Since the first moment that the idea of searching for your biological family came to mind, you could probably feel a twinge in your heart—a little voice you had to silence before moving forth. You may even have postponed starting your search on its account. It’s the voice of fear and anxiety, wondering how you will cope if the process doesn’t go the way you hope. What if you don’t find your family? What if they don’t want to hear from you? Or the most final, and sometimes the most dreaded outcome: what if you are too late and they are no longer alive?

You have probably pushed these scenarios out of your mind and replaced them with hopeful, positive thoughts of the reunion of your dreams, and this was likely the best way to move forward. However, a wise person said you should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. That is why we believe it’s important for you to be ready to face the possibility that some members of your biological family have passed away, making reunion impossible.

We have prepared some answers to the most frequent questions and concerns you are likely to have in this situation, which we hope will bring you some comfort and help you find some much needed closure.

When is it time to start considering that my birth relative may no longer be alive?

Losing hope is a sad occurrence when looking for someone who is an important piece of your personal puzzle. However, there comes a time when we need to accept that in spite of our best efforts, the search is not proceeding as planned and that there are signs pointing to your birth relative possibly no longer being alive, such as:

  • Finding a plentiful trail of information about them which suddenly stops after a certain date.
  • Matching on an online adoption reunion registry with a user who was also looking for birth family, but not receiving any response from them in spite of several attempts at contact.
  • Current ages of those you seek, especially if you are looking for a grandparent or elderly relative.
  • Learning that they were suffering from a severe, potentially life-threatening health condition.

Of course, none of the above means for certain that the person you are searching for is no longer with us or that you should abandon hope of finding them. These signs only mean that it may be time to include the possibility of their passing in the list of potential scenarios.

How would I find out if my biological family has already passed away?

On many occasions a biological relative who has passed away may simply remain undetected—your search may yield no trace of them, or it may come to an abrupt end. However, depending on the search method you are using and the information available to you regarding your birth family, you might be able to learn about their passing in a number of ways.

Upon accessing your adoption records

Especially if it was an open adoption you may have the identification information of your birth relatives on file. This will make it easier to search through a number of repositories, such as:

  • Accessing Governmental records: many states have online records of residents who have deceased, but in some places, an in-person visit to the local court house may be needed.
  • Reading the obituaries: if you know the name and city of residence of the birth relative you are searching for, local press may have an online or paper-based obituary section where you would be able to find the names of residents who have passed away. The local library might have an archive of these publications dating a few years back.
  • Searching for their social media accounts: once you have identifying information of your birth relatives, you can try locating them on social media. In the event of their passing, this information is usually the last item posted on their social media accounts, or they may have simply stopped activity altogether after a certain date.

Here is information on accessing records in a closed adoption.

Upon using an adoption reunion registry

You may be able to find other biological relatives using the Global Adoption Reunion Registry. These relatives may be able to inform you of the passing of the family member you were originally looking for. This is one advantage of using the global registry, that it provides a platform for other family members to seek you out even in the case of one family member being deceased. Databases which allow you to search by DNA may also have a higher likelihood of identifying biological relatives you may not be aware of.

Upon hiring a private investigator

If you hired a professional to locate your birth relative, their investigation may lead them to the conclusion that the respective person has passed away and they may present you with evidence to this end: records, wills, neighbors’ testimonies, etc.

What should I do when I learn that my biological family has already passed away?

This news may come to you in an unexpected way: it may be grief for having to face the finality of the fact you will never be reunited, it may be anger at having this opportunity taken away from you, it may be disappointment to have to let go of all the anticipation, it may be numbness or it may even be relief.

The best things you can do to cope with this situation is:

  • Create a safe space for your emotions – don’t judge them, don’t try to push them back, allow yourself to feel, acknowledge and honor them as they come.
  • Take time to process – it may be tempting to bury yourself in work distractions to avoid dealing with this realization, but in the long run, setting time aside for unpacking it is the best option.
  • Seek and accept support – talk to your loved ones about your loss and allow them to comfort you. The fact that your deceased biological relative has not been a part of your life does not necessarily make the news of their passing less painful.
  • Enlist the help of a professional – if you feel that the news is overwhelming or simply need specialized support in processing it, do not hesitate to seek therapy or spiritual guidance.

Is this the end of my adoption reunion journey?

While death is final by nature, your quest for becoming closer to your birth family does not need to end abruptly in the event of the passing of the original subject of the search. There are still things you can do that can help you understand them better, give you a sense of closure, and help you come to terms with not having had them in your life:

  • Try to locate other family members, family friends or even neighbors who might be able to tell you more about your biological relative—what they were like, how they lived their life, maybe even the circumstances surrounding your adoption.
  • If possible and known, visit places which were a significant part of your deceased birth relative’s life: their home, the school they attended, their favorite spots, etc. It can give you a sense of their unique energy.
  • Whenever you feel ready to do so, write a letter to your family member who has passed. Tell them everything you never had a chance to in life. When completed, you may choose to keep it, to reread occasionally, to place it on their grave or another meaningful spot, or to dispose of it for cathartic purposes. You may continue doing so every time you feel the need to.
  • Reach out to the community. There are online and physical support groups for the bereaved. You may choose to become a part of these communities. Specifically, Adopted.com has a special community section where members can offer each other support and compassion. You are bound to find others with similar adoption outcomes there, ready to share their stories and listen to yours.