How Do You Find Birth Parents If You Were Born Outside The US? A Guide.

It might seem an impossible task, but have hope.

Jennifer Mellon July 29, 2017

Since the dawn of intercountry adoptions in the United States post-1945 intercountry adoptions have almost exclusively been “closed.” Children adopted through intercountry adoption had very little access to information regarding their birth or birth family. Most individuals adopted internationally through the 1980s believed that there was no option to find their birth families and never commenced a search or potential reunion.

Since the 1990s, however, more and more individuals who were adopted and their families are searching for information regarding their biological parents or family members. Although in many cases it is still quite difficult to locate birth relatives abroad, it is possible. Knowing the resources and options you have can be incredibly beneficial as you begin your international search.

Start with your Agency
1. Start with your Agency

For any individual or family searching for answers, going to the adoption agency can be the best first step. Asking them for any details or records pertaining to your dossier or the orphanage can be incredibly helpful. The U.S. agency should be able to share the name and location of the agency or orphanage abroad and, perhaps, the names of caregivers, attorneys, or others involved in the placement or adoption. The agency may provide specific information on the names, dates, and places, which will be crucial to your search. Your adoption agency may be able to offer some biographical information on your birth mother or family, medical history, or even circumstances regarding the adoption. Some agencies currently provide search services in the country from which you were adopted.

Hire a Translator
2. Hire a Translator

Recognizing the need for professionals to help with your search early on can save a great deal of time as the process continues. Hiring or contacting a translator after gathering all of the information you have from your adoptive family and U.S. agency or attorney can help very helpful as you navigate original documents or individuals in your country of origin.

Contact the Orphanage or Child Placing Agency Abroad
3. Contact the Orphanage or Child Placing Agency Abroad

Your U.S. agency may have contact information for the current orphanage director from where you were adopted. They may be willing to email or speak with you regarding your placement. Many orphanages do not have excellent records, as record-keeping practices vary greatly across countries and cultures. This is especially true if the adoption was completed years ago. However, sometimes even small pieces of information can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction. Oftentimes a search is comprised of lots of little puzzle pieces that only once put together lead you to the answers you are seeking. No piece of information is too little.

Hire a Private Investigator
4. Hire a Private Investigator

Oftentimes the best next step after you have gathered all of the information you can is to hire a private investigator who specializes in adoption search and reunion. They are extremely skilled in digital research and can take the information regarding your adoption and find those individuals you need to meet with in your country of origin. A private investigator can save you thousands of dollars and hours by finding you the exact information you need. They may recommend a researcher in that country who can complete the search. Be sure the investigator does a thorough trust and safety check on all individuals with whom you choose to work with to ensure they are competent and ethical. Be sure you do this prior to giving payment to any individual who may help with the search. Private investigators are licensed in the United States, but not necessarily in every country, so it is critical for you to have them do extensive research on anyone you plan to hire or meet with. Private investigators can also help you access an original birth certificate from your country of birth as many other countries do not seal such records.

Travel to Your Country of Origin
5. Travel to Your Country of Origin

Many individuals find it most helpful to travel to their country of origin even if they have not been connected to their birth family. Visiting your orphanage, your foster family, or caretakers can be helpful, with the help of your vetted-translator or in-country searcher, in getting more answers. Deciding on when to visit in the process can be a difficult decisions based on resources, finances and timing. You may want to wait until the search has produced credible leads before you make the journey.

Using DNA
6. Using DNA

Once you meet, are connected to, or the private investigator or the in-country searcher has located your birth relatives, you should consider using DNA testing to ensure they truly are your biological family members. Some individuals choose to meet potential relatives first and then do the testing. Others choose to have them test before travel. Some people also choose to use easy, inexpensive DNA testing as the first step in their search process. By doing so they may be connected to biological family members through the extensive global database of participants.

The search and reunion process can be daunting and stressful for anyone looking for their biological relatives. It can especially difficult for those searching for birth family abroad. You are not alone and there are many support groups, blogs, and message boards which can offer a plethora of support and resources to you through the process.

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Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.

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