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Adoption Records ~ Be Your Own Detective

Looking for Birth Parents or Adopted Child

Here's your first objective of an adoption search: Discover the identity of the child you relinquished. Or, discover the names of the birth parents who relinquished you.

The biggest difference between an adoption investigation and a missing person investigation is that in an adoption search you generally don't have a name with which to begin your search.

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Sealed Adoption Records

Certain state's laws forbid the opening of sealed adoption records. See Adoption Records by State. Sealed records can be opened by court order. This is touchy business and difficult for individuals not trained or skilled in dealing with these matters. Consult an experienced attorney before pursuing court action.

If you do find the all-important identifying information, your search can be conducted in much the same way as any other locate investigation.

The most important advice from experts schooled and experienced in adoption investigations: You most certainly face difficulties searching for loved ones separated by adoption.

Your first difficult encounter will likely be with one or more of the public servants who insist on following to the letter those laws that govern the release of information contained in adoption records.

Federal Adoption Laws

Sealed adoption records will make your search less than easy. To add to the dilemma, federal adoption laws are governed by rights and privileges guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Acts, as well as by the Right to Privacy Acts, but are enacted and administered by individual states(!)

"Information" and "Privacy" are the key words in the names of the important laws that guarantee citizens the right to access records contained in executive agency and department files pertaining to themselves. The law also guarantees that information can be withheld whenever the information disclosed would clearly constitute an invasion of privacy.

Adoption laws were created "in the best interest of the child" to protect the privacy rights of both the adoptive family and the birth parents. All states protect minor children. After the child becomes an adult, however, the protection of the "child" would seem irrelevant, but this is not always the case.

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State Adoption Laws

States differ in their interpretation of adoption laws. Rules and regulations vary from state to state. Investigate the laws pertaining to the states in which you will be searching.

Your library has an index of state laws regarding adoption and the release of information. If these are not available at your library, ask the research librarian to help you obtain a copy of the pertinent laws through an inter-library loan. You can also consult a law library for this information. See Local Information Sources for further information.

Adoption Support Groups

A search may prove emotionally trying for all concerned. Our Search Experts recommend you contact a support group for assistance.  Support groups will happily supply you with information concerning current laws, new search techniques, and up-to-date information.  Some groups maintain a registry.  Search and adoption consultants and group members will assist you in your search.  Services and fees vary considerably. Investigate thoroughly before you sign a contract.

Adoption Search Consultants

Search Consultants work independently or as part of a group.  Charges range from free for voluntary services to quite expensive when you engage the services of a trained professional.

Be certain to inquire about the organization's or individual's qualifications and the costs involved before making a commitment.

Adoption Search Assistants

These folks aid in searching records, give advice on search techniques, and provide guidance in applying criteria to your particular situation. Many support groups have Search Assistants associated with their organizations and will be glad to refer you to one.  Some are volunteers connected with the organization and some are professionals who charge fees that range from small to substantial, especially for "no-name searches."

Adoption Records Searchers

These professional experts know where records are located and how to gain access to them. You can hire a Records Searcher to search all records or to locate difficult-to-find records.  Be sure to inquire into what is included in services offered.  Most states charge for searching for a document and coping it.  Some Records Searchers may also expect personal expenses, such as travel expenses, to be reimbursed.  Some Records Searchers retrieve records manually, and others rely on Information Providers like us.

Order a People Search. Experienced database search specialists will immediately go to work for you, to quickly return real, meaningful results. See our Sample Report

Genealogical Consultants

To locate a missing relative, it is often necessary to trace family histories. Genealogical Consultants are highly-trained experts in the field of genealogy. They concern themselves with records and files about people who are deceased.  They search indexed files for information about relatives through census reports from the National Archives and the Library of Congress. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), has the largest library in the country pertaining to family history. They employ a large staff of Genealogical Consultants.

Adoption Legal Consultants

You may encounter situations that require the services of an attorney who may ask you to sign a limited power of attorney waving the right to confidentially. The attorney will correspond with state agencies and hospitals to request records on your behalf.  He or she will advise you when questions arise concerning legalities or legal forms.

If you can't afford an attorney, contact your local bar association to inquire about legal clinics and the services available to you. Or, contact the Legal Aid Society, who may refer you to an attorney who specializes in adoptee/birth parent litigation.

Adoption Intermediaries

Intermediaries are individuals or institutions that represent the interests of other people or an organization. Courts appoint intermediaries in adoption-related searches and may make decisions on your behalf that may not coincide with your search goals.

Adoption agencies also act as intermediaries.  These agencies may or may not take the searcher's personal needs and feelings into account.

Intermediaries may be those persons appointed by individuals to act on their behalf. Anyone can be an intermediary: a friend, a spouse, another searcher, a Professional Consultant, or a Professional Investigator. If you feel incapable of conducting an investigation yourself because of physical limitations, time restrictions, emotional burdens, or for any other reason, engaging or hiring an intermediary may provide the solution to your dilemma.

When hiring or appointing someone to act as an intermediary on your behalf, sign a limited power of attorney specifying exactly in what instances that person may act on your behalf, and a waiver of confidentially, which will allow them access to your personal records. Be sure all records will be returned to you when the search has been completed.

Order a People Search. Experienced database search specialists will immediately go to work for you, to quickly return real, meaningful results. See our Sample Report

Networking - Adoption Support Groups

Some search/support groups and reunion registries network to broaden the area of search. It's a good idea to register with a large national reunion registry at the beginning of your investigation. Considering the rapid rate at which searchers are signing up, you might get lucky right away!

Adoption Reunion Registries

Reunion registers are files indexed by name and other identifying information, such as the child's date of birth, hospital where born, and physical description.  Quite a few search and support groups maintain a registry of their members and/or belong to a national registry. Those registries are listed with the organizations to which they belong.

Your search will be conducted by entering the data you provide into a database and attempting a match-up with like information. For this search to be successful, both parties must be registered and actively searching.

State Adoption Reunion Registries

More then half of the states in the United States maintain reunion registries. Some states place restrictions on the release of information, including psychological counseling or consent from the adoptive parent - regardless of the age of the "child."  Other states are not nearly so restrictive.  Check with your state officials to see whether you want to pursue this course of action.  See, State Directory for listings of state reunion registries.

If you were adopted as an infant, your best source for information will be your adopted family. If you announce that you intend to go ahead with your search, family members may react in different ways.  Some may be cold to the decision, in which case, information might not be all that easily forthcoming.  On the other hand, some loved ones may support your decision and readily volunteer details of your birth and adoption.

Your decision to take on this search could affect the emotional well-being of family members.  Your parents may feel insecure in their position and fearful of being replaced in your life.  Some adoptees do not inform their adopted parents of their intention to search for their birth parents because they do not want to cause pain.  If you do inform them of your intentions, reassure them that your need to know your genealogical history does not in any way threaten your relationship or the love you have for them.

Question family members carefully about anybody who was involved with your adoption. Ask them to try to recall anything they can about your birth parents.  They may know their names.  If you were a young child at the time of the adoption, you may have some recollections about your birth parents.

The adoptive family may be able to tell you where the adoption took place, how they got you as a child, and who the attorney was.  They don't usually share this information.  The search for an adoptee is totally different than the search for a birth parent.

Go to the home for unwed mothers. Of all the places you had connections with during that time period, that is the place you need to begin. If you can find a yearbook, start calling friends. Somebody might remember a girl who was pregnant that year. Some people have been found that way. Some people have been found by running an ad in the newspaper. If you know where the birth mother was from, run a little ad in the paper in that area. If you have a date of birth, you might run a driver's record check to see if she has a driver's license in that state.

Order a People Search. Experienced database search specialists will immediately go to work for you, to quickly return real, meaningful results. See our Sample Report

Adoption Search - Looking for Birth Parents

Birth Mother

An adult child of adoption is usually looking for his or her birth mother, mainly because the mother's name appears on birth and adoption documents.  But a woman changes her name when she marries, and the fact that your birth mother's name may be different now could hinder your search.

Birth Father

Nothing may be known of your father.  Try to obtain your father's full name; you may be able to locate him fairly easily.  On your side: a man rarely changes his name.

Fill out our How to Investigate "Looking for Birth Parent" form to help you with your search.

Adoption Search - Looking for Your Child

If you relinquished a child for adoption, begin by writing down everything you can remember. Make a list of everyone who had knowledge of the event or was involved in any way, no matter how insignificant that data may appear.

Parents, family members and family friends may have been involved in the adoption. They may even have known the adoptive family.  Arrangements could have been made through a family doctor, attorney, or minister.

Customarily, the parent looking for a child is the mother. Increasingly, fathers too are seeking children given up for adoption. (To locate a father, first locate the mother. Question her about his identity.)

People to Interview

  • Parents
  • Minister
  • Relatives
  • Intermediary
  • Family attorney
  • Hospital personnel
  • State social workers
  • Family doctor & delivery doctor
  • Unwed mother's home personnel
  • Adoption agency personnel
  • Records administration
Fill out our How to Investigate Looking for Your Child form to help you with your search.

Order a People Search. Experienced database search specialists will immediately go to work for you, to quickly return real, meaningful results. See our Sample Report

Online Adoption Computer Registries - Continue to Part II

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