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Adoption Search - How to Find Your Birth Family

Steps for Locating Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoption Records

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It is estimated that 2% of the U.S. population, or about 6 million Americans, are adoptees. Including biological parents, adoptive parents, and siblings, this means that 1 in 8 Americans are directly touched by adoption. Surveys show that a large majority of these adoptees and birth parents have, at some point, actively searched for biological parents or children separated by adoption. They search for many different reasons, including medical knowledge, the desire to know more about the individual's life, or a major life event, such as the death of an adoptive parent or the birth of a child. The most common reason given, however, is genetic curiosity - a desire to find what a birth parent or child looks like, their talents, and their personality.

Whatever your reasons for deciding to start an adoption search, it is important to realize that it will most likely be a difficult, emotional adventure, full of amazing highs and frustrating lows. Once you're ready to undertake an adoption search, however, these steps will help you get started on the journey.

Beginning the Search
The first objective of an adoption search is to discover the names of the birth parents who gave you up for adoption, or the identity of the child you relinquished.

  1. Just like a genealogy search, an adoption search should always begin with yourself. Write down everything you know about your birth and adoption, from the name of the hospital in which you were born to the agency which handled your adoption.

  2. The best place to turn next, is your adoptive parents. They are the ones most likely to hold possible clues. Write down every bit of information they can provide, no matter how insignificant it may seem. If you feel comfortable, then you can also approach relatives and family friends with your questions.

  3. Gather together all available documents. Ask your adoptive parents or contact the appropriate government official for documents such as an amended birth certificate, petition for adoption, and the final decree of adoption.

  4. Contact the Agency or the State that handled your adoption for your non-identifying information. This non-identifying information will be released to the adoptee, adoptive parents, or birthparents, and may include clues to help you in your adoption search. The amount of information varies depending upon the details that were recorded at the time of the birth and adoption. Each agency, governed by state law and agency policy, releases what is considered appropriate and non-identifying, and may include details on the adoptee, adoptive parents, and birth parents such as:
    • Medical history
    • Health status
    • Cause of and age at death
    • Height, weight, eye, hair color
    • Ethnic origins
    • Level of education
    • Professional achievement
    • Religion

    On some occasions, this non-identifying information may also include the parents ages at time of birth, the age and sex of other children, hobbies, general geographical location, and even the reasons for the adoption.

  5. Register in State and National Reunion Registries, also known as Mutual Consent Registries, which are maintained by government or private individuals. These registries work by allowing each member of the adoption triad to register, hoping to be matched with someone else who might be searching for them. One of the best is the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR).

  6. Join an adoption support group or mailing list. Beyond supplying much needed emotional support, adoption support groups can also provide you with information concerning current laws, new search techniques, and up-to-date information. Adoption search angels may also be available to assist with your adoption search.

  7. If you're very serious about your adoption search and have the financial resources (there is usually a substantial fee involved), consider petitioning for the services of a Confidential Intermediary (CI). Many states and provinces have instituted intermediary or search and consent systems to allow adoptees and birth parents the ability to contact each other through mutual consent. The CI is given access to the complete court and/or agency file and, using the information contained in it, attempts to locate the individuals. If and when contact is made by the intermediary, the person found is given the option of allowing or refusing contact by the party searching. The CI then reports the results to the court; if the contact has been refused that ends the matter. If the person located agrees to contact, the court will authorize the CI to give the name and current address of the person sought to the adoptee or birthparent. Check with the state in which your adoption occurred as to the availability of an Confidential Intermediary System.

Once you've identified the name and other identifying information on your birth parent or adoptee, your adoption search can be conducted in much the same way as any other people search investigation.

More: Adoption Search & Reunion Resources

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