The search and reunion process can be a highly emotional and oftentimes overwhelming process to start. Many families do not know where to begin or how to best support their children when they want to find their birth families. This can become even more complicated when the child has been adopted internationally, though it doesn’t have to be. Knowing the resources and options you have can be incredibly beneficial as you begin your international search.

Start with Your Adoption Service Provider

Going to the adoption agency or attorney you used to help facilitate your child’s adoption can be the best first step. Asking them for any details or records pertaining to your original dossier or the orphanage can be incredibly helpful. The U.S. agency should be able to share the name and location of the agency or orphanage abroad and, perhaps, the names of caregivers, attorneys, or others involved in the placement or adoption. The agency may provide specific information on the names, dates, and places that will be crucial to your search. Your adoption agency may be able to offer some biographical information on your child’s birth mother or family, medical history, or even circumstances regarding the adoption. Some agencies currently provide search services in the country from which your child was adopted.

Hire a Translator

Recognizing the need for professionals to help with your search early on can save a great deal of time as the process continues. Contacting a translator after gathering all the information you have from the adoption agency or attorney can be very helpful as you navigate original documents or individuals in your child’s country of origin.

Hire a Private Investigator

Oftentimes the best next step after you have gathered all the information you can is to hire a private investigator who specializes in adoption search and reunion. Private investigators are extremely skilled in digital research. They can take the information regarding your child’s adoption and find those individuals you need to meet with in your child’s country of origin. A private investigator can save you thousands of dollars and hours by finding you the exact information you need. They may recommend a researcher in that country who can complete the search. Be sure the investigator does a thorough trust and safety check on all individuals you choose to work with to ensure they are competent and ethical. Always do this prior to paying any individual who may help with the search.

Private investigators are licensed in the United States but not necessarily in every country, so it’s critical that you have them do extensive research on anyone you plan to hire or meet with. Private investigators can also help you access an original birth certificate from your country of birth, as many other countries do not seal such records.

Travel to the Country of Origin

Many individuals find it most helpful to travel to their child’s country of origin, even if the child has not been connected to his or her birth family. Your child’s foster family or caretakers can be helpful in getting more answers, with the help of your vetted translator or in-country searcher. Deciding on when to visit in the process can be a difficult decision based on resources, finances, and timing. You may want to wait until the search has produced credible leads before you and your child make the journey.

Using DNA

Once you meet, are connect to, or the private investigator or in-country searcher has located your child’s birth relatives, you should consider using DNA testing to ensure they are actual biological family members. Some individuals choose to meet potential relatives first and then do the testing. Others choose to have them test before travel. Some people also choose to use easy, inexpensive DNA testing as the first step in their search process. By doing so, they may be connected to biological family members through the extensive global database of participants.

The search and reunion process can be daunting and stressful for anyone looking for their biological relatives. It can be especially difficult for those trying to find birth family abroad. But you and your child are not alone. There are many support groups, blogs, and message boards that can offer support and resources to help you through the process.

For a comprehensive adoption search and reunion guide, visit

Jennifer Mellon is the co-founder and president of Trustify, providing private investigators on demand to consumers and businesses. She has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving as the executive director and chief development officer at Joint Council on International Children’s Services. She also worked for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) and served on the board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro region. She currently serves on the development board for the National Council for Adoption and currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and five children.