Considering an adoption search and reunion as an adult adopted person?
Here are a few options for you as you get started.
With adoption search and reunion stories popping up in the media recently, as in the hit TV show This is Us or movies like Lion, adult adoptees may find themselves considering (most likely not for the first time) searching for birth/first/biological relatives. Adult adopted people report having a wide range of feelings about their adoptions, from a persistent curiosity to a long term sense of distress.
Access to information about a person’s family of origin is why adoption agencies like Adoption Connection began practicing open adoption back in the 1980s. Open adoption gives birth parents and adoptive parents the opportunity to meet with the intention to form a lifelong relationship for the benefit of everyone involved. Research continues to show that children as well as their birth and adoptive parents all benefit when everyone has access to information in an adoption. But for many adult adoptees born in the United States prior to the mid-1980s, searching for anything from birth records to members of their birth family, the path is not easy and may not always be successful.
Adopted people over the age of 18 often seek information like their original birth certificate, names of their birth parents, adoption records, and more to try to piece together the puzzle that surrounds their birth in a closed adoption. It can be challenging and even expensive to track this information down. Following are a few paths you may try.
- Access to original birth certificates and adoption records through government agencies:
Location is the most important thing here. Start with the state, and preferably the county, where you were born. Laws vary by state with regard to whether or not you can access your original birth certificate. But it’s a good starting place, and one of the less costly paths to tracking down information. Start by reviewing this comprehensive, state by state listing of laws which grant adult adoptees access to their adoption records, including original birth certificates. Anyone searching for an original birth certificate or other adoption records should review the individual state’s laws to determine who may be granted access and what information may be included or redacted in the records. The name of the government agency is likely to be something along the lines of the Department of Vital Records and Statistics or the Department of Health and Human Services and may vary by state. Adoption agencies are not legally permitted to release this type of identifying information.
- Online adoption reunion registries:
These are Websites where an adoptee/member of an adoptee’s adoptive family or a birth parent or other birth relative can register and provide information like date of birth, the gender of the adopted child and the state where the baby was born. If a ‘match’ is found with both parent and child indicating a request for contact or information, the hosts of the Website will then contact each party to provide contact information. Register on as many of these as you can to improve your odds of matching with someone who is also searching for you. Following is a list of the three top registries:
- At home DNA kits:
Modern technology has lent a surprising hand to adult adoptees searching for more information on their birth families. The advent of at-home DNA test kits makes it easy to invest as little as $99, spit into a tube, pop the sample back in the mail and wait for about 8 weeks to learn if anyone else in your birth family has done the same. There are a few good options available; and you may want to try more than one of these services to increase your odds of finding a birth relative. The database at 23andme.com contains about 1 million people and the database at AncestryDNA.com includes more than 2 million people. Review your selections carefully when signing up to be sure that you’re opting in to finding DNA relatives.
- Hire a private investigator or professional searcher who specializes in adoption
Although potentially costly (sometimes costing a few thousand dollars), a private investigator might be a good option if you don’t have the time to conduct a search yourself and/or if you don’t have a lot of information from your adoptive parents or others. Most adoption private investigators won’t take your case unless they believe that they can ultimately locate a member of your birth family for you. Services may take as little as a month to as long as a few years.
Whatever route(s) you take on your search for answers about your birth family, consider spending some time on online support forums that focus on adoption searches. You can learn a lot from other people’s successful searches. Adoption.com offers one of the largest adoption reunion forums. And reddit has another popular board. Finally, take a look at this an excellent PDF guide addressing many aspects of an adoption search is available courtesy of the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Best wishes to you on your search for this important information.
While we are not an adoption search agency, Adoption Connection has specialized in Open Adoption since 1984 —providing adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents in open adoptions with access to information and ongoing contact from the beginning of every adoption.