There can be moments in life when something happens to cause everything you thought you knew about yourself to be shaken to the core. An example of one of the most significant such moments could be if you begin to suspect you are not biologically related to your family.
Maybe you have come across some medical information or some legal paperwork which raises questions in your mind. Maybe a stranger has contacted you claiming to be a birth relative. Or maybe it’s just a gut feeling you simply cannot ignore any longer. Whatever the reason, it is completely normal to want to find out the truth about your biological roots and the circumstances of your birth. It is very possible you’ll find yourself confused about where to find the answers you seek.
We have compiled some of the best starting points to help you learn whether or not you have been adopted, once you have decided to embark on this journey of self-discovery,
Go straight to the source – ask your family
Nobody would blame you for being reluctant to ask your parents if you are indeed their biological child. You may worry about hurting their feelings or may have reasons to doubt that they would answer truthfully.
Attitudes towards disclosing to one’s children that they have been adopted differ from one family to another. While some parents are open about this from the very beginning, others will only approach the subject when they feel their child is ready to learn the truth, when they feel ready to share it, or they may even put it off until they are asked about it directly.
Most adoptive parents who have not disclosed their children’s true origin expect to receive this question one day. Though some anticipate this nervously, others have a positive outlook. There can be a sense of relief once the truth has been revealed.
If you would prefer to be more certain of your birth status before having this difficult conversation, keep in mind that there may be other family members who might be able to provide you with the information you need. Grandparents, aunts, uncles or older siblings are quite likely to know whether you are biologically related and you may find it easier and less emotionally taxing to have a conversation with them about the circumstances of your birth.
But what happens if, for whatever reason, you have no close relatives that would be willing or able to answer your questions? There are still options available to you:
1. Reach out to state institutions – obtain your birth records
Depending on the part of the world where you live, this process may differ. However, in most states, once you have come of age you have a legal right to access your birth records and, if you have indeed been adopted, your adoption records. Probably the easiest document to try to obtain in cases of uncertainty is your original birth certificate. Normally, once a child has been adopted, the birth certificate issued to them soon after they were born (containing their pre-adoption name, the names of their parents and information regarding their place of birth) is exchanged with a post-adoption certificate, containing their new identity and those of their adoptive parents. While legal procedure on this matter varies significantly among states, a simple request from an adult adoptee is often sufficient for local or central authorities to release their original birth certificate. You can also check your local legislation on this matter before submitting a petition.
Once you have obtained your original certificate and received confirmation that you have been adopted, you might also seek other records such as court decisions, adoption agency records, or medical records from the hospital where you were born in order to find out more about your birth family.
You may, however, happen to live in a state or country where requesting your original birth certificate is not an option, or it may have been lost, damaged or difficult to locate given that it was issued under a different identity than your current one. If that is the case you may want to try really looking inside yourself to find out the truth:
2. DNA testing
Our DNA is our primary biological connection to our birth family and the most reliable witness regarding our adoption status. That is why, if you can find close biological relatives willing to provide samples for comparison, a DNA test should remove most doubts regarding whether or not you have been adopted.
When only comparing a sample from one side of the family (only maternal or only paternal relatives), please keep in mind that a result showing no biological relation to them may not automatically mean you are an adoptee. You may only be biologically related to one of your parents, or the sample provider might be the one not biologically related to your family.
A non-match result may also sometimes lead to the wrong conclusions, as some couples struggling with infertility may undergo procedures which use donated sperm and/or ovules in order to be able to conceive, but are still the child’s birth parents.
What happens if you cannot obtain a DNA sample to compare your own to? There are services which may be able to help you with that:
3. DNA services
Sometimes it only takes your own DNA to get closer to finding the answers you need. Services such as Ancestry.com, 23andMe or MyHeritage will send you an easy-to-use home kit for taking a sample of your saliva, then they will analyze it and provide you with your full DNA profile.
Among other interesting information, such as your ethnic origins, it will also provide you with your DNA connections – meaning other people who have uploaded their results to the companies’ database and who share genetic material with you, making them your biological relatives. Since these services have millions of users, you might be surprised to find your birth parents or siblings through a simple DNA match.
If you have already used these services and they yielded no matches, do not despair. There are still some avenues left to explore:
4. Hiring an adoption detective
This option may sound a bit extreme in a normal situation of adoption uncertainty, as it can be costly and time consuming. However, you may find yourself in a situation where you desperately need to know whether or not you have been adopted and – through death or estrangement - no longer have relatives to ask or obtain DNA from.
An adoption detective, also known as an investigative genealogist, is an expert who specializes in uncovering people’s birth origins, even with little information to go on. They will search genealogy archives and databases, look for public record documents, interview people from your family’s past and follow a variety of specific leads in order to uncover the circumstances of your birth and find any signs of adoption.
Of course, the cost of hiring such an expert can be prohibitive to many or you may have already tried this option to no avail. Fortunately, there is one more thing left for you to try:
5. Using an online Adoption Reunion Registry
If there is a chance you have been adopted, there is also a strong chance one of your birth relatives is currently looking for you. Mutual consent Adoption Reunion Records, such as Adopted.com have databases of millions of users all hoping to find their biological family. Since these websites can be used quickly and comfortably from your own home, you can try entering basic information about your birth, and searching the database to see if anyone is looking for a lost child, sibling, grandchild, or even niece/nephew matching your profile.
Moreover, you can even upload your DNA data and if you were indeed adopted, you may be automatically matched with one of your biological relatives who also have profiles on the website (such as siblings). Furthermore, even if you are not immediately matched with someone, there is always the chance that one day, a birth family member will sign up to the registry and you will become reunited.
Given the fact that creating a members on Adopted.com is free, if it turns out you have not really been adopted then you have nothing to lose by joining the registry. But if you have, it significantly increases your chances of learning the truth. Whether or not you choose to use it before knowing your status for certain, this option is good to have in mind in case your journey leads you to learn that you are indeed an adoptee and you’d like to be reunited with your birth relatives.
Uncertainty about the circumstances of your birth can be a difficult emotion and can make you feel distanced or distrustful in relation to your family. You may also be torn between the need to know the truth and the desire to avoid causing pain to the people who raised you, whether you are biologically related or not. This may make you want to exhaust every other option before confronting your parents directly regarding your suspicions.
One thing to remember is that mutual trust is one of the most important parts of healthy family relationships and having tough conversations in a constructive way is one of the best ways to build this trust. It is likely that your family members would rather help remove your doubts – one way or another - than have you struggling with painful questions about your identity. That is why, if you feel that this is a safe option for you – even if a less comfortable one – it is recommended that you first try to learn the truth about your birth directly from your relatives, who are in the best position to confirm or deny your adoption.
Of course, if – for any reason - this is not an option for you, obtaining your birth records, DNA testing or any other method presented here are also good alternatives. What matters most is that you don’t go on living with this sense of uncertainty which has the potential to hijack your emotional wellbeing and drain you of energy, while at the same time causing/deepening a rift between you and your family, be it biological or adoptive.
Obtaining closure in this matter is very important, but if you find that you have tried everything and are still no closer to the truth, it might be a good idea to ask a therapist or spiritual advisor for help in putting this burden to rest and moving on with your life.