Adoptee Search and Reunion

Research shows that approximately 6 million Americans are adopted.

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Adult Adoptees: Should You Search For Your Birth Mother?

Research shows that approximately 6 million Americans are adopted. Many adult adoptees have actively searched to locate their Birth Mothers for different reasons. Some seek medical knowledge, others want to know more about their family history. But primarily, adoptees have a genuine curiosity of who their Birth Mother is; appearance, personality, abilities.

Before the age of internet and social media, searches for Birth Mothers were done through painstaking research in printed documents, through libraries and public records. Adoptees could spend days, even months searching old documents, hoping to find a lead. Once they found some possible leads, they would send out letters in hopes of receiving a response that would help them locate their Birth Mother or Birth Parents.

Now, however, we have extensive information at our fingertips through the Internet. Databases have been created (such as International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR)) that have multitudes of people registered that are searching for lost family members. There are “mutual consent” databases and registries (both State and National) that were designed to match individuals with those they are seeking. Adoptees can join an adoption support group or mailing list for additional information, new ideas for search techniques, and volunteers that may assist them with their search.

Social media has taken on a life of its own regarding reuniting adoptees and Birth Mothers. For example, on Facebook, adoptees can enter the information they know, such as their birth name and state or region where they were born into the search bar on Facebook. They can click on different profiles and send out private messages to possible matches. Facebook is also a way to share your information by putting out your story, asking others to share – it’s very likely that there is someone on Facebook that knows your Birth Mother or Birth Parents.

Finally, another way for adoptees is to hire a Private Investigator or Confidential Intermediary. Although these options can be costly, these professionals are often given access to court and agency files. Many states have made this the Confidential Intermediary program available.

Adoptee Search and Reunion – What Can You Expect?

As mentioned above, there are many reasons Adoptees search for a Birth Mother or Birth Parents. But often, Birth Parents also look for the child or children they placed for adoption. And, sometimes adoptees are looking for biological siblings. Every situation is different, and an adoptee search and reunion can be a challenging and very emotional process. It is a personal decision, and although the search may have a happy ending, there are also situations that end in disappointment or without resolution. It’s important to have a good support system and if possible, research what others have experienced who have already reunited with Birth Parents or family members. Visit a helpful website that asks the important questions about reunions and possible outcomes.

If you are an adoptee and considering searching for more information about your birth family, here are some steps you can take:

  • Ask your Adoptive Parents, extended family, your parents’ friends and anyone else who may have been around at the time of your adoption. Ask them what they remember or what they were told.
  • Try to locate the adoption professional or state agency that was involved in your adoption and see if they have any information they can provide you with.
  • Find out if your Birth Mother lived in a home for unwed mothers or was sent to live with an out-of-state relative or friend. Ask them everything they remember before, at the time of birth, and after.
  • Find out who the original pediatrician was (and any nurses who worked in the practice) and meet with them or find out where their records are kept.
  • If you know where you were born, go to the hospital and meet with someone in social services or an ombudsman.
  • Cooperate with anyone who will meet with you or help you in your search for information. This means filling out forms and sometimes accepting or completing counseling. Make sure you are searching for the “right” reasons.
  • Check state regulations. While being raised in one state, if your adoption was finalized in another state, you may be able to get your original birth certificate.

What Are the Laws Concerning Access to Adoption Records?

In the United States, there are laws protecting adoption records from the public once an adoption is finalized. However, states have also created procedures to be able to release information about that adoption while still protecting all involved parties. States and agencies can release non-identifying on the adoptee, Adoptive Parents, and Birth Parents.

The adoptee must be at least 18 years of age (in some states, age 21) before he or she can gain access to this information, however an Adoptive Parent or guardian of an adoptee who is still a minor may be allowed access. Some jurisdictions are more restrictive about the release of information from adoption records.

Identifying Information is information from an adoption record that would generally lead to the positive identification of the Birth Parents or other birth relatives. It may include current and past names, addresses, employment, or other similar records or information. Laws in nearly all states allow the release of identifying information when the person whose information is sought has given their consent to the release.

If consent is not on file, the identifying information cannot be released without a court order documenting “good cause.” Good cause must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the benefit of disclosing the information outweighs maintaining the confidentiality of the Birth Parents.

As mentioned above, many states use a Mutual Consent registry. It is a way for individuals or parties directly involved in adoptions to indicate their willingness to have their identifying information released. Procedures vary from state to state, but most registries require consent of at least one Birth Parent and an adoptee over the age of 18 or 21, or of Adoptive Parents if the adoptee is a minor.

When an adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate for the adopted child is usually issued to the Adoptive Parents. The original birth certificate is then sealed and kept confidential by the State Registrar. In the past, nearly all states required an adoptee to obtain a court order to gain access to their original birth certificate. However, the laws have changed in many states allowing earlier access to these confidential records:

  • Through a court order when all parties have consented
  • At the request of the adult adopted person
  • At the request of the adopted person unless the Birth Parent has filed an affidavit denying release of confidential records
  • When eligibility to receive identifying information has been established with a State adoption registry
  • When consents from the Birth Parents to release identifying information are on file

For more information and to find contact information for a state agency or department that assists with accessing adoption records, go to Child Welfare Information Gateway at the link below.

Are Adoption Papers Public Information?

Most adults are very aware of their family history, and for the most part, have had the ability to ask for additional information as they grew up. However, this may not be the case for adult adoptees, who may have questions about everything surrounding their adoption – background, biological parents, extended family, medical history, and the circumstances surrounding their adoption. In the past, because many adoptions were “closed” or considered “sealed” records, these records may not have been accessible, except by court order.

In the past, these closed records were designed to protect Birth Mothers, children, and Adoptive Parents from the stigma and shame associated with unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and adoption. Placements were made in secret and Adoptive Parents were instructed not to tell the child that they were adopted. Even birth records and certificates were known to include misinformation in an effort to shield both the Birth and Adoptive Parents, as well as the adopted child.

Over the years, society has changed, and adoption no longer carries the stigma and shame as it did nearly 100 years ago. However, depending on their state’s laws, adoptees can still be denied access to their birth history, medical information and original birth certificate and their Adoptive Parents may also not be able to obtain medical, psychological or family history to answer their questions or aid in their adjustment or medical treatment.

The argument for Open Records includes “the right to know” – allowing adoptees the same access to birth information as non-adopted adults. The argument for Closed Records continues is that it protects the right to privacy for Birth Parents.

Open Records with Restrictions is a compromise approach. Some information could be provided only through an intermediary, with parental permission and limited in its scope and time.

As each state has its own regulations regarding adopting records, legislators, and adoption movement groups grapple with the pros and cons of open and closed adoptions. Adoptees, Birth and Adoptive Parents continue to struggle with their “right to know.” Until a time when all states open adoption records without limitation, many adoptees, Birth and Adoptive Parents will need to rely on search groups, professional searches, and registries to gather information about their adoption process.

For additional information regarding Open and Closed Records, please click on the following links:

States with Open Adoption Records

Access to Adoption Records

American Adoption Congress

Can I Contact My Birth Parents or Birth Family?

No one can stop you from looking for or contacting your birth family, however most search groups and professionals will only work with someone who is of age (18 or 21, dependent upon the state), or with the consent of the Adoptive Parents.

Before you begin your search, you need to be aware of the possible outcomes: you find no information at all, you get the name of your Birth Parent(s) but cannot locate them, you discover your Birth Parent(s) have died, you locate your Birth Parent(s) or birth family and they are not what you expected or want nothing to do with you, you find your Birth Parent(s) or birth family and they welcome you into their lives without limitations.

You need to examine your expectations if you find your Birth Parents. Do you want them to be part of your life? Or are you just looking for information? Are you open to a reunion and a possible relationship? Again, helps you think through some of these questions.

At What Age Can I Legally Start Looking for My Birth Parents?

From a very young age, an adopted child may long to know where they come from. It’s natural for an adoptee to wonder where his or her Birth Parents are and to want answers to the question of why they were placed for adoption. Again, depending on the state where the adoption took place, the minimum age that an adoptee may request records is 18 or 21 years or the Adoptive Parents may request the request records if the adopted child is a minor.

The best place to start looking for Birth Parents, even if you cannot access adoption records, is a Mutual Consent registry such as International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR). Mutual consent registries require both parties to register on the site to make a reunion possible. Adoptees are encouraged to gather as much information possible from Adoptive Parents, agencies, and non-identifying records to increase the likelihood of locating his or her Birth Parents.

Adoptees in closed adoptions often experience difficulty obtaining information about their adoption. Closed adoptions prevent adoptees from knowing who their biological parents are and do not allow for any contact.

Looking for Your Birth Mother: Are There Resources for Teens?

As stated in At What Age Can I Legally Start Looking for My Birth Parents, it is normal and natural for an adopted child to want to know where they come from. As they enter the teen years and begin to search for their identity, this can be something adoptees struggle with on a very deep level. Adoptees desire to find their Birth Mothers for number of reasons. Social media like Facebook and the unlimited resources on the Internet have proved successful in reuniting teens with their Birth Mothers. However, until an adoptee is of legal age (18 or 21), they will need the Adoptive Parents’ consent to join mutual consent registries or request documents from a government or private agency.

Reunion registries, also known as mutual consent registries, work by encouraging members of the adoption triad to register in hopes that there will be a match for reunion.

Register on the sites below:

International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISSR). is one of the world’s largest and oldest free mutual consent adoption reunion registries.
Find My Family Adoption Reunion Registry is a registry for adoptees and birth families that are mutually searching for each other.

Click here to see if your state has an adoption registry.

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