Adult adoptees, members of adoptive families, as well as birth families decide to start adoption reunion journeys for many different reasons. Adult adoptees decide to search for their birth families due to a genuine curiosity regarding their birth mother and potential siblings and family. Others decide to search out of a feeling of wanting to put missing pieces of their life puzzle together, and some want to learn more about their medical history. For the top five reasons adoptees search for biological family, see “Top 5 Reasons Adoptees Search for Birth Family Members.” Adoptive family members may wish to learn more about their adopted child’s birth family related to personality traits or medical issues as well as just a basic curiosity. Birth families also feel loss and may feel the need to know how the child is doing in life.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, the main reasons people search include the following: general family information, family traits and personalities, medical history information, reason for adoption, connection for other siblings, birth parent reassurance.
Whatever the reason for the search—today—adoptees, adoptive family members, as well as birth family members, have a much easier time of searching thanks to the Internet and social media. Years ago, searches could often feel endless and even hopeless when people had to rely on limited public records and confusing paperwork trails. Adoption reunion databases such as Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry, which contains nearly 450,000 adoption reunion profiles, have become useful tools in making adoption journey reunions a reality. The Adoption.com article Adoption Reunion Registries further discusses the basics of what registries are and how to use them, offering advice so far as preparing for the search and what to do once you’ve begun—recording your findings as well as being careful not to share too much too soon.
According to Wikipedia.com, privately run registries typically are created on mutual consent and match based on information provided by registrants while those run by government agencies oftentimes allow access to original documentation, which identifies birth family or adopting family. Registries may be free or charge fees, be facilitated by nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or private businesses.
Some of the benefits of using a reunion registry include the following:
1. Setting up a profile is relatively simple and requires basic information such as birth year, state, name, country, agency.
There’s nothing like trying to set up an account only to realize that you’re first going to need to track down layers of information just to get past Page 1. Adoption reunion registries make setting up a profile as easy as possible so that users are not bogged down searching for information that they may not know or have access to.
Basic information adoptees ask their parents for and/or try to locate on their own before they begin their search includes (as suggested by www.adoptionbirthmothers.com):
- Birth certificate.
- Adoption decree and related legal documents.
- Adoption agency used to facilitate the adoption. Keeping in mind that many agencies keep their own records and have their own procedures involved for reunions.
- Lawyers who did the paperwork.
- The maternity home (church, agency, other) the birth mother might have stayed with during pregnancy.
- State where the birth mother resided, state where the adoptee was born, state in which the adoption occurred.
According to the website, birth families should follow similar steps in locating any adoption-related and/or legal forms that may have been required.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, many online databases and websites are available to help you locate important documents if you’re unable to locate them from family or own your own. Some of these resources are free of charge, and some are not. For more on gathering information and documents, see Information Gateway’s Obtaining Birth and/or Adoption Records webpage.
2. They serve as a central place for both adoptees and birth family members engaged in a search.
Adoption reunion registries are comprehensive and all-inclusive, not just for adoptees, but for the entire birth family to use as a centralized search engine. After all, it’s not just adoptees who may be curious about their birth family. In addition to adult adoptees, typical users include adoptive parents, birth families (birth parents and siblings), as well as other relatives of both the adopted family and birth family (oftentimes grandparents and aunts and uncles). Additionally, searchers on behalf of the above mentioned parties may choose to use a reunion registry. It should be noted that some registries do not allow third-party searches.
3. Ability to search digitally for other registered members with defined search criteria, which is much more efficient than conducting searches with little to no information to start from.
Having defined search criteria increases the chances of finding the information you’re looking for and decreases the chances that you will be on the wrong path or find yourself at a dead end.
4. Easier than dealing with sometimes uncooperative state agencies or hospitals where it’s common to run into dead ends due to sealed, altered, or destroyed records.
Although some states have relaxed their laws and regulations concerning releasing original birth certificate information and other information vital to an adoption reunion search, many have not. Overtime, government agencies may have sealed, altered, or even destroyed records dating years back. Hospital staff who find themselves in similar situations and agree or disagree with privacy laws can understandably feel caught in the middle of knowing whether or not they are able to release personal information.
5. Easier to reach a wide audience.
Imagine years ago, ahead of the Internet and age of one-touch apps, deciding to search for your birth family with little or nothing to go on. Depending on how much information was available, your search started there. Today, the amount of data available on adoptees and birth families is large, obviously making the search that much easier.
6. Many online registries, such as Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry are free.
On top of the worries and stress of beginning and adoption reunion search, imagine having to factor in hefty fees to private investigators and agencies who promise to do the leg work for you. Having access to free online registries greatly increases those considering searching for their biological family to a more affordable path to do so. Users of the Adoption.com registry, for example, will find search and reunion advice, eBooks, and guides to help in their search, online detectives, reunion articles, forums, support, and information specific to birth parents.
Other reunion registries include the following:
- G’s Adoption Search Registry, which dates back to 1998.
- The International Soundex Reunion Registry, which lists itself as an active search registry. (Also see the section below on international adoption reunion registries).
Some paid registries include the following:
- Alma Society Adoption Reunion Registry, which lists a one-time fee, and claims to be the oldest (founded in 1971) and most successful reunion registry.
- The Adoption Database, which lists a one-time fee.
International adoption reunion registries include the following:
- The International Soundex Reunion Registry, which is an active search registry that offers both domestic and international (the website indicates registrations in 92 other countries).
- International Social Service USA provides help for those who want to find their birth family abroad.
There are literally dozens and dozens of adoption registries all available via Google search. Users should make sure to read through all information regarding the host site before beginning your search and refer to other user’s reviews.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway site, to search for state reunion registries/confidential intermediary services, see Information Gateway’s National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.
The largest passive (aka mutual consent) registry is the International Soundex Reunion Registry. This free service is open to adoptee adults over 18 years of age, birth parents, and adoptive parents of children under 18 years of age.
Responsible father registries, also called putative father registries, are passive registries that exist in as many as 32 states. For more information on responsible father registries, see this link. For a list of state putative father registries, including addresses and contact information, see this link.
There is no way to predict how long a reunion search may take, and there is absolutely no guarantee that it will end with a match. Despite how much easier matches and reunions have become thanks to online resources and social media, there are variables beyond anyone’s control.
- How much background information is readily available?
- Is this information accurate and credible?
- Does the other party have an online account or are they someone off the social media grid altogether?
- Does the other party wish to be found?
- Do you have time to continue the search in between an already busy schedule?
- Will you want to continue upon hitting snags and dead ends?
The reunion journey doesn’t end upon a match or even a reunion itself. For many, it’s just the beginning to a lifelong journey of adapting to new relationships. Recent research shows that nearly 78% remain in touch with their biological family eight years later, with just around 7% experiencing outright rejection. Finding someone and developing and bond and trust are two separate journeys.
Adoption.com offers many stories of reunions. The International Soundex Reunion Registry website also offers reunion registry success stories. See Reunions to read about users who have shared their experiences.
Adoptees and birth families seeking reunion often share similar anxieties, worries, stress, and uncertainty going into a search. Will they be happy with where the search leads? Will one or the other feel disappointment with what they find? Will other involved family members and even spouses feel threatened or be less than supportive with the reunion or a continued relationship beyond the reunion?
Users who choose to pursue adoption reunions should be prepared for the potential pros and cons. Before beginning a search, adoptees may want to consider speaking to their adoptive parents first to give them a heads-up to the search. Some adoptees may fear that their adoptive parents may not understand their need to search for their birth families, which can lead to problems that could otherwise be avoided down the road.
While it would be nice to assume that all reunions have happy endings, some do not end that way. Adoptees should be prepared for the possibility that their birth family (including siblings) does not want to be found or contacted for various reasons. In other cases, adoptees must be prepared for the possibility that their birth parent(s) may have passed away.
Still, all one needs to do is spend some time Googling happy reunion stories and for some, the risks are worth taking. Check out Adoption.com’s Best Reunion Stories of 2017.
Are You Ready to Get Started?
Now that you know some of the benefits of using a reunion registry, you should consider what to expect next.
The Adoption.com article “Preparing Yourself Emotionally for an Adoption Reunion” suggests that while we may not be able to control other people, we can control ourselves.
In truth, it is probably naive to think that anyone can be completely ready to be reunited with a birth family without some ups and downs. After all, most adult adoptees have spent years asking some pretty deep questions that they may or may not ever be prepared to hear the answers to—whether those answers are positive or negative. At the same time, birth families also face similar feelings of loss, questions about the adoption itself, and anxiety over how they will be received.
Further, the forum titled Relationship Stages After Reunion discusses normal stages common to the post-reunion period as consequences of reunion. The article lists the following as what most participants can expect to experience after reunion:
- Honeymoon stage
- Time-out stage
- Showdown stage
- Disengagement stage
- Solidifying stage
That’s a whole lot of stages to work through, and doing the research ahead of a reunion seems key to better preparing for and understanding reunion next steps. It may also be helpful to find support (from a trusted family member or friend) ahead of your search, whom you can confide in throughout the process.
Ready to go? Adoption.com’s Search and Reunion Guide offers more information about the basic steps of finding your biological family.
Reunion Registry: Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry.