There are many reasons an adoptee may want to find their biological parents. One of the most important reasons is medical history because it may be completely unknown to the adoptive family. Is there a history of heart disease, allergies, or certain cancers? Filling out necessary medical forms can become difficult when you aren’t quite sure what may or may not have been inherited.
There are other reasons as well. Learning about the heritage and history of your roots can shed light onto how you have come to be where (and who) you are. Perhaps you have questions about your adoption story. Why did your birth mother choose adoption in the first place? What was her life like at the time? Who was your birth father? What were the circumstances surrounding your placement? Does her family know about the adoption? Do you have biological siblings or relatives out there who may be eager to meet you? Perhaps finding your biological family will help you to find that missing piece, or even just bring some much needed emotional closure.
Whatever your questions or reasons may be, finding your birth mother can prove to be a stressful journey if you don’t have much information, or if your adoption occurred in a state with sealed records. Here you will find information on various ways people have found their birth parents. Hopefully, these suggestions will be helpful steps toward the answers you seek.
Start With Information You May Already Have
If you are considering searching for your birth family, it may help to gather any information that is readily available to you. Are your adoptive parents aware of your desire to search? They may have information, such as the name of your birth parents, the hospital or city in which you were born, the details surrounding your adoption, or the agency or attorney who aided in the adoption process. Family members or friends who were close to the family at the time of your adoption may be able to offer some insight as well.
Some adoptees worry that the desire to search for their birth family may come off as hurtful or disappointing to their adoptive parents. If you feel this way, consider making a list of the reasons you would like to find your biological family while reassuring your adoptive parents that they are amazing parents and no one will ever take their place. If your adoptive parents are open and eager to help in your search, then that’s wonderful! Any information they can provide will be very helpful. If your adoptive parents have passed away, or if you choose not to include them in your search, contacting the adoption agency or seeking state records may be the best place to start.
Access to State Adoption Records
According to ChildWelfare.gov, adoption records in most states become sealed and unavailable to the general public once the adoption has been finalized. This is done to protect the privacy of the families and individuals involved. However, some of this information (both identifying and non-identifying) can be accessed by the parties included in the adoption without violating the interests of others involved. To locate the statute information for a specific state, click here.
Non-identifying information is typically provided to adoptive parents at the time of the adoption. This type of information includes details such as the birth date and place of the adopted person’s birth, the age of the birth parents at the time of placement as well as a general physical description (race, ethnicity, hair color, eye color, etc.). Sometimes, even religious preference and medical history are included. These records may or may not include the reason given for placing the child for adoption and a list of any other children who have already been born to either birth parent. Each state in the U.S. has laws allowing the parents of an adopted person who is still a minor to access this non-identifying information. Once the adopted person turns 18, these records may be requested of their own volition. It should be noted, however, that only 26 states in the US offer this non-identifying information to birth parents, and only 15 states offer this information to birth siblings.
Identifying information records contain factors that may lead to the actual identification of biological families, adoptive families, and adopted persons. This type of information may include full names, addresses, birth dates, and even employment records. While these records can be extremely beneficial in locating biological parents, they are a bit more difficult to obtain. Consent is needed from the person whose records are being released in a majority of states. If that consent is not on file, a court order must be filed claiming a good reason for obtaining the information. While most states only allow these court orders to be filed by birth parents or adopted persons, 37 states allow birth siblings to make requests as well. In certain states (Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas), the adopted person is required to attend counseling prior to receiving this identifying information so that they may fully understand the consequences that may come with searching and reconnecting with their biological parents.
When a child is born, an original birth certificate is issued to the birth mother. This certificate contains the birth parents’ information as well as the name they choose for the child. It then becomes a sealed record, protected by the state registrar of vital records. A new birth certificate is created with the information of the adopting parents and quite often, a new name. In approximately 25 states, a court order is necessary to receive this original birth certificate. These laws are evolving and changing. In many states, it is becoming easier for adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.
If you would like to locate information for a state agency that can help with accessing your adoption records, you can find a listing in the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s national foster care and adoption directory. From there, search under Accessing Adoption Records. This website also contains an adoption search and reunion section that contains more information on searching for birth relatives. You may also visit the International Soundex Reunion Registry website which offers a free mutual consent registry for those seeking to find birth relatives.
Adoption Reunion Registries
Soundex isn’t the only reunion registry out there. With the popularity of the internet, registries can be found in a plethora of places. While you may not want to spread your personal information all over the internet, there are a few trustworthy sites worth trying out.
The Adoption Registry on Adoption.com currently boasts 427,732 adoption reunion profiles. This is a great place to start. With Adoption.com being one of the most highly-visited adoption websites out there, perhaps your birth family has already created a listing. If not, perhaps they will come across your listing. There are simple search options to narrow down results. You may search by the adopted person’s date and place of birth and their gender. Here you will also find lots of helpful advice in a “Search and Reunion Guide.” This guide offers reasons why a person may choose to search, fears or emotions that may surface when considering searching, and other information that may help you at the beginning of your reunion journey. There are also forums where you can speak with others who are experiencing similar situations. It is always helpful to feel that someone else can identify with you. You are never alone in your searching, there are many others out there who are searching and reuniting as well.
If you already have some information about your birth family (such as name, age, and location), finding your birth parents may be as simple as typing their information into a Facebook search. However, given that there are many people with the same name (possibly even around the same age or living nearby), this form of searching can lead to a lot of dead ends or even more questions. If you do happen to find someone who meets the description, can you be sure that it is really a relative? Even if you reach out to them, will they be truthful? The last thing you would want is to get scammed by someone claiming to be a blood relative. If you do happen to find a sure match, ask yourself what might be the best way to reach out to them. Do you find it impersonal to introduce yourself or ask adoption-related questions via an internet message? Or does it seem easier for you to reach out this way than with a handwritten letter, phone call, or face-to-face visit? Every situation is different, and it is up to you to make the final decision on what works for you personally.
You may have seen viral videos or photos of adult adoptees or of birth parents turning to social media in hopes of finding their biological family members. Often, these videos and photos contain the date and location of birth, and sometimes the adoption agency or attorney used in the adoption. While this may seem like a quick and easy way to get your name and face out there in the general public, proceed with caution. While some people MAY find their birth families in this way, the possibility is also very real that they will be contacted by scam artists or others who are not actually related to them.
There are many social media groups dedicated to search and reunion where you can find more information, hear stories from those in the midst of searching/reuniting, and express questions or concerns you may have about the process. While you may not find your birth family in this group, you may very well find a supportive friend or a good lead in the right direction.
Search Angels is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping adoptees find their roots. Volunteers for this organization are all touched by adoption in some way, and they utilize their skills in genetic genealogy and traditional search methods. This website has over 10,000 visitors per month, with up to 85 percent of those being first-time visitors. The search for roots is real and strong.
According to their website, in the United States alone, there have been approximately 77,000 adoptions per year for the past 70 years. Search Angels helps to put the puzzle pieces together so that adoptees have a better chance of a successful search and accurate search results. There is absolutely no fee for their basic adoptee search. The website runs on donations so that they may offer these services at no cost for their users. There are typically about 50 cases open at any given time, and volunteers work to complete these cases in the order they are received. If you would prefer that your case receives higher priority or quicker results, you do have the option to upgrade your search and subscription options for a fee. In a typical case, a birth parent’s information is found within a year. This contains autosomal DNA testing, some non-identifying information, as well as some background information.
Ancestry Websites & DNA Testing
By now, you have most likely seen advertisements for companies offering genetic testing for various reasons. A majority of people use this testing as a way to find their ethnicity percentages, but a growing number of people are beginning to discover possible family members in the same way. AncestryDNA offers one of the most popular of these genetic testing kits. For $99, they will send you a small vial which you are to fill with your saliva and return to them. From there, you will receive a report detailing your most likely geographic origins as well as identifying possible relatives who have also taken the test.
While this is a long shot, the Ancestry.com general website can provide some good information if you have basic details to start with. If you know any names, dates, or locations, you can begin to search for members of your biological family tree. Basic membership is free but can be upgraded for a price. There are other genealogy websites available online. Your local library may also contain archives of public records. While perusing them may take a considerable amount of time, you may find the match you are looking for.
If you do find your birth family, what do you do next? Once you have more information, it is up to you to decide how to proceed. Are they living? If so, do you want to reach out to them? If they are deceased, do you want to reach out to their extended families? If you do decide to reach out, how will you do it? Social media, handwritten letter, contact through the agency/attorney, a phone call, etc? What will you say? Are you prepared for the chance of joyous reunion or possible rejection? What type of lifestyle is your biological family currently living? It may be similar to or very different from your own. What are you hoping to gain through reunion—basic information or forming a relationship? There is a lot to consider. Counseling can be helpful in working out all of these questions and in preparing you emotionally for any outcome. If counseling isn’t an option for you, perhaps some quiet reflection, writing down questions/concerns, or discussions with the supportive people in your life can be helpful. If you have reached the place in your life where you are ready to begin your search, I wish you luck, love, happiness, and most of all—the answers you seek.
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Leslie Bolin is a happily married mama of 3 amazing kids. She is also the birth mother to an adult son. She is just beginning the reunion process, which makes her nervous and excited at the same time. Leslie enjoys educating others about adoption and has done her fair share of outreach, writing, and public speaking on the subject. She has an Associate of Arts degree in Social Work and plans to continue her education. Leslie enjoys spending time with her family, finding peace in the beauty of nature, and laughing as much as possible. She believes that smiling is contagious and that music is good for the soul. She is a firm believer that even the most difficult moments can be turned into something beautiful when we use our stories to help others.