Check your birth certificate.
It may list more than you think. Depending on the State that issued it, the certificate may list your time of birth, the hospital, the delivering doctor's name and other things you can use in your search. If you have an amended 'short form' birth certificate, try to obtain what is called a 'long form' birth certificate. It may tell you more than what you currently have.
If your adoptive parents are still living, now is the time to ask them several questions. Emotionally this can be a difficult step because you may not want to 'hurt' your parents' feelings or cause them any distress, however it IS necessary. Many adoptive parents are only waiting until you ask to give your information or documents in their safe keeping.
Some of the things you need to ask them are:
1. Was my adoption through social services, an adoption agency (such as Children's Home Society or Catholic Charities) or was my adoption a private adoption 'arranged' between an attorney and the birth mother?
It is important to know what type of adoption agency you were placed through, so that you know what agency or entity to contact for information now that you are an adult.
2. Do you have any documentation from the time of my adoption?
These documents could include the Decree of Adoption (which often times lists a birth name or surname), a relinquishment document which may list your birth parent's names, or admission or discharge papers from the hospital. Your parents may have written down information in your baby book or album, or other papers which your parents kept or made notes on during the adoption process.
3. Do you know anything else about my birth parents?
Some adoptive parents were able to see documentation that was later sealed at the time of the adoption, and many an adoptee has been surprised when they ask their mom and dad for information and find out their parents were just waiting to be asked.
If you cannot ask your parents about your adoption, you may be able to ask other living family members if they know some of the answers to the above questions. Write down every bit of information you receive, even if you think it is not important. In fact we suggest that at the beginning of you search you start a Search Journal.
4. Obtain Non-Identifying information.
One of the first things that an adoptee in search of information on his or her birth parents should do is obtain non-identifying information from either the agency (private or social services) or from the State Post Adoption Unit if the agency your parents used is no longer in existence. Each state has its own requirements for obtaining non-identifying information so research your own situation.
Many adoptees are given a 'facts' sheet of information on their birth parents that was received by the adoptive parents during the adoption proceedings. This facts sheet was intended to familiarize the adoptive parents with the birth parents by giving limited information on the biological parents of the child they were hoping to adopt. It may list the age of the biological parents, height, weight and hair color, and possible the educational level of both birth parents. This fact sheet is not complete non-identifying information. If you do have this sheet, please also attempt to obtain full non-identifying information.
Non-Identifying information is a Social History of your birth or biological parents. It may include their ages at the time of your birth, their physical descriptions, and likes and dislikes. It will contain very limited medical history of the biological parents and families. If your birth parents had siblings, the non-id may include their gender and years of birth. It may also tell you if any of the siblings had particular talents or interest.
Most non-identifying information will also give you a brief description of your biological grandparents, such as their ages at the time of your birth and may also list their occupations, interests, hobbies and a brief medical history if known. It will also give you a brief breakdown on the reasons you were placed for adoption and the facts or situation which led up to that placement with you parents.
There are other laws which regulate what information you can obtain from the agency or the state. If your non-identifying information states that one or both of you biological parents were Native American, you may have other legal options available to you.
If you were born in one state, but adopted in another state you may have a very difficult time obtaining non-identifying information. Do not give up, this step is important.
Now it's time to do a bit of Internet sleuthing.
Check the laws regarding release of information in the state in which you were born. At last count 23 states have some form of a state sponsored reunion registry that you should sign up with immediately. Fees vary from free to around $50, but it is one way for both sides of an adoption proceeding to make contact and is often the only recourse for the birth family to try and contact the adoptee.
Many other states offer what is called a confidential intermediary program. Although the format of these programs vary by content, structure and cost, all of them operate by assigning your request to a state sponsored intermediary, who then petitions the court to unseal your adoption records and attempts to locate your biological family based on the information in those records.
The downfall to this type program is that if located and your biological family refuses contact, then by law the intermediary cannot give you any identifying information about your birth family.
ALL adoption triad members are advised to register at the International Soundex Reunion Registry. This agency has been in existence for 30 or more years, and is the primary voluntary repository for reunion requests in the US. You can visit their site at http://www.isrr.org .
Gather your information, and then if you are still contemplating hiring a professional, you can submit your request at: Search Quest America
Good Luck in your Quest!
Susan E. Friel-Williams
CEO, Case Manager and Licensed Investigator
Search Quest America