The decision to take an adoption reunion journey is a big step! It is a search that can be full of bumps and hurdles, but can also be an exciting pilgrimage to self discovery. Your search may last just a few days or weeks, while others search for years without success. There is no way to predict how long your search will be, but careful planning and preparation can help you navigate your way through the search.
Search and Reunion Guide
A tour through the basic steps of finding your biological relatives.
Why would someone search for his or her birth family?
People search for different reasons. Some people who were adopted want
- access to their medical or ethnic history.
- to have answers to their questions, know the first chapter of their story and understand why they were placed for adoption.
- to know if they have biological siblings and see who they look like.
- to see if their birth parents are well and happy, if their parents think of them and to thank them.
Read more about reasons adoptees search:
Hey New York! I Want My OBC!
Journey for Answers Leads Son to Mother (Video)
An Adoptee’s Perspective
A Connection With a Birth Sibling
Boys Meet as Friends, Discover They Are Brothers (Video)
I Thank Her Each and Every Day (Video)
Adoptees and Adoptive Parents Say Thank You
A birth family may search for the person who was adopted to
- see what they look like and what kind of person they’ve become.
- ensure that they are happy and were properly cared for.
- to tell them that they were loved by their first parents.
Some merely want information, while most will seek contact and a relationship.
Read more about reasons birth families search:
First Letter From My Birth Mother
Often before a person decides to search, they grapple with some anxiety. Many fear that
- the other party may not want to be found and that a reunion would be disruptive to their life
- they won’t like what they find, such as an unhappy, unstable, or deceased adoptee or birth parent
- they won’t measure up to the other parties’ hopes or expectations
- they won’t know what to say or how to approach reunification
Some adoptees fear that an interest in their birth family will make their adoptive parents feel displaced or insecure.
Conducting a post-adoption search on your own can be frustrating, difficult and unfortunately, often unsuccessful due to
- a lack of adequate information with which to search
- uncooperative state laws, agencies and/or hospitals
- sealed, destroyed, lost or altered records
That said, many people have been successful in a search for a birth family. If you choose to attempt a search on your own, the following slides are some essential steps that may yield results.
Identifying supports before your journey begins will be key. Support can come in the form of a friend, family member, or professional whom you trust.
It can also come through connecting with others who have been through the journey. You can connect through social media channels, support groups, or online forums.
No matter what supports you choose, make sure you have a place where you can talk about your experiences and share your feelings openly. Ensuring you have these supports in place ahead of time can save you a lot of stress in the long run.
Asking your adoptive parents for information regarding your adoption can prove to be very helpful. They may have information such as the agency or attorney that completed the adoption, the names of your birth parents, or even an original birth certificate. These bits of information can provide you with a great starting point for your search.
- The placing agency/attorney. They will likely only be allowed to give you non-identifying information—such as a physical description of the birth parents, their age, health or medical information, and other family background information—but this can provide clues. Some will document your consent in case the other party contacts them as well.
- The obstetrician involved in the birth, and/or the hospital where the birth occurred.
- Any orphanages, Mother’s Homes, or other organizations that may have been involved.
Check out our Reviews section to find contact information for adoption professionals throughout the country.
Contact the Vital Records and Statistics Department from the state of your birth/adoption. Most states have a mutual consent adoption registry. When both parties have registered, the state will release the information. A few states require a waiver or release that they keep on record until the other party inquires. There are a handful of states that will release an original birth certificate. Others may provide identifying information if there are pressing health concerns.
Find out if your state has a confidential intermediary. This is a person who, upon request, will use confidential records to contact the searched party and ask if they will consent to a disclosure of their identifying information.
Every state varies. Work with your state to discover the resources and tools that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Adoption Registries are a central place for both adoptees and birth family members who are engaged in a search. They are simply a connection engine for those searching. When you are registered, these systems allow you to search digitally for other registered members with defined search criteria. Many of these online directories are free, including the Adoption.com Reunion Registry and the International Soundex Reunion Registry.
Because of the efficiency and popularity of online registries and social network sites, they are a great places to list your information. These methods work best if you have identifying information about the person you are searching for. To create your profile or search, visit our registry.
Many have had success sharing their search on social media, asking others to share a post about their hope to reunite. This is a great way to reach a wide audience, but not everyone is comfortable being so vulnerable or public with their personal story/information.
One might also take out a “searching for” ad in the town of their birth/adoption.
Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, and 23andme.com do a DNA test that will match you with any person registered who is closely related to you. This can provide you with many helpful clues that can lead to reunification.
Answers for Adoptees Using DNA
Forum conversation about DNA Testing.
As you go through your journey, make sure to keep good records. Keeping a journal or file with photocopies of all documents and notes will be helpful. Keep a record of dates and people you have contacted. Notes and documents will be valuable as you make initial contact and meet with your birth family.
Contact a search angel. These are people who will help you search for free, “at cost,” or for a suggested donation.
Consider hiring a professional Adoption Detective. Why? An adoption detective has:
- access to databases not available to the public.
- experience conducting adoption searches.
- knowledge of and access to effective search avenues and tools.
- familiarity with the evolution of adoption law and adoption practices over the years.
So what do you do when you think you have found your family? Once you’ve found your birth family member(s), you’ll need to begin preparing for reunification. Approaching the unknown can be nerve-wracking, but no matter what happens, know that you’ll be okay.
You may very well have a joyful reunion with your newly found family members. A survey of birth parents and adoptees revealed that the majority of people want to be found. There are times, however, when the family member you’ve been searching for is less receptive to the reunion. This is particularly the case when the searched-for person’s adoption experience was secretive and they have not had the opportunity to process their experience or prepare for reunification.
Be assured that these situations are far less common than reunions in which the contact is welcomed.
Either way, my experience has found that most searchers are generally glad they did what they could and are grateful to have the closure of “knowing.”
The best method of approach is very personal.
Some have mailed a letter so as to lessen the shock and give the receiver time to process before responding. One thing to consider, though, is the possibility of someone else fielding the letter and the privacy of the searched person being compromised.
Many choose to call, but consider again, the person’s household may not know about the adoption, so be discrete if someone else answers. If you are able to get an email address, that may resolve both concerns.
Here’s one suggestion for how you might approach first contact:
"Hi, My name is (......) I'm sorry to bother you, I have kind of an unusual question, do you have a minute? I was adopted in (location) in (month & year) through (agency) and I'm interested in connecting with my birth family. My search has lead me to you as a person who may potentially have information regarding my adoption. Are you able to help me?"
Practice the initial contact with a friend and discuss possible questions or things to say. This may be difficult, but remember you have support.
Do not expect the reunification to heal you or make you whole. This will only transfer your burden to the other party and will likely drive them away.
Try instead to work through any unresolved issues before beginning the relationship so that you will be in a position to be what they need and not just have your needs met.
Let go of expectations, and be prepared to accept any outcome. It is less common to find the other party unwilling, deceased, or difficult to deal with, but in these instances, many searchers relate they would rather know than wonder. Having expectations that are too specific can set us up for disappointment. Being prepared to embrace whatever you find enables you to see the good in what is. The child I placed hasn’t had the life I had hoped for, but he has been loved and I am so glad to have found him and his family!
The first meeting will be filled with lots of anticipation and emotion. You should choose a location that is neutral for both parties. Keep in mind that all relationships develop over long periods of time and not all questions have to be answered in the first day. Being able to walk away for a time and reassess can be invaluable.
Give the relationship time to develop. The emotions and years leading up to reunion can be intense, but many regret having come on too strong, too quickly. Be prepared to set clear boundaries and expectations as you move forward with the relationship. Often the other party feels pressure to live up to an expectation that might be outside of their culture or personality. Be patient and open to honest, two-way communication. Most of all, remember to laugh, cry, love, forgive, and learn every step of the way.
Remember that there are other parties who will be affected by your reunification (adoptive family, spouse and/or children of a birth parent). Be sensitive to and considerate of them and their relationship with your birth relative. It may be a good idea to include them and build relationships with them as well. Never try to replace anyone in your birth relative’s life. There is enough room in our hearts for an expanded family.
Download this free ebook, Reunited: Nineteen Stories of Search & Reunion, to read about others’ experiences with reunification.
Searching for your birth relative can be daunting, uncertain, and time consuming—but it can be so worth it. You may be able to find answers to your questions, resolve your mysteries, fill in the gaps, have peace of mind, and create a lifelong connection.
Best of luck in your adoption search!
Tamra placed her son for adoption in 1996 in a closed adoption. She has since been reunited with him and his family.
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