At some point, most adoptees become curious about their birth families. Here is a “find birth parents guide” that can give suggestions on starting points. It’s a natural feeling to want to know what you, as an adoptee, have been potentially denied knowing about yourself and your history. It’s natural to wonder what your birth family is like and where members are, eventually seeking individuals out. It’s also natural to be interested in learning the basic facts but never intending to meet someone. For some adoptees, there is no desire to know anything about that biological history.
Although it’s seen as a sort of “rite of passage” in the commonly thought of adoptee experience, finding your birth family is an incredibly personal decision that is made in due time. Although this article is called a guide, there is no one specific manual for attempting to meet people that you share DNA with, but likely have no idea who you are, or haven’t seen you since you were born. It’s an incomprehensible feeling when you look into the face of someone who shares similar physical features as you but having no connection to him or her other than blood. Looking back, I would have clicked on this article thinking I was going to learn everything there is to know about searching for my birth family. Post-reunion, however, I now look back and realize what I needed more–the reality of the most awesome, infuriating, rewarding, and confusing journey of my life. Hopefully, the next few “guidelines” will help you feel more comfortable about the idea of seeking out your birth family, whether you start the journey or not.
Before we dive into the specifics, something to keep in mind is that every adoptee has a different journey towards finding his or her birth family. What worked quickly for one of us might not work quite as well for another. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to others about what was a legitimate source of information and what wasn’t. Keeping an open mind to different routes of information is one of the most important things you can do when seeking out information. I’ve found substantial clues about my family’s past through strangers who happened to know someone in passing, oddly enough.
Contributing to the diversity of the adoptee experience, there are generational gaps between journeys in the adoption community. Younger adoptees are more likely to be raised knowing information about birth families or have access to more documents than older adoptees who were born during the baby scoop era and time when birth mother privacy took priority over future curiosity. This gap makes it difficult to create one “go-to” cheat sheet for finding your birth family. Recognizing the dichotomous search experience will be important as we explore different ways to conduct a search.
Focus on the Back-End Work.
Before you jump right in and start searching, it’s important to recognize that searching for your birth family can be an arduous journey. In my case, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s incredibly personal, meaning that unless you have a close friend or family member who is adopted and has already done her search, there’s a good chance that you might have to handle many or all of the stress independently. There’s also a good chance that things are not going to go perfectly, or at least not how you expected. Starting your search by realizing and accepting this will help immensely when you do experience a setback or an obstacle.
I am a huge proponent of joining support groups, seeking out therapeutic help, and creating your own community and support system to ensure that your mental health always remains a top priority. Even if you’ve been in therapy or support groups your entire life, having that cushion before, during, and after your search, can make a world of difference in your experience.
Make sure throughout your search to periodically check in with yourself and ask, “how am I doing?” “Do I need to take a break or can I continue searching?” “Am I experiencing a lot of sadness or happiness?” “Is this intruding into my daily life? Am I stressing over things I cannot control?” Asking these sorts of questions forces you to constantly evaluate your mental health and well-being during the searching process. I cannot stress this suggestion enough–to me, it is crucial to ensure that your mental health is never in jeopardy when looking for your birth family.
Where Do I Start?
Depending on where you grew up, what year you were born in, and what type of adoption you had can all influence how you will be able to begin collecting information about your birth parents. To begin your search, start with your original birth certificate. This is the easiest place to start because the classified documents will have your birth parents’ names on it, rather than siblings or other extended family members. All adoptees have two birth certificates–a “legitimate” one with your adoptive parents’ names on it and an “original” one with your birth parents’ names on it. In most states, the original birth certificates are considered sealed records and are not available for anyone, including the adoptee, to access. The emphasis on closed records comes from the era of adoption where the protection of the birth mother’s privacy was the priority. Having a child out of wedlock or other situations that were deemed socially unacceptable were not uncommon reasons for a mother to place her child for adoption. However, as we have moved into the 21st century, social conventions have become laxer and, for the most part, the concern of ruining a woman’s reputation is no longer a major factor in adoption record keeping. Within the past decade, some states like New York and Indiana have changed this law to make it easier for adoptees to have proper access to legal documents.
If you do not have access to your original birth certificate, talk to your adoptive parents to see if your family was given the names of your birth parents on any of the adoption documents. Some legal records are given to adoptive parents to file away, but the information on the documents may not be what you need. However, states also have independent registries where birth parents or family members and adoptees can put contact information. If you are searching for someone, you can look at this registry to see if that person wishes to be contacted. Although this method is a bit outdated, it is still a good and reputable source to use at the beginning of your search.
I’ve Got Names, Now What?
Once you have the names of your birth parents, you’ve got a lot more options when it comes to where you can search. Funny enough, I started my search with Facebook. I had known the names of my birth parents since I was a child, so all I had to do was type the names into the search bar and try to find people that either looked like me or lived in the area where I grew up. Within minutes, I was able to find my birth father. While I recognize that this option isn’t feasible or possible for some adoptees, I would highly suggest using it if you’ve got the appropriate information.
Sometimes, the agency you were adopted through will have records that can be released once you reach a certain age. For example, many Catholic homes and agencies were able to give adoptees born in the 1940s and onward an information sheet the birth mother filled out prior to the birth. Contacting the hospital you were born in, the agency, and any legal staff that your adoptive or birth family may have used during the adoption process is also an option. However, this can lead to many dead ends because of the legality of upholding confidentiality.
Adoption.com, the “most-used adoption website,” has a search feature where you can look through over 400,000 different profiles of birth parents or adopted children. Posting your information on this and other websites and search registries can also increase your chances of finding your birth family. All you need to know is the year of birth and state the person resides in. If you don’t have this information, use what you’ve got and the rest can be filled in later.
The site also features a unique search tool where an adoptee can hire an “Adoption Detective.” There is a brief information sheet to fill out with basic details and why you are searching for your birth family. All of these features are free, reducing a huge burden off of the adoptee. Another option similar to this would be to hire a private detective, but this can cost hundreds of dollars which is not feasible for the average person.
How Can DNA Testing Help?
One of the biggest miracles of the adoption community occurred when DNA testing became readily available to the public and especially became available and useful for adoptees to connect and find birth family and other links. For $99, you can spit in a tube and be told your entire ethnic background, along with being matched to anyone in the world also in the database who shares your DNA. Linking yourself to other family members through your DNA profile creates a search that is not based on speculation, like other more traditional information sources can lean toward. It can also give clues and insights into personal histories and cultural connections previously unknown.
Health information can also be found through DNA testing. This is beneficial for adoptees because it allows us to learn about health risks and diseases that run in our biological family. I consider this one of the most amazing scientific advances because the majority of us don’t get a medical history. We walk into a doctor’s office and quickly disappoint them with our lack of familial health knowledge. Now, however, this stressful challenge can be averted through a simple analysis.
Ancestry and 23 & Me are two of the most popular and cost-effective methods of DNA testing. There are dozens of other companies that also provide this service, so you will not suffer from a lack of choices for the product that is right for you. Other DNA testings can be done through laboratories or other facilities. These options, while often more in-depth and thorough than mail-in kits, can take longer to process results and be much more costly. Don’t be afraid to look at different options that will work best for you and give you the information that you are looking for.
When Will I Know My Search Is Over?
While there are a few basic things that go along with searching for your birth family, there is no concrete process. The search is a continuous, lifelong process for many adoptees. You never know when you might find out new information about new family members, or even your own birth story. Of course, if you are able to track down your birth family, you would be achieving the ultimate goal of your search. However, I would implore you to not give up there. There are so many other wonderful relationships you can develop with siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more. Although it is easy to be fixated on finding your birth parents (and trust me, I was), this like any other search, can lead to a dead end. You don’t want to be disappointed if you can’t find the one person or thing you were searching for and miss out on many other opportunities to cultivate relationships with extended family. Sometimes, this can be more healing than having a relationship or even just a conversation with your birth parents.
In closing, we wish you the best of luck on your search for your birth family. We hope this article has helped you to understand the searching process better and provides you with useful information to aid you in your search.
My name is Morgan Bailee Boggess, and I am originally from Owensboro, KY, (where I was raised) and was adopted from Henderson, KY. I currently live in Lexington, KY, with my fiance, our Yorkie (Heidi), turtle (Sheldon), and a variety of saltwater fish. Beginning in 2016, I sought out and met most of my biological family. At the end of my searching, I discovered that I have, in total, 8 brothers and sisters, 20 nieces and nephews, and one godson. I graduated from Georgetown College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and am currently working towards getting my master’s in Social Work (MSW) with plans to get my Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology a few years after that. I am a psychometrist and clinical research assistant at Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky. My research focus is looking at how forms of complex trauma (particularly intergenerational) affects the cognition in older adults. In my spare time, I write and read spoken word poetry at events to help benefit local nonprofits. I am also involved with several national diversity organizations and serve on the Board of Directors for Adoptees Connect, Inc.