If you are an adoptee and would like to search for your birth family, how do you begin?
What are some good resources?
With new online forums dedicated to adoption, there are more ways to search for birth family than there used to be. Social media and online websites have made finding people all over the world a faster and easier process than in years past. One great place to start is the Adoption Reunion Registry which allows you to search for various birth family and relatives. This registry helps you search by name, state, date of birth, or agency. This registry contains records from the late 1800s until 2001. Adoptees who were adopted after 2001 and wish to search will likely have more information than those adopted prior to that year. At this point, adoptions began becoming more open, with 95 percent of adoptions considered open or semi-open.
There are also many DNA databases that can be searched for biological relatives.
DNA and ancestry sites can often connect you to others you are related to who have registered with their site and have shared DNA. Some examples of these sites are Ancestry.com, 23andme.com, and Family Tree DNA. People all over the world have submitted their DNA to these places with the hopes of tracking their relatives. This is a great option if you are hoping to find a biological connection. It may help you find birth parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or other relatives with a strong DNA match. Finding just one relative could unlock the key to finding many, many more. If you have little to no information on your birth family, a DNA search may be a good start to find connections.
The best resource for finding out information may be your parents. When your parents adopted, if the adoption was open or semi-open, they may have received vital information that you could use to start your search. Sometimes, adoptees are fearful to ask their parents for information for fear of hurting their feelings or making things uncomfortable. If you are curious about your birth family and feel the need to try to connect, you may have to choose your happiness over the risk of upsetting them. Though, chances are that your parents have likely thought about you asking these questions, and may not be upset or surprised by the conversation. They may even be relieved to be having this conversation, as they may have been waiting to talk with you about your birth family. Some parents may hesitate to bring the subject up themselves, as they don’t want to upset you, the adoptee! Once you have brought up the subject, your parents may be able to tell you details you didn’t know. Maybe they know your birth parent’s name. They may have information about the agency used, the city and state, or maybe even the hospital in which you were born.
If your parents do not have any of this information, they may be willing to help you search for it. Ask for any documents they may still have from the time in which you were adopted. Any paperwork they have may provide a clue. You may be able to get a clue from a postmark on an envelope or anything that they may have. Nothing should be considered too irrelevant when beginning a search.
Another good thing to consider if you decide to do a birth family search is to find a support system. You will want to have someone you can count on to talk to during this time. Seeking out your biological relatives is a daunting task. Having someone to share thoughts, ideas, and fears with will help ease the stress. They may also think of things you don’t because you are too close to the situation. Sometimes an outside perspective can provide insight. Whether your support system is close friends, family, support groups, therapists, or find a group you can trust to help you process the feelings you will go through. Sometimes support groups (even online groups) can help with ideas you haven’t considered simply because they have been through some of the same things in their adoption journey.
Another resource will be the vital records department within your state. Some states have an adoption registry in which they will release records if both parties have contacted and signed up with the registry. Similar to online registries, except this is done through the state and with legal requirements sometimes including consents for records being released. Be sure to check with your state to find out if such a registry exists for adoption purposes.
If you have little information on your birth history, you could try posting a photo with your birth date, name, and if known, place of birth on social media sites. Sometimes these public posts can yield some information when shared virally.
What if you are a birth parent who is searching for a child that was placed for adoption?
What are your best options for searching?
Birth parents have similar options when searching for the children they placed for adoption.
One of the best resources would be registries where the child may have registered searching for you.
The DNA and ancestry sites are also really great resources. These websites will connect you to those that share common DNA, which would include biological children. It may even include connecting you to grandchildren if they exist and have submitted their profiles!
When searching records, birth families have a slight advantage. The birth parents will know the hospital where the baby was born. This information can be very helpful. Birth parents will also know the agency or social worker who helped with placing the child. When searching for records, contacting the agency, worker, or hospital is a good way to get started. Birth parents may even have an original birth certificate. Contacting the state with any of this information may be a good way to start a search for a biological child.
Again, when choosing to search for a biological child that was placed for adoption, you will want to establish a support system to help. There will likely be a lot of stress and anxiety related to the search, and you will want to have support in dealing with all of the emotions you may feel. Finding a good therapist, support group, or network of friends is very important in these times.
I wanted to share my own personal experience on searching for birth family.
A friend who was adopted through the foster care system with her siblings decided she wanted to search for her biological family. She didn’t have a lot of information. She thought she knew the state she was born in and was hoping that her birth family still resided there. She had found a letter written by her birth mother when she was searching for paperwork relating to her adoption, and was able to get her biological mother’s name. Her adoptive mother was not forthcoming with information. She searched on her own to find any information that she could, and found the letter while going through old boxes.
She was excited to find the letter and to have her biological mother’s full name. Although, she was concerned that the name may have changed if she had married since that time. She worried that since so many years had passed, her biological mother may have moved on with her life and may not still have the same last name. She was nervous to search and find her, wondering if she would be interfering with her life and if she would be rejected. She feared that her birth mother would not want to start any relationship, or have any contact.
Thankfully, my friend reached out to me for a bit of support. As she read me the letter she had found, and shared her worries and insecurities about searching over the phone, I began using my laptop to search for her birth mother. She had no idea I was doing this as we talked.
We discussed all the possible outcomes. We talked about rejection. We talked about reunion. We talked about how each might make her feel. We discussed her feelings about her adoption, and how her life had turned out. We discussed her struggles and successes. We really discussed all we could think of to discuss and worked through all the possible scenarios we could think of. As we talked, she continued searching through the box, while I continued searching social media sites.
While we were on the phone together, pouring over the words of the letter, and discussing all of the possibilities, I found a woman on Facebook that matched the name of her birth mother. Not only did the name match, but she was still in the state that my friend had been adopted in (but had since moved from). I was stunned at how easily I had found her. It took me less than two minutes to find her profile.
As I scrolled the photos and information I could see on the birth mom’s Facebook page, my friend became excited. She had found an old photo of her and her siblings with their birth mother in the box. She took a picture and sent it to me. I knew immediately that the woman I was looking at on Facebook was her birth mother. Even with many years between photos, there was no doubt it was the same woman.
I asked my friend if she was sure she was ready to do this search. When she responded that she was and that she felt this was the right time, I let her know I had begun searching as we were talking, and believed I had found her.
She was a bit shocked. She didn’t believe I had found her while we were chatting on the phone as she searched an old box for clues to her past.
After a few moments, deep breaths, and reminders that no matter what happened, she would be okay, I sent her the link to the page.
I then told her to call me back later, after she was able to check out the photos and information that she saw on the page, and when she was ready to talk.
This Facebook page had photos of more children on it. Her birth mother had had more children after she lost placement of my friend and her siblings. There were more siblings out there that she didn’t know she had! She was a big sister!
After an hour or so, we spoke again. She expressed her fears about reaching out to contact her birth mom. She was concerned about many possibilities. What if her birth mom had not told her younger siblings that the older children existed? What if she would bring this family emotional stress and discomfort by reaching out and forcing a conversation that had not taken place, or that her birth mother did not want to have? What if her siblings resented her for upsetting their mother? What if she denied everything and insisted we had contacted the wrong person?
We also talked about the positive possibilities. What if her birth mother was searching for her too? What if she has been hoping for her to reach out, and she was afraid of rejection? What if her birth mother was feeling all those same fears that she was feeling?
After two weeks, and some discussion with her older siblings, they reached out to their birth mother together. This situation has a happy ending where they decided to have a reunion. My friend and her sister spent some time getting to know their birth mother and younger siblings. They were able to begin a relationship.
While all situations may not be this “easy” or resolve this quickly, it is possible for you to search and find your biological family. While not everyone will have success, if it is something that you truly want, take the plunge and begin your search. Good luck!