Each adoptee, and each adoption is different than all others based on the city, state, date of birth, agency used, and the circumstances of the placement. There are, however, common sense steps that everyone contemplating starting a search follow, and I'd like to share what I've learned with you in hopes that it leads you to a successful search.
1. Make sure that you have all your documents in order, specifically your birth certificate. Your birth certificate ‘is’ amended, but there may be information there that will help you as you move forward in your search, such as your time of birth, your hospital of birth and certificate numbers which may help identify the correct birth family when that time comes. If you have a ‘short form’ birth certificate, contact vital statistics and request a more detailed ‘long form’ certificate if available.
2. Do you, or do your parents have your ‘Order of Adoption’? Not all states provided adoptive parents with this information, but many did. If you don’t know if your parents have one, as hard as it may be, ask them. This document is going to provide you with a wealth of information such as the court your adoption was finalized in, and may even include your birth surname at the time of the adoption.
3. Find out, and again, your parents can tell you, what ‘type’ adoption was used when you joined their family. Did they use an ‘adoption agency’? If so which agency? We you adopted through a private placement (usually facilitated through a doctor, attorney or friend of the family). Were you removed from your birth family by Child Protection services? If so in which state and at what age were you placed into the foster care system? How old were you when you joined your adoptive family?
4. Next step non-id, which is adoptee shorthand for non-identifying information about your biological family. Depending on the state of your birth and/or adoption, you may either receive a wealth of information regarding your birth and biological family, or a one word ‘reply’ from vital statistics, but EVERY adoptee is entitled by law to some information regarding their birth, biological family and the reason for placement. Don’t assume that you are not going to have to fight for your own information because you most certainly will. Agencies ‘never’ anticipated they would have to provide post adoption services to adult adoptees and many are ill equipped to quickly provide answers, and most are sadly understaffed. You may discover that the agency you were placed through is no longer in business. If that is the case, contact your state vital statistics office and ask if those records were transferred to another agency for safe keeping.
5. Research! Now it’s time to hit the internet and research your state adoption laws. Although most states in the U.S. had sealed records at one time, many have recently opened access to Original Birth Certificates with some restrictions, like age of the adoptee at the time of the request, contact preferences on the part of the biological mother/family, some states have ‘sandwich’ laws which mean access is open prior to or after a certain date, etcetera. There is no ‘one’ right answer for every adoption in every state, researching your own information is critical to your success.
6. Get your Original Birth Certificate if you are from one of the access states. No one else can do this for you, you may need to provide current identification, have your request notarized, pay standard fees, and be prepared to wait some time for the information to be located and sent to you. Once you received your OBC don’t expect your answers to just fall into your lap. Depending on your age or the year of your birth, your biological mother may have married several times between the time of your birth and today. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard adoptees say if I had my original birth certificate or birth mother’s name I could find her myself easily. Rarely is this the case so be prepared to request assistance and don’t think twice about doing so. Investigators who are family search experts have access to information and data that ‘is not’ available to the general public.
7. Document everything. Who did you talk to? Who did you request information from, when did you send for your information? Don’t be afraid to follow up on any request if you feel like it’s taking too long. In fact, when you ‘send’ for any information, send it return receipt requested so that you can confirm WHO and WHEN your request was received. Don’t just assume your request got to the right destination and was sent to the right department.
8. Make plans as you prepare to START your search for what steps you want to take when your search is complete. Do you just want medical history? Do you want family history? Do you want a relationship with your biological family? Remember there are going to be two or more sides to your successful search and you should be prepared for every scenario, be it rejection or joyful contact ‘before’ it happens. What would you do if all you wanted was medical history but the other side wants to jump on a plane and come visit you now? How would you prepare for that request? Remember, there are NO one size fit’s all reunion scenarios. Each and every one of us is individuals, and each and every one of the people we seek is too.
Good luck to you all!