FAQ – Adoptee, Natural Parent, Birth Sibling and Relatives Search

Depending on the agency, state, country or individual inclination, the biological mother or father of an adoptee may be described as “first parents,” “real parents,” “original parents,” “natural parents” or “birth parents.” The biological mother may name her child on the original birth certificate or she may just provide a last name, which could be the mother’s maiden name. Either the real father or the husband, if the mother was married, could be the recorded surname.

What Is A Free Registry For Adopted People Or A California Adoption Database?

These are passive mutual consent lists of people who volunteer their name, birth date, county and state of birth and whether they are searching for an adoptee, biological parent, sibling or other relative. It is posted on the Internet so that the registrant can be found if the other party searches and attempts to reconnect. They are maintained by individuals concerned with uniting people who may not know each others names and are relying on biographical information that each may know: a date of birth, name of the hospital where one was born, the doctor, the city and county of the birth and the adoption agency. Government organizations, state or county social services and adoption agencies don’t post this information or host websites of registries or databases because most state laws prohibit disclosing adoption birth records. Therefore, any registry is going to have few listings compared to the number of children born who were matched with adopting parents. And usually when the child becomes an adult, she (or a sibling) is the one who initiates the search, not the natural parent, who may long for reunion but is not actively seeking connection.

How Do I Find My Birth Parents?

The California Department of Social Services website offers faint hope to adoptees, birth parents or adoptive family who seek to obtain the original birth certificate or the adoption file: “You must show good and compelling cause for the granting of the order. It is at the sole discretion of the court as to whether any documents from the adoption record will be released.” Most courts will not grant the petition except for particular medical conditions. This is not a hopeless situation and the possibility for finding family members through alternative means is still very good. The options remaining for finding birth or adoptive family or opening access to the adoption file:

          • First, request the “non identifying information” file from the Department of Social Services or the adoption agency (if that’s known.) This provides biographical information on the natural parents and the circumstance of your birth and adoption. In California, this is available to the adopted person and siblings. The adult adoptee, birth parent or sibling can consent to contact; the biological mother or father can find out about the family that adopted their child.
          • While you’re waiting for that, search the court index in the county where the adoption was finalized for the adoption petition. This may have the birth name and the birth mother’s name and the adopting parents.
          • Register at the International Soundex Reunion Registry, a mutual consent registry that seeks to unite families separated by “adoption, divorce, foster care, institutional care, abandonment, crisis.” This passive means to finding your family depends on both sides seeking reunion registering. You likely won’t get quick results and there are few matches relative to the number of people who were relinquished for adoption.
          • Contact the doctor or lawyer who arranged the adoption and see if they still have records.
          • Ask your current doctor to request hospital records where you were born, searching by your birth name and (if you know it) the birth mother’s name.
          • Foster care parents and maternity homes may have retained records.
          • Vital statistics — birth, death and marriage records, court lawsuits and divorces, historical newspapers, school yearbooks, tax refund notices, telephone books and city directories can all direct you to possible biological siblings, extended family members, immediate blood relatives and neighbors.
          • Because California is a closed adoption state and an adoptee’s birth name has been altered, the adoptive name won’t appear in the widely available free California Birth Index for births from the mid 1960’s forward. Earlier years may have the original given name or the amended name, only. However, a few people own the microfiche index to pre amended birth names and adoptee names. This index also lists the birth certificate numbers, birth mom’s maiden last name and sometimes the birth father’s initials. I own a set of that index. This is an essential tool if you don’t have the birth mother’s name or, in the case of a birth parent searching for an adoptee, the adoptive parent’s names or child’s new name.


What Can I Receive From the Adoption Records?

The state social services department where the adoption was finalized or the adoption agency retains records and will release a redacted version of the medical report and biographical profile of the birth mother and birth father and the adopting parents. This is the non-identifying background information file. The personal details on the biological parents can include the age of both; marital status and divorces; ethnic and national origin and racial identity; religion; education; whether there were other children and their ages; sibling ages; type of employment; physical features; biographical profile of the natural mother and father’s parents and; circumstances that lead to the placement of the child.

Each State Access To Adoption Records

All states have provisions in statutes that allow access to non-identifying information by an adoptive parent. Nearly all states grant the adopted person access to non-identifying information about birth relatives.

Original birth certificates are accessible to adoptees in a few states without restrictions: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii (birth parents and adoptive parents of the adult adoptee, too), Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island. The authentic birth record is available with restrictions in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey (starting January 2017), Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington. Statutes specify restrictions. Access to adoption records, non-identifying and identifying information, and birth certificates.

Approximately 26 states allow birth parents access to a portion of the records and 15 states give such access to adult birth siblings. Some states enable disclosure through a registry or intermediary for the matching of adoptees and birth parents or siblings.

The states that allow birth parents access to medical and social history but do not release names are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania (if the adopted person is at least age 21), Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Adult biological siblings can obtain redacted records in: Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.

The names, addresses, date of birth of the natural mother, father, relatives, and adoptive parents are usually provided when the person whose information is sought has consented to the release.

I Am a Birth Parent, How Can I Get Non-Identifying Background Information About the Family That Adopted My Child?

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) or the licensed California public or private adoption agency that handled the adoption can give birth parents information about the status of the adoption and general non-identifying background information regarding the adoptive parents, including information on the progress of the child at the time of the adoption. This service is available only for adoptions that were finalized in California. Some licensed private adoption agencies may charge a fee for this service.

You may request this information by writing directly to the licensed California adoption agency, if known, or to the CDSS. Your letter must include the name you used at the time of the adoption, your child’s name (if named), and his/her date and place of birth. Also, your signature must be notarized by a Notary Public. The CDSS does not accept requests submitted by email or by fax. Send your request to the California adoption agency or to the CDSS at the following address:

California Department of Social Services
Adoptions Support Unit
744 P Street, M.S. 8-12-31
Sacramento, CA 95814

I Am an Adult Adoptee, How Can I Get Non-Identifying Background Information About My Adoption and About My Birth Parents?

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) or the licensed California public or private adoption agency that handled the adoption can provide non-identifying background information about the birth parents to the adoptee. The information released includes general facts about the birth parents and their medical history. This service is available only for adoptions that were finalized in California. Some licensed private adoption agencies may charge a fee for this service.

You may request this information by writing directly to the licensed California adoption agency, if known, or to the CDSS. Your letter must include your name, date and place of birth, and your adoptive parents’ full names. Your signature must be notarized by a Notary Public. The CDSS does not accept requests submitted by email or by fax. Send your request to the licensed California adoption agency or to the California Department of Social Services address listed above.

Can I Petition the Court To Obtain My Original Birth Certificate?

California Health and Safety Code 102625-10271 states that the original birth certificateshall be available only upon the order of the superior court of the county of residence of the adopted child or the superior court of the county granting the order of adoption” and that “no such order shall be granted by the superior court unless a verified petition setting forth facts showing the necessity of the order has been presented to the court and good and compelling cause is shown for the granting of the order.” Still, “If the petition is by or on behalf of an adopted child who has attained majority, these facts shall be given great weight, but the granting of any petition is solely within the sound discretion of the court.”

Which Counties Record Adoptions, Given Names and the Name On the Current Birth Certificate?

The California birth index includes the original name a child was given and the amended name; the natural mother’s last name and the adoptive name for births in all 58 counties. Request adoption record information with birth and adoptive family names.

Alameda, Alpine,  Amador,  Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra, Costa, Del, Norte, El, Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Los, Angeles, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Placer, Plumas, Riverside, Sacramento, San, Benito, San, Bernardino, San, Diego, San, Francisco, San, Joaquin, San, Luis, Obispo, San, Mateo, Santa, Barbara, Santa, Clara, Santa, Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo, Yuba

Can DNA Testing Solve Adoption Mysteries Or Help Find My Birth Family?

A DNA test identifies your genetic heritage and can connect you to relatives who have also tested. There are three major companies that test DNA for genealogy. After you provide a saliva sample, you have access to the several million other people who have participated. Each company’s collection is retained separate from the others, so you must submit a sample to all three to access the maximum number of testers. DNA testing is most valuable when paired with traditional adoption search sources and methods. A birth index has names of parents and children. Finding relatives and verifying that your genes are a match to a parent, sibling or child is more complicated. Usually, the DNA results will reveal relatives within 4 generations, but then you have to trace those to find the family line that leads to you. However, this approach can confirm suspicions and reveal unknown names of potential relatives. It can also produce false positives. Tread carefully and verify with documentary material.

How Can I Find A Lost Family Member and Unite With A Parent, Brother, Sister, Uncle, Aunt Or Cousin?

It’s possible to locate a lost or missing person even with dated information on their last location. Biographical features that increase the chances of locating someone include any combination of personal characteristics: name, age, date of birth, social security number, parents names, last known address or town, spouse or former husband or wife, high school and college attended, and past types of work or place of employment. I’ve united people who were separated due to homelessness, mental illness, family disputes or the passage of time. Some reunions are of people who are biologically related — such as, half siblings or more distant relatives — but didn’t know of each other.

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