I was recently talking with another adoptee that I connected with through my adoption organization, The Table DFW. We are mainly focused on birth parent support, but as an adoptee, I have stretched that umbrella to also provide support to adoptees. I get the privilege of hearing so many stories from bold and radiant men and women every day. As I was speaking with E, I realized that there are so many similarities that adoptees naturally have. I mean, it’s trauma, but we all seem to have similar paths that sprawled us forward. I also noticed that so many adoptees that grew up in a closed adoption do not know what to do in order to begin unraveling the questions they’ve been asking themselves for so long—questions like, “Who am I?” So, here are my tips for how to discover your biological roots.
Unsealing Your Records
This one has different tactics based on your situation. The agency I was adopted from wanted over $300 from me in order to release all the information that was already rightfully mine. I wasn’t about that life, so I found a loophole. I was able to buy a court order to unseal my records for $10 in the county I was born in. I then took that to the agency I was placed with was able to discover my unsealed record in a few days. This is a big step. If the agency is limiting you and you wish to find answers on your own, you can take other routes to your records.
Sometimes, agencies are really great and they will get your record to you if you request it. For your benefit, they usually have you go through a short counseling session before releasing the records. They try to prepare you for the best and the worst-case scenario so you aren’t thrown for a loop. I was grateful that I went through the session because I did have a hard-to-process year after that. Contact your agency to discover their post-adoption process and determine if it’s in your best or the best route to the answers you’re looking for.
DNA Kits and Search Angels
I decided to get an Ancestry DNA kit a few years ago. I was still trying to figure out a lot of my biological family tree and had a lot of questions still unanswered. I took the test and, of course, hoped that there would be an obvious family tree magically drawn from my DNA. It was not that simple. I got a lot of DNA matches back, but one was very strong. Michelle, who I later discovered was my cousin. She shared 599 centimorgans (cM) with me. Ancestry defines centimorgans as “the total amount of DNA you share with your match. The higher the number, the more closely related you are.” To be honest, genealogy is way over my head. I knew looking at my matches that I needed help.
Luckily, an adoptee that I had connected with on social media told me about search angels. Search angels are people who really enjoy genealogy and help adoptees discover their biological family trees. Steve helped me draw up my family tree from my matches. We discovered together that my biological father was not who my birth mother told me all these years. I’m still processing a lot of that information, but the point is that a search angel and a DNA kit helped me unravel so many questions.
Discover More Via Social Media
I mentioned social media above because I found out about search angels through an adoptee I follow. Search angels can be found on Facebook. There is a general inquiry form that you fill out to get on the waitlist because they have so many adoptees requesting help, it can take a bit of time. Social media can also help once you have some information to start your search. You can turn on your inner Nancy Drew and find anyone in a matter of minutes. When I first began searching for information on my birth mother once I had my adoption record unsealed, my adoptive mom and I found her on Myspace. (Yes, I am aware that dates me.) In moments I had my birth mom, my half-sisters, and their friends in front of me all thanks to social media.
Therapy and Support
One thing that I think is vital when it comes to discovering your biological roots is to make sure you have somewhere to process everything out loud. Whether that be with a good friend, family member, or a mental health professional, it’s important to talk about what you are feeling through this process. I was met with a lot of disappointments and it was very overwhelming at times. I was glad I had so many supportive people to help me feel grounded when everything else was hard to take in.
I think it’s also important to be self-aware of your capacity to process. If you are feeling too overwhelmed, it’s ok to pause or to completely stop everything. You do not have to make a decision today or ever. There are so many adoptees who want to discover their biological roots, but there are also a lot of adoptees who do not want to find answers. No matter where you stand, you are in control of the next steps.
Remember that even if you look for answers through one of these outlets, you get to decide if you take action or not. I did and I have had over a decade to get to know my birth family. Despite the challenges I faced, I wouldn’t change a thing because I love having them in my life. They’re messy, complex, funny, and amazing people. Please know that no matter what you find on the journey or if you decide not to take it, you are worthy, loved, and valued. Our stories do not define who we are, we get to decide who we choose to be each day.