I created this special tips blog for adult adoptees, birth parents and some foster children, as I am a strong proponent of “open records.” I believe every person has a birth- given right to know who they are and where they and their ancestors come from.
If states will not pass open records laws for adult adoptees, they should have the right to search if they so choose. I do not believe this right should be extended to minors.
I also include foster children because of my own situation. I was placed for adoption at birth, but instead ended up in the foster care system until I aged out at age eighteen. I had been totally disconnected from my birth family. Sometimes a foster child’s search can be as difficult as an adoptee’s.
I wish many of the tips I am including here were available to me at the time of my own search. However, despite my limitation, my search was successful.
The tips listed below are not listed by importance, only you can determine which might be important to you and what priority it is given.
1. Create a search journal. This may assist you in keeping track of the steps you have taken in your search.
2. Discuss the search with your adoptive parents. They may be willing to assist you in your search or be able to provide you with necessary information. Remember to let them know that you love them and your need to search does not, nor will not, affect your relationship with them. This will help them to not feel threatened by your need to search.
3. As early in your search as possible, if you have a computer with Internet access, join adoption and genealogy newsgroups and/or support groups. They cannot only provide resources to search, but may also offer moral support during your search process.
4. Locate your amended birth certificate. Write your State Office of Vital Records for it.
5. Obtain a copy of your final decree of adoption. Write the court that finalized the adoption for it.
6. Obtain your petition to adopt. The same court that finalized your adoption should have this as part of their records.
7. Contact the adoption agency that placed you to obtain non-identifying information. You may possibly receive information you might not expect.
8. Contact the law firm or attorney who assisted in your adoption for the same reason as above.
9. Contact your delivery physician again for the same reason as above.
10. File a waiver of confidentiality with the adoption agency, law firm and courts. This will allow your information to be released to a birth parent or sibling in the event they are searching for you.
11. Apply for medical records from the hospital where you were born ONLY IF you have the name of your birth mother and/or father. Adoption should not be mentioned as you may find this avenue immediately closed to you.
12. Attempt to retrieve your original (pre-adoption) birth certificate. You may not receive it, but you have nothing to lose by requesting it.
13. Formally petition the court to open your adoption records. To forward identifying information, the court will need a reason. An example would be a medical reason. Unfortunately this has not proven very successful, but again, an avenue to try.
14. Register with the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR). Also, if the state in which you were adopted has an adoption registry, register with it. This allows the registry to release information if family is looking for you.
15. Check both county and state records for marriage or divorce records for either birth parent. If you know the names of your birth parent(s) this will be a very useful tool, especially if your birth parents were in fact, at one time married.
16. Learn about the adoption laws for your state. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse.
17. Check county or state death records for birth parents and both grandparents. This record will include who provided the information on the certificate, as well as the funeral home involved. The funeral home could provide you names, addresses and possibly phone numbers of survivors. Requesting my paternal grandfather’s death certificate, on a hunch that he was deceased, is what unlocked all the doors for me in the search for my birth mother.
18. Send for a copy of Where to Write for Birth, Marriage, Divorce, and Death Records available from: Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.
19. Write to Adoption Regulation Unit to access your adoption records.
20. Order a copy of The Guide to Genealogical Records in the National Archives from: The National Archives, Washington, DC 20408. You will also want to check the tips I provide for genealogical research, as some of them could be useful to you.
21. Find maps for the area where you are searching.
22. Create a profile of the hometowns or regions where each of your birth parents is said to have been from.
23. Create a list of all the libraries in your area and the areas where you are focusing your search. They will be a good source for finding obituaries for family members who may be deceased. The obituaries will list survivors which may lead you to your birth family.
24. Check local newspapers from where you were born for birth announcements. Your local library usually has old newspapers going back several years.
25. Check local newspapers from the area where your birth parents were born for their birth announcements.
26. Check local newspapers for wedding and engagement announcements for your birth parents.
27. Check in old city directories to try to locate your birth parents or other relatives. These can be found at many local libraries or historical societies. I tracked my maternal grandfather for over thirty years using this resource. When his name suddenly disappeared, I then requested a death certificate from the state.
28. Check in city directories to match an occupation to a name. Some older city directories actually listed companies where people worked. Finding out where my paternal grandfather had at one time worked led me to my birth father’s sister and eventually to my birth father.
29. Cross reference city directory information year by year.
30. Check in city directories to locate old addresses of birth parents and possible neighbors. Former neighbors of a birth parent may be able to tell you where they might be now.
31. Check phone books and national telephone directory discs for birth relatives.
32. List yourself in the telephone directory of the area where you were born, and in the area where you live now. An unlisted number could lead to a dead end for someone who might be searching for you.
33. Check any possible surnames against a book of name deviations.
34. Speak with your local librarian. They will prove to be invaluable in directing you to many of the resources in this guide.
35. Locate all churches of the faith of your birth parents in the area where they were living at the time of your birth and where they may live now.
36. Check local churches in the area where you were born for any baptismal, marriage or death records.
37. Check local churches in areas where you believe your birth parents may have resided for their baptismal, marriage, or death records.
38. Join a local or national search and support organization, and sign their registry if they maintain one. Support of others during the very stressful search process will prove invaluable to you and they may also be able to provide tips and clues for you to use. One group that proved very helpful during my search was ALMA (Adoptees Liberation Movement Association). Most major cities have a local chapter.
39. Create your own library of search and reunion books.
40. Advertise in adoption search magazines. Be sure to list your “birth name” if you know it as well as your “adoptive name.”
41. Advertise in newspapers where you believe your birth parents may now reside.
42. Order a copy of How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military 1-800-937-2133.
43. Contact old neighbors for forwarding addresses and other possible information.
44. Visit old neighborhoods in person to locate past acquaintances of your birth parents.
45. Check with former employers about possible forwarding addresses of birth parents.
46. Check old high school and college yearbooks in the areas of your search.
47. Check with high school or college reunion chairman about the current address of a birth parent or request a list of entire class.
48. Contact a private investigator or consultant. I suggest this only if all else leads to a dead end. Investigate any investigator before hiring them.
49. Request from the court that finalized your adoption the appointment of a Court Investigator. The CI will attempt their best to locate a birth parent or sibling. However, they will only be able to provide non-identifying information directly to you. They will ask you to write a letter to the person found without identifying information. All communication will be through the CI. Only if the person found agrees to have contact made can the CI then assist in a reunion or the exchange of identifying information.
50. Leave no stone unturned…you never know where you might find the gold nugget of information you have been looking for!
Might I make one more suggestion? If you find your birth parents and a reunion is planned here is an idea for a gift. Make a book which might include pictures, any news articles of accomplishments and possibly a letter about you, why you searched and that you are happy you located them.
When I met my Birth Mother for the first time, I gave her a red rose for each of the thirty-six years of the life she had given me. As I left her suite at the end of our first day together, I gave her “my book” so that she could read it privately after I left. When I met her the next morning she greeted me with tears, a hug and a thank you. Despite how our relationship ended twelve years later, I believe that book is something she treasured for the rest of her life. She passed away in October 2001.
This guide of tips does not guarantee success. It is a tool to use in your search and not an all inclusive one at that.
I hope you will find it useful and I further hope your journey will in the end meet your goal.