Though I’m not adopted myself, I’ve been blessed to have many adult adoptees in my life who have shared their stories with me. These are stories that I’ve been honored to share with others and stories that have inspired and educated me to know how to support my daughter should this be a journey that she decides to embark on one day.
People have their own reasons for finding their biological parents and family members. Whether it be to connect with family, to learn more about their heritage, to get answers they feel they need, or to get genetic information for a better understanding of medical background, many adult adoptees seek to find their birth parents and biological siblings later in life.
If you’re one of those people interested in this search, here are some ideas and information to get you started!
Beginning Your Search: Where Do You Begin?
You’ve likely thought about finding your birth parents and other biological family members for a long time—perhaps, your whole life, so it makes sense that you might be eager to find a quick way to locate them.
The reality is that searching for your biological family members can take a long time, and there are many routes to find them.
- Start with the Information That You Have. Likely your parents have some details that they can share with you. They potentially have names, but there is a high chance that they don’t. For instance, when we adopted our daughter, we were given her birth mother’s first name only. We literally just have that information, the agency we used, and the hospital where she was born as well as the date she was born. Remember, depending on the time you were born, there may be less or more information available to you.
- Never Underestimate the Internet. If you have names, Facebook and Google may help you find who you’re looking for. Though it’s not likely to be that simple, you never know unless you give it a try. Remember though that Facebook is a no-going-back situation if you contact someone. They then have your information as well, so consider making your page private if you decide to search and do outreach that way.
- Reach Out to Adoption Agencies, Hospitals, and Pull Public Records. You can likely access your birth certificate, and in some cases, get information from the hospital where you were born (but know that that’s a long shot due to privacy laws). If you are able to find the agency that your parents used, you may be able to find more information. Some agencies do have contact information that they are able to share, or they could reach out to your birth family on your behalf if they do have information. Again, depending on when you were adopted/born makes all of the difference. People adopted in the 1950s-1970s may find the agencies have closed, information has been long gone, and there are no existing records. Unfortunately, during this time, making an adoption plan was sometimes considered shameful, and a lot of information was hidden or not recorded accurately.
- Call a Reunification Specialist or a Genealogist. I know several individuals who reached out to genealogists and reunification specialists (there is likely someone who specializes in reunification at a local adoption agency) to help guide them on their search.
If you don’t have the names of your biological parents, here are some tips to help with the process.
DNA Testing: The Pros and the Cons
With the popularity of DNA tests like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, more and more individuals have used these sites to try to find birth parents and other biological family members. Though I’ve heard (and have shared on this very site) success stories, there are also countless individuals that haven’t been successful in finding a familiar match on these sites.
The Pros of DNA Testing
- Understanding Your Medical History. Many adult adoptees lack basic knowledge about their medical history. Even if you don’t find biological family members, many of these tests can help you understand what diseases may run in your genetic history. GeneSight is a DNA test that can help you understand if the medications you’re taking will work well for you. Though you may not have set out to understand your medical history more, this is an added pro that would be beneficial if you have biological children as well.
- Having a Better Sense of Self. Many adult adoptees that I’ve spoken to noted some other findings that they liked. Whether it was overlapping areas in the world with their adoptive families or just having a better idea of where they genetically came from, these adults liked having control over information and knowing more about themselves.
- Finding Biological Family Members. Though I only know one person who found her birth mother directly on one of these sites, many people have found cousins, siblings, and other distant relatives from these sites. Some have connected with them and stayed in touch, even traveling to meet and continue to visit one another. (I have two good friends who found siblings on these sites that they didn’t even know they had!)
The Cons of DNA Testing
- Not Finding What You’re Looking For. The reality is for you to find a familiar match, someone that is biologically linked to you has to already have taken the test. If no one has, you’re not going to find a match. Additionally, though you may have a match, there is always the chance that that person has passed away, or in some instances, doesn’t have a desire to connect with you. It is important to be aware that both of these are a possibility and to prepare yourself as best as you can if the outcome of the test is not what you had hoped for.
- Finding Out Something You Didn’t Want to Know. Remember, once you take the test and log on to these sites, you are not in control of what information you receive. It might not all be happy and transformational.
- It Does Cost Money. These tests do cost money. Though they do run specials typically around the holidays, this still may be out of your price range, or you may be apprehensive about investing money with no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for. (If cost is a concern for you, here are some ways to search for your biological parents for free.)
Overall, many people have had success with DNA testing, and in many instances, it was the only way that they found the information that they were after. If it’s something you’ve considered or if you have exhausted all other avenues, it might be time to do your research and choose the test that might benefit you the most.
If you’re still on the fence about DNA testing, you can read more about how it might help you here.
For even more information about DNA and adoption, click here. (I highly suggest you read this as there are some great stories of people connecting with biological families, and they explain how they did it!)
Understanding the Journey: Not All Stories Are the Same
One of the hardest things I’ve witnessed as I’ve walked with people on this journey is that many hold on to the hope that their story will be like another that they’ve heard.
Major news outlets tend to highlight reunification stories that are wonderful. Birth mothers who are reunited with their biological children. Children who find their parents when they’re adults and go on to form lasting bonds. This isn’t everyone’s story. I’m not saying that it won’t be your story, but there is always the chance that it won’t be.
This story is one that was shared with me by an adult adoptee. It is about a woman who was conceived out of a rape. She found out this information when she met her birth mother after she took a DNA test and had a successful familiar match. Though her story is still very positive, it is something to consider.
Not all stories have fairy-tale endings like the ones typically picked up by media outlets. And in some cases, there isn’t a sad or emotional ending either. There just might be no information that you can find. This is a journey and an emotional outcome in itself. Some people can’t be found, and some people don’t want to be found.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t search and hope and try if it’s something you want to do. It’s just a reminder to guard your heart, your emotions, and be careful with who you trust and what information you access.
Finding the Support You Need As You Search for Your Biological Family
I’ve met and spent time with many people who are searching for birth parents and biological family members. They’ve all needed support.
- Find a Friend Who Will Listen and Help Keep You Grounded. I feel like a Debby Downer here, but not everything will be wonderful on this journey. You need a good friend who will listen to you, guide you, and bring you back down when you’ve gone too far into a fantasy that may or may not exist. We need these people in all walks of life, but having a support system is particularly important in this aspect as you may not find the answers you need, may find out information you need to talk through, and you may need someone’s hand to hold if you arrange a meeting with biological family members. You’ll need someone to share in your triumphs and hang out with you when you need a hug.
- Look into Counseling Should You Need It. Adoption, in general, brings up complex emotions, feelings, and memories. If you seek reunification information at an adoption agency, you might also ask about counseling, or you may need to find time to chat with a social worker. No matter the outcome, you’re bound to interact with some new feelings, and you might need a professional to help you walk through them.
- Find Other Adult Adoptees Who Are Going or Have Gone Through This Process. Your friends and your family can be there for you and likely will be there for you. But, like anything, if people don’t have your same lived experiences, they can’t always understand everything. Search for an online board with other adult adoptees or ask local agencies if there are support groups or other people you can be connected with.
- Understand That There Are Certain Individuals Who May NOT Be Supportive. I know a few individuals whose families were not supportive. This came from their own feelings of not understanding why someone would search for a family when they had one. This is less likely to happen today than generations past, but having the ability to explain why you want to look is helpful in getting naysayers to understand your point. As an adoptive parent, I will be supportive if my daughter chooses this, but I do know that for many who don’t understand and haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to these situations, it may cause some distress.
Remember, This Is Your Decision, No One Else’s
As mentioned previously, there may be people that don’t agree with what you’re doing and may not understand your desire to meet biological family members. (Note that this doesn’t make them bad people. It makes them people with different experiences.)
If you’re interested in finding your biological parents, start with the information that you know, never underestimate the ability of a good Google search, and seek help from adoption and genealogy professionals.
Looking for an inspiring story about an adult adoptee finding her biological family? Read Kathy’s Story here.
Finding your birth parents may not be what you expect and may not be as life-altering as the media has led you to believe. Here is a great real-life story about that experience.
If you’re ready to start the search for biological parents and other family members, click here.
Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.