search. Or if you’ve hit a wall in your search, a search angel may be able to help you look down different avenues.
You can find a search angel through by poking around online or in some social media groups. One you’ve connected with an angel, do proceed with caution. Do not provide a search angel with sensitive financial information, credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc–basically, no information that you wouldn’t be willing to post online. Also, remember that search angels are volunteers and should generally not ask for payment beyond reimbursements for any expenses they may incur in the process.
6. Accessing your original birth certificate (OBC) might be the easiest way to find your birth parents.
Your OBC is the birth certificate issued with your birth parents’ names on it, along with the name they may have chosen for you. After an adoption is finalized, this birth certificate is replaced with one that lists the adoptive parents’ names and the name they chose for the child, and the original birth certificate is placed in a “sealed” file in the state’s Vital Records department.
The good news is, if you were born in Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, or Rhode Island, you should be able to access your adoption records, including your OBC. Many of these states also allow birth parents to submit a contact preference form to be provided along with the OBC. These contact preference forms can include a medical history and contact information if the birth parent marked that they would like to be contacted.
The bad news is, not all states allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Many of these states do provide alternate ways to find information about your birth and adoption, however, including confidential intermediaries and state-sponsored registries.
For more information about your state’s OBC access laws, visit the Adoptee Rights Coalition. This website also provides information about any grassroots efforts that may be underway in your state to open adoption records to adult adoptees. If there isn’t anything like that going on in your state, perhaps you could get one started and be the one to make a difference!
7. Social media can simplify your search.
There are so many ways that social media can help in your adoption search. The first–and most obvious–is that if you have a name, you may be able to find the person you’re looking for through their online profile. You can even send the person a private message request before trying for an official “friending.” If you send a message without being someone’s “Friend” remember their privacy settings might send your message into an “other” folder and they will not be notified unless they check that folder.
The second use of social media is one you’ve likely seen. Some people have taken to social media with the message that they’re searching for their birth families. Typically the way this goes is this: an adoptee will post a picture of him/herself holding a sign describing the information they know about their birth and adoption and stating that they’re interested in finding their birth mother. Doing this is not something everyone feels comfortable with, but this method can work–there are success stories out there– though there are no statistics available on how often it does succeed.
Taking this one step further, some people have had success in “going public” with their stories–reaching out to newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations with their stories in the hopes that someone (birth family or at least someone with more information) might hear about their search and contact them.
8. DNA testing might be the key to unlocking your past.
More and more adoption reunions are coming to pass thanks to the modern wonder of genetic testing. This is how it works: You submit a DNA test kit to a company that completes genetic testing. With your results, you’ll receive the names of close relatives (siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins) and more distant relatives (second cousins and beyond) who have also completed testing and provided consent to have their names provided to relatives. Most companies have a way for you to contact these people through the company, so that contact information is kept private.
These are the major DNA Databases, listed in order of size:
DNA Testing Adviser is a website that provides useful information about how to use your DNA testing results to find your birth parents.
9. You might want to hire a professional.
“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.”–Ziad K. Abdlenour
If you hit a dead-end in your adoption search, or simply feel like you don’t have time to put into searching, you may want to hire an adoption search professional to help you find your birth relatives. A private investigator–especially one who specializes in adoptions–has experience and access to resources that can help make your adoption search a successful one.