Obtaining records in a closed adoption can be a tricky and time-consuming process. However, for adoptees, having that information about their first family is priceless. If you are trying to obtain closed adoption records for yourself or your child, here are a few things you should know.

First, every state is different in terms of what the laws are surrounding the release of closed adoption records. And every state has its own procedure for how you need to go about obtaining records from a closed adoption. Some states make it easier than others, but all states have some documentation about the process on their state website, usually on the “bureau of records” or “vital records” department page. This is the same department you would contact to get a marriage license. This is how you would obtain an original birth certificate if it has been sealed.

Generally, in order to obtain the original birth certificate, you need to either be the child or one of the parents listed on the certificate—so adoptive parents cannot get the records. Also, you generally need to be 18 years of age. Some states will release the birth certificate automatically if you fill out the forms and follow the correct procedures, but some states make an attempt to contact the biological parents to see if they want their information released. Occasionally, a state will deny someone’s request, and in this case, your best ally is your state representative for your voting district. A call or email to their office can help get the process expedited or get a denial overturned in many cases.

The second thing you should know is that sometimes you have to think a bit outside the box. Most people would assume a birth certificate would be the best way to obtain information in a closed adoption, but often the agency or lawyer used for the adoption also has information filed away. Generally, they will make an attempt to contact the individuals whose information you are looking for and gain their consent to have the info released to you. Oftentimes this is an easy process, sometimes, in the case of an adoption that was completed many years ago or an international adoption, those records might be harder to find.

Third, the internet is your friend! There are numerous online adoption reunion registries where birth parents and adoptees searching for information can register. There are also adoption reunion Facebook groups as well. If you have even the slightest bit of information—like a name and approximate age—you might be able to find the person you are looking for with a quick Google search or a search on Facebook. Another internet resource is websites that aggregate DNA information like Ancestry.com or 23andMe. If you do one of their DNA kits, and one of your birth relatives has also done a kit, they will pop up in your results as a relative. It might not be the person you are looking for but they might have information that could be useful to you.

Whatever you do, be persistent. Some people go as far as to hire private investigators because their desire to connect with their birth family is so great. For adoptees, not having any information about who created you is a very lonely feeling. There are also practical considerations—like learning about medical conditions you might need to watch out for. Even if you have to knock on more than a few doors to get the information you are looking for, if you are truly interested in making that connection, you will do whatever you can. No one likes to live with regrets and none of us know how long a life we will have. If you have any interest in finding information that might be in a closed adoption record, there’s no better time to start your journey than right now.

Julianna Mendelsohn lives in sunny South Florida where, odds are, it is hot enough right now that she’s sweating just a little, no matter what she’s doing. She is the brains, brawn, blood, sweat, and tears behind The Adoption Mentor and is thrilled to be able to help others build their families through adoption. She is a former elementary school teacher, current MS in school counseling student, Sephora junkie, and the momma via domestic adoption to one lovely daughter.