A SEARCHER'S GUIDE
I created this special tips chapter for adult adoptees
and foster children, as I am a strong proponent of
"open records." I believe every person has a birth-
given right to know who they are and where they and
their ancestors come from.
If states will not pass open records laws for adult
adoptees, they should have the right to search if they
so choose. I do not believe this right should be
extended to minors.
I also include foster children because of my own
situation. I was placed for adoption at birth, but
instead ended up in the foster care system until I
aged out at age eighteen. I had been totally
disconnected from my birth family. Sometimes a foster
child's search can be as difficult as an adoptee's.
I wish many of the tips I am including here were
available to me at the time of my own search. However,
despite my limitation, my search was successful.
The tips listed below are not listed by importance,
only you can determine which might be important to you
and what priority it is given.
1. Create a search journal. This may assist you in
keeping track of the steps you have taken in your
2. Discuss the search with your adoptive parents.
They may be willing to assist you in your search or be
able to provide you with necessary information.
Remember to let them know that you love them and your
need to search does not, nor will not, affect your
relationship with them. This will help them to not feel
threatened by your need to search.
3. As early in your search as possible, if you have a
computer with Internet access, join adoption and
genealogy newsgroups and/or support groups. They
cannot only provide resources to search, but may also
offer moral support during your search process.
4. Locate your amended birth certificate. Write your
State Office of Vital Records for it.
5. Obtain a copy of your final decree of adoption.
Write the court that finalized the adoption for it.
6. Obtain your petition to adopt. The same court that
finalized your adoption should have this as part of
7. Contact the adoption agency that placed you to
obtain non-identifying information. You may possibly
receive information you might not expect.
8. Contact the law firm or attorney who assisted in
your adoption for the same reason as above.
9. Contact your delivery physician again for the same
reason as above.
10. File a waiver of confidentiality with the adoption
agency, law firm and courts. This will allow your
information to be released to a birth parent or
sibling in the event they are searching for you.
11. Apply for medical records from the hospital where
you were born ONLY IF you have the name of your birth
mother and/or father. Adoption should not be mentioned
as you may find this avenue immediately closed to you.
12. Attempt to retrieve your original (pre-adoption)
birth certificate. You may not receive it, but you have
nothing to lose by requesting it.
13. Formally petition the court to open your adoption
records. To forward identifying information, the court
will need a reason. An example would be a medical
reason. Unfortunately this has not proven very
successful, but again, an avenue to try.
14. Register with the International Soundex Reunion
Registry (ISSR). Also, if the state in which you were
adopted has an adoption registry, register with it.
This allows the registry to release information if
family is looking for you.
15. Check both county and state records for marriage
or divorce records for either birth parent. If you
know the names of your birth parent(s) this will be a
very useful tool, especially if your birth parents
were in fact, at one time married.
16. Learn about the adoption laws for your state.
Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse.
17. Check county or state death records for birth
parents and both grandparents. This record will
include who provided the information on the
certificate, as well as the funeral home involved. The
funeral home could provide you names, addresses and
possibly phone numbers of survivors. Requesting my
paternal grandfather's death certificate, on a hunch
that he was deceased, is what unlocked all the doors
for me in the search for my birth mother.
18. Send for a copy of Where to Write for Birth,
Marriage, Divorce, and Death Records available from:
Superintendent of Documents, US
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.
19. Write to Adoption Regulation Unit to access your
20. Order a copy of The Guide to Genealogical Records
in the National Archives from: The National Archives,
Washington, DC 20408. You will also want to check the
tips I provide for genealogical research, as some of
them could be useful to you.
21. Find maps for the area where you are searching.
22. Create a profile of the hometowns or regions where
each of your birth parents is said to have been from.
23. Create a list of all the libraries in your area
and the areas where you are focusing your search. They will be a good source for finding obituaries for family members who may be deceased. The obituaries will list survivors which may lead you to your birth family.
24. Check local newspapers from where you were born
for birth announcements. Your local library usually
has old newspapers going back several years.
25. Check local newspapers from the area where your
birth parents were born for their birth announcements.
26. Check local newspapers for wedding and engagement
announcements for your birth parents.
27. Check in old city directories to try to locate
your birth parents or other relatives. These can be
found at many local libraries or historical societies.
I tracked my maternal grandfather for over thirty
years using this resource. When his name suddenly
disappeared, I then requested a death certificate from
28. Check in city directories to match an occupation
to a name. Some older city directories actually listed
companies where people worked. Finding out where my
paternal grandfather had at one time worked led me to
my birth father's sister and eventually to my birth
29. Cross reference city directory information year by
30. Check in city directories to locate old addresses
of birth parents and possible neighbors. Former
neighbors of a birth parent may be able to tell you
where they might be now.
31. Check phone books and national telephone directory
discs for birth relatives.
32. List yourself in the telephone directory of the
area where you were born, and in the area where you
live now. An unlisted number could lead to a dead end
for someone who might be searching for you.
33. Check any possible surnames against a book of name
34. Speak with your local librarian. They will prove
to be invaluable in directing you to many of the
resources in this guide.
35. Locate all churches of the faith of your birth
parents in the area where they were living at the time
of your birth and where they may live now.
36. Check local churches in the area where you were
born for any baptismal, marriage or death records.
37. Check local churches in areas where you believe
your birth parents may have resided for their
baptismal, marriage, or death records.
38. Join a local or national search and support
organization, and sign their registry if they maintain
one. Support of others during the very stressful
search process will prove invaluable to you and they
may also be able to provide tips and clues for you to
use. One group that proved very helpful during my
search was ALMA (Adoptees Liberation Movement
Association). Most major cities have a local chapter.
39. Create your own library of search and reunion