Written by: Cally Worden
You may have always known you were adopted or perhaps have just found out. Either way, the decision to trace your birth parents is a big leap into the unknown and can feel daunting. For anyone thinking of taking this significant step, we’ve complied a few suggestions on the practicalities of how to go about it and the kinds of things you may want to think about as you move forward.
The first step is to gather as much information about your family origins as possible. Your birth certificate is a good starting point as it may contain the names of your birth parents. If you don’t have a copy and were born after 12/11/75 and before 30/12/05 you can contact the General Registrar to apply for a new one.
If you were born before 12/11/75, or don’t know your given birth name, you must apply to the Registrar General for Access to Birth Records for information. You must also engage the assistance of an adoption advisor to ensure you get the help you need – this is because prior to 12/11/75 lifelong confidentiality was accorded to birth parents of adopted children.
Anyone adopted after 30/12/05 must go through the adoption agency that placed you with your adoptive family. Adoption agencies are also a valuable source of information about the family that put you up for adoption.
Prior to 1984 it was legal for private individuals such as Doctors, Lawyers or members of the clergy to arrange adoptions. In these cases, details will be harder to trace. A good starting point is the General Registrar, who should be able to identify the court in which the Adoption Order was made.
Beyond the Basics
Once you have acquired the basics of the names of your birth parents, or the place in which your adoption order was made, you are in a position to start digging more deeply for information regarding the current whereabouts of your birth parents. Useful resources include:
- Adoption Contact Registers – where families and adoptees can register their desire to make contact
- Electoral registers
- Public Records – Births, Deaths and Marriages – the National Archive at Kew has the most comprehensive set of information available
- Divorce Records
- Local Newspaper Announcements
The search may be difficult and detailed, but in many cases it is possible to piece together the life journey of your birth parents that eventually leads to their current location. There is a significant set of online resources that will help you to expand on the suggestions above and get started on your search. The Adoption Search Reunion website holds a wealth of useful information.
If you are successful in tracing your birth parents, the impact on the lives of all of you and those of your extended families, can be significant. Understanding the reasons behind your desire to know your birth parents will help you to be prepared for and cope with the emotional rollercoaster that almost inevitably lies ahead.
Be Wary of Social Media
The likes of Facebook offer the potential for an astonishingly fast search and retrieval of the people you are seeking. But this may not be the most sensitive approach. The reasons why children are adopted are diverse and there is no knowing the complexity or sensitivities around the particular situation that led to your own adoption. By exposing your birth relatives on a social media platform you risk damaging the chance for your relationship to develop in a gentle, unpressured manner.
Think About Using an Intermediary
Engaging a third person to help you in making contact with your birth parents is an option many adoptees find appealing. It provides a buffer between you and creates some breathing space for all parties to get used to the idea of contact, and to decide if it is really something they wish to be involved with.
Keep your Expectations Realistic
Not everyone in every family gets on. This is as true of cohesive family units as it is of fractured ones. Understanding this will help to prepare you for the possibility that your birth parents may not wish to engage with you, or that their life experiences have been so different from yours that you have little in common. It is also worth considering the possibility that your birth parents may no longer be alive. There may also be circumstance in which, for legal or other reasons, you are simply unable to complete your search successfully.
However you decide to proceed, it is important to take your time and accept the support and guidance of friends and family and also someone familiar with adoption and tracing services. The implications of your search will remain with you for the rest of your life and a strong network of love and support will ensure that you do not need to make this journey alone.