Perhaps the most daunting part of searching for your birth family is figuring out how to start. Where do you get those first leads for your search?

The first step is to gather all the data you have access to thus far. At this stage, the first impulse is to turn to your adoption records. However, accessing adoption records is not always an easy task.

For those who have undergone an open adoption, the process is significantly easier, as they may only need to submit a request with the relevant authorities (depending on local legislation). However, things get significantly more complicated for people who have undergone closed or private adoptions, who often have a significant number of obstacles to face before being able to access the existing information regarding their biological family.

What can you do if you’re unsure of your adoption status (open versus closed or private), the kinds of records that exist in your case, and how you can obtain them?

We will provide some useful information regarding the source and nature of available documents, the information you can hope to discover within them, the likelihood to find your adoption records online, and how online adoption reunion registries can provide a fast, simple and efficient alternative in case you are unable to do so.

What are adoption records?

Adoption records can most easily be defined as the entirety of the documentation produced by relevant state institutions and private entities around the event of your birth and adoption. Regardless of your geographical location, most adoptions are performed with the involvement of public authorities such as the local courts, which grant the petition for the child to be adopted. This adoption decree will be part of your adoption records, often alongside your original birth certificate and your new, post-adoption one.

If your mother has given birth to you in a maternity home or a hospital, records regarding your birth should be preserved by these institutions. At the same time, if the services of a private adoption agency were required, they would also likely hold records of this event. If you were adopted from a state care facility or from the foster care system, there will certainly be records with the local department of children and families. Finally, some religious institutions, such as some Roman Catholic churches, may mention adoption information on the documents they produce upon performing initiation rites for children, such as baptisms.

Our central reason why you may wish to access your adoption records is because they are a good source of information about your biological family, which can provide you with a place to start your search to reunite with them. These records are likely to help fill in some of the blanks regarding your birth parents’ identity and the circumstances of your adoption.

What information can you expect to find in your adoption records?

While the exact type of information contained by adoption records largely depends on your local legislation, procedures and practices, you can normally hope to find at least some of the following:

Data regarding your birth identity

  • Your date of birth
  • Your place of birth
  • Your birth name

Identifying information regarding your birth family

  • Your birth parents’ names
  • Your birth parents’ dates of birth
  • Your birth parents’ address(es) at the time of the adoption
  • Sometimes, the identities of siblings or other extended family

Non-identifying information regarding your birth family

  • Demographic information regarding your birth parents (age, race, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Physical traits of your birth parents (eye color, hair color, height, weight etc.)
  • The occupation of your birth parents
  • Some medical history information

Data regarding your adoption

  • The place of your adoption
  • Your age at the time of adoption
  • The context of your adoption

Which adoption records are available to you?

The adoption records you are likely able to access are usually contingent on the type of adoption you underwent, as follows.

Open adoption

Open adoptions are increasingly popular and have even become the norm in many states, due to the many benefits they present for both adoptees and their birth parents. They usually involve the fact that the biological family has agreed to share some identifying information with the adoptive family (and vice versa) and eventually, with their adopted birth child. While this form of adoption presents the option of subsequent contact, it usually means that adoptees have the option to request access to their adoption records (or, depending on their state legislation, to receive this information upon coming of age or to be able to access it online, using state-run adoption registries).

Closed adoption

For a long time, this was the dominant form of adoption in many states, involving no sharing of identifying information between biological and adoptive families. This means that in most cases, adoptees are not allowed to obtain their closed adoption records. Depending on your local legal system, you might still have a chance to unseal such records by making a special petition to the court and providing a solid cause for your request. However, the procedure is usually quite complicated and requires a significant investment of time and resources. Even if the records remain sealed, though, in many states, adoptees still have the right to request non-identifying information about their biological parents. If, however, you find that there is no convenient procedure to obtain your adoption records, there is no need to worry: there are other, often easier ways to find your birth parents in closed adoption.

Private adoption

Private adoptions are also known as “independent voluntary placement” and take place when the birth parents have chosen the adoptive family, either through their own circle of acquaintances or with the assistance of a private adoption agency. In the event where agency services are involved, it is highly likely for them to have kept adoption records, which may be requested unless the biological parents have expressly prohibited this.

Public adoption

Public adoption occurs when the child is adopted out of the state care system, either by their own foster parents (also known as “foster to adopt”) or by anyone who has fulfilled the necessary legal requirements to be declared fit to adopt them. In this case, the birth family has no choice regarding the family who will be raising their child. This can happen for several reasons, such as parental death or incapacitation, termination of parental rights, or simply the birth parents’ choice to place the child in state care. Having been processed into the system normally means that the state (through the local department of children and families and, where applicable, the institution which has provided care to the adoptee, such as the orphanage, the group home, the healthcare institution, etc.) keeps records regarding the adoptee’s biological family and their adoption. However, in certain situations, the birth parents can sometimes be unknown (e.g. if the child was found rather than brought in by a family member).

What are the main roadblocks in accessing your adoption records?

The obstacles encountered in your attempt to access your adoption records vary significantly between open and closed adoptions, as follows.

Accessing your adoption records in closed adoptions

Depending on your local legislation, obtaining your biological parents’ identifying information can be completely impossible or, in certain situations, it may be achievable through a lengthy and resource-consuming process of petitioning the courts. However, even if you are unable to obtain this information, many states will still provide you, upon request, with your biological parents’ non-identifying information. This may not prove extremely helpful in locating them, but it will help answer some of your questions about your origins, medical history, etc. It may also provide a starting point for your search, by disclosing your place of birth and adoption.

Accessing your adoption records in open adoptions

In the case of an open adoption, a simple request to the local authorities is usually all that is needed for you to take possession of your records. Thus, when petitioned, relevant state institutions should provide you with your original birth certificate, with both identifying and non-identifying information regarding your birth parents and with details about the location and context of your adoption. However, regardless of your situation, adoption records are frequently fragmented and incomplete, often dispersed among several public and/or private institutions and it can be a painstaking process to piece the information together. So even if you do gain access to your adoption records, you may find that:

  • Certain documents have been accidentally lost or destroyed
  • Some information is missing (e.g. your father is undeclared)
  • Some information is dated (e.g. your parents’ addresses have changed or your mother has (re)married and changed her name)

How can you find your adoption records online

Starting the search for your birth family can be a physically and emotionally consuming process and it is only natural to try to find ways to make it as fast and comfortable as possible. Therefore, if there is any chance to find your adoption records online (i.e. without having to physically submit request forms from one office to another) it is worth learning how to do so.

Unfortunately, many adoption records are usually private documents, most of which are not available to the public and in most cases are not digital records, so it is very uncommon to be able to access them with the click of a button. Most states require you to submit a physical request form before sending them to you, requiring record searching physical copying, and using the mail.

While certain local authorities do have websites for their adoption registries, they usually require you to register via signed and notarized application/form sent in through snail mail and only provide you with your adoption records if your birth family has expressly consented to this and in many cases they will need to reach out to the birth parents to confirm consent (e.g. the New York Adoption Information Registry or the California Department of Social Services Mutual Consent Program) which can be incredibly frustrating and time consuming.

However, depending on the country you live in, you may be able to obtain certain information online. In the UK, for example, one can register to the General Register Office website and provide some data, such as the adoptee’s date of birth, current age, name, adoption year etc. Should an adoption record be found, you can pay a fee of £14 to have it mailed to your physical address, but it will only consist of your biological parents’ non-identifying information and details regarding your adoption (e.g. the date it took place).

Public authorities are, however, not the only ones who can provide information about your adoption and your birth family. Ancestry sites sometimes have searchable public record information. This can include birth, marriage and death indexes, and adoption and orphanage records. However this does require that you have very specific information available to input into the search criteria.

What will your adoption records not show you?

While you can discover a lot from adoption records, there is also information which is not typically provided. Here are some examples:

  • Information regarding other family members, such as siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc.
  • Information regarding your biological family’s desire to be contacted by you.
  • Updated information regarding your biological parents’ name or address (which may have changed in time).
  • Background information about the circumstances that lead to the adoption.

Is there an easier way to find your birth family online?

If you have come to the realization that your adoption records are not available online and that cutting through all the bureaucratic red tape to obtain them physically is too difficult, fear not. There are still plenty of ways to find your birth family from the comfort of your own home in a fast, simple and efficient manner, even if you have very little information to go on.

The global adoption reunion registry has over one million registered users and a variety of ways to search for your biological family, including searching by name, date, location, and even your DNA profile. Once a match is found, there is no need to search any further—you can contact your lost family member directly, with a private message. The benefits of using this service are many:

  • Many searchers are started and concluded within the same day.
  • If you are matched with a biological family member, you know that they are also open to being contacted by you.
  • You can search for other birth family members in addition to your biological parents.
  • You don’t need a lot of information (you can search using many combinations of criteria).
  • The results can be almost instant.
  • The software is intuitive, fast and simple to use.
  • There is no bureaucracy to navigate.
  • Even if you have no match at this time, one of your birth relatives can register to the website at any time and when they do, you will be matched.
  • You have a community of people who have been through similar experiences to support you on your journey towards finding your biological relatives.