Very likely you discovered that in the vast majority of instances, your adoption file, which resides in the court that finalized your adoption, is sealed. What this means is that the file can only be opened by court order. A court order can be obtained by petitioning the court. What the court will require in order to agree to open your file varies widely. Many states have a 'good cause' clause written into their adoption laws and it is up to the individual judge to determine if you have good cause. A few judges around the country are happy with your sense of curiosity, others have been known to deny petitions even in cases of extreme medical distress. The use of the Indian Child Welfare Act in your petition is also a possibility.
In most cases, a direct petition to the court to open the entire file, will fail, but it is worth pursuing as one can never be certain. Another way to have your file opened in some states is to have the file opened to a third party approved by the court, often called a Confidential Intermediary. It is my recommendation that one not utilize the services of a CI until they have exhausted all other options. Even if your petition to have your file opened is denied, nearly everything contained within the adoption file can be obtained from other parties, which will be the focus of this post.
The following documents are usually part of your court file, depending on the circumstances of your adoption:
These documents and the information contained within them, along with your hospital records and 'non-identifying' information available to most adoptees, will form the cornerstone of your search. If you do not know from your initial inquiries what court your adoption was finalized in, the best place to start is in the county where your adoptive parents were residing during your adoption. Contact the Family Court in that county and ask them if they can verify for you if your adoption file resides in their court. Sometimes, in small, helpful counties, you'll be given the information over the phone, at other times, they will require you to submit a written request.
Hopefully your initial inquiries will have established whether you were the product of a private adoption, or whether you were adopted through an agency. In the cases of a private adoption, usually your adoptive parents will have arranged to adopt you through a family doctor, family friend, minister, or family member. They will have hired an attorney and the adoption will have been handled through the attorney and finalized in a court of law. In an agency adoption, your parents will likely have contacted an agency with their decision to adopt, sometimes they will have been placed on a waiting list, and are matched with a birth mother and/or child who also had contacted or was brought to the agency. In the States, some adoptions, which are sometimes referred to as 'welfare' adoptions, were arranged through the State's Department of Social Services, or Department of Children and Family Services. Even in the case of an agency adoption or DSS adoption, your parents will have utilized an attorney for the finalization procedure. Usually your adoptive parents will have chosen and utilized their own attorney, although it has been my experience that sometimes the adoptive parents were referred to specific attorneys by the agency. Some countries only arrange private adoptions, others only public adoptions. You should research the adoption laws and regulations of your state, province, or country as detailed in 'Initiating a Search', if you are unable to find out what agency to contact with regard to your adoption records.
"Non-identifying information" in this
instance refers to a specific set of information given to an
adoptee about their adoption and birth family. A very few states
define within their statutes what constitutes non-identifying
information, and makes provisions for its release through
agencies and courts. In states or provinces or regions where
non-ID is not defined, it is up to the court or agency
responsible for compiling and releasing the information to
determine what to give you, if anything. Generally 'non-ID' will
include some or all of the following about one's birth parents:
Other things that a lucky few may receive include the first names of the birth parents, medical history, ages, and physical description of the extended birth family.
Where you get 'non-ID' will depend on several things. For private adoptions handled in the States, you must apply to the court that finalized the adoption. For 'public' or 'agency' adoptions, you should contact the agency directly AND also apply to the court, as sometimes you'll get more information from one than the other.
There is nearly always a fee and a wait involved for non-identifying information. In the States, for agency non-ID you can expect fees to start around $50 and go up to $250 depending on the agency. Court fees for non-ID are usually less, around $40-60. The wait will vary from 1 week (unusual) to years, but is usually somewhere around 3-6 months. How ever you apply for non-ID, whether it is a court petition or a written request to an agency, I highly recommend that you specifically state what information it is that you expect, even if your state defines non-ID. In Washington State, for example, even thought the law entitles you to the first names of your birth parents, you will usually not receive them unless you specifically ask and often then you will only receive them over the phone. Ask for first AND last names, ask for residence, last known address, ask for the name of the school or college your birth parents attended and what they majored in, ask for the moon, but don't expect to get it. The more you ask for, however, the more you're likely to get.
Do not inform the person or agency compiling your non-ID that you intend to search for your birth parents. It is best to maintain that the non-ID is meant to answer some questions that you have and you expect it to end there. If you have written for non-ID in the past and received it, it is a good idea to write again if several years have passed, or if adoption laws have changed. Each year in many places, social workers and judges provide more and more in the way of 'non-ID'. Most non-ID is anywhere from three pages long to eight or nine pages. Most includes detailed information about the birth mother. Many will include information on the birth father as well. This would have been left up birth mother. If she agrees to mention him, he might have also been interviewed at least once by an adoption social worker.
"Among some of the information that may be mentioned is the following:
- date and time of birth
- place of birth
- Single birth or double birth
- Number of previous births listed
- Birth mother's age at time of birth
- Place of birth mother's birth
- Birth mother's own family background
- Her disposition towards the baby
- Her attitude towards life in general
- Religious views
- Her educational level and mental capacity
When a person is adopted, their original birth certificate in most cases will be sealed in the court file and a new certificate, with all reference to the birth parent(s) names, and the adoptee's original name removed, is issued. This new certificate, referred to as the 'amended' birth certificate, usually will list your adoptive name and your adoptive parents as your mother and father. The remaining information, such as addresses, age, occupation, previous births,and race of parents, is usually the information as it applies to your adoptive parents, although mistakes have been known to be made. The hospital of birth is usually accurate, although that information, too, can be altered and was sometimes done so if the hospital was a maternity home for unwed mothers. The filing date, depending on the practice of the office issuing the certificate, sometimes remains the filing date of your original, or is sometimes the filing date of the amended, resulting in what several official agencies such as the U.S Passport Agency, refer to as a 'delayed' birth certificate, which can cause great difficult in receiving certain official documents such as passports and visas. The name of the doctor is worth a special look, as you will be attempting to contact him or her later in your search.
The original birth certificate of a person adopted at birth or shortly thereafter, often will list the person's name as Baby Girl or Baby Boy, plus the last name of mother at the time of birth. This does not mean that your birth parent(s) did not name you. If an adoption plan had been made, often the individual taking the information for the birth certificate did not bother to ask, or to respect, the wishes of the birth parent(s). In general, even if your birth father was named by your birth mother, his name will not appear on your birth certificate if your birth parents were not married at the time, although there have been exceptions. If your birth mother was married to someone other than your birth father, usually her name and your last name on the certificate will be her married name, and sometimes her husband will be listed as the father. Again, there are no hard and fast rules, and you should look closely at the information on both the amended and original birth certificates and be willing to dismiss some of it as false or misleading. The file numbers and/or registry numbers located on the original and amended birth certificates are, frankly, a mystery to me. In many cases, I have seen that the file numbers on both the original and amended birth certificates are the same, which could be helpful. In my case, the file numbers located in the upper right hand corner of both of my certificates, are completely different from each other. In this area, a local search and support group can be helpful so that you can compare experiences and documents with other triadians searching in the same area of the country or province.
If you were not lucky enough to have been adopted in one of the few states, Provinces, or countries, that provides the original birth certificate to adoptees upon request, aside from petitioning the court, there are a few other ways in which you can attempt to obtain a copy of your original birth certificate. First off, as with all documents that are listed in this post, you should ask your adoptive parents. Sometimes they received a copy when the adoption was finalized. Secondly, if you do have your birth name or your birth parent(s) name, or you suspect it, it never hurts to write for to Vital Statistics requesting your original birth certificate. Don't mention you were adopted, do not include any information related and if all you have is a last name, scribble your first and middle names so they're illegible, and only fill in what you know of the remaining information. In all likelihood, you will be contacted for further information, or flat out denied, but again, it never hurts to try. If your search is Canadian related, Canadian Adoption Information has an excellent Website at that will tell you who has what records, for what years, how to get them and gives addresses and phone numbers. If you are searching in the UK,start with the General Register Office Click for UK General Register Office. Also has information on Wales. For those adopted in Ireland, go to Ireland Adoption Information
In most cases, a baby born to an unmarried woman or who was scheduled to be adopted after birth, will not have a birth announcement in the papers. Mistakes have been known to happen, however, so it pays to make copies of the birth announcements for babies born on your birth date at the hospital or in the city or town of your birth. In addition, further inquiries and information, particularly from the hospital of your birth, might require you to rule out certain names of babies who share your birth date, so the announcements can come in handy regardless of whether you are listed. As with any other piece of information that requires you to search in the area of your birth and/or adoption, if you do not live in the area or cannot get to the library or institution of research, call the library that houses the information and ask about hiring a research librarian to do the research for you. Usually they will do so at a nominal fee, such as the cost of copying the documents, or a small hourly charge.
In most places, prospective adoptive parents are required by law to place a legal notice notifying the alleged birth father of the impending adoption hearing. It is common practice to place these legal notices, even when the birth father is named and has consented to the adoption, in order to erase all potential for problems later on. The attorney that represents the potential adoptors generally place these legal notices in obscure legal journals that are well known in local search circles, which is why it's a good idea to have joined a search and support group, as detailed in the post 'Initiating a Search'. Legal Notices sometimes contain absolutely no identifying information, but they *usually* will refer to you using your birth name (Baby Girl/Boy_______) and they often identify the birth father by name as well, although sometimes he will be referred to as John Doe. The potential for payoff is enormous, however looking through the legal notices on microfilm can be an incredibly painful and time-consuming procedure. Knowing the time period when the legal notice might have been placed is tricky, and it often requires that you look through thousands of notices for several months if you are unsure when your adoption hearings were held. Knowing if the legal notice refers to you can also be tricky, unless your adoptive parents are referred to by name. Usually the name of the attorney, or the attorney's firm is named at the top of the notice, which is how you can begin narrowing down the notices.
The Adoption Decree or Order of Adoption (your adoption might have come with one or both), is generally the final order of adoption. The Adoption Decree can contain some potentially upsetting and draconian language for adoptees adopted several decades ago, or even more recently. Often, the decree announces that you, the adoptee, have been 'abandoned' or 'rejected' by your natural mother. You, the adoptee, might be referred to as illegitimate or in other derogatory terms, until the end of the document when you are judged to have, by virtue of your adoption, obtained "all rights, privileges and immunities of children born in lawful wedlock." take all of this in stride, if you can, and write it off to sheer ignorance. Adoption Decrees usually include your birth name, your adoptive parents names, your adoptive name, and sometimes one or both of your birth parents names.
The best place to find the adoption decree is with your adoptive parents, with their important papers. Barring that, you can contact the attorney that handled the adoption, or his firm if he is no longer practicing or has passed on, and try to obtain a copy. I obtained the copy of my adoption decree through the attorney that handled my adoption for my adoptive parents. It contained my birth name, and within two days I had found my birth mother, after several years of searching. My problem was with locating the attorney, as my adoptive parents did not have a family attorney that they used regularly, and so did not remember who they had retained. If you are in a similar situation, if there was an agency involved, they sometimes have the name of the attorney and will give it to you as part of the non-ID(if you ask), as will the court to whom you petition for non-ID or to have your file opened. If you contact the attorney and s/he will not give you a copy of your adoption decree, it is often worth it to have your adoptive parents request it, as well as all other documents related to your adoption, in order to help in the preparation of their wills, for instance. If you obtain a copy of your adoption decree or order of adoption through the court, agency, or even through an attorney, sometimes identifying names will be 'whited' out or otherwise deleted, however you can often still tell how many characters in length a name is, or find other clues. Similarly, when requesting the adoption decree, it can be useful to also attempt to obtain the consent to relinquish, termination order, or other consent that your birth parent(s) will have signed.
You should contact the agency, court, adoption services department, or other agencies or bureaus that were involved in your adoption or house records relating to your adoption, and ask about filing a waiver of confidentiality. In some states, provinces and regions,if you file a waiver of confidentiality, then if and when a member of your birth family contacts that agency or court seeking information about you, identifying information will be released to them so that they may contact you directly. Do not file these waivers or ask about them until after you have received all of the information you plan to request from that particular agency, so as not to tip off Vital Statistics, for instance, that you are adopted if you're trying to get an original birth certificate, or so as not to seem as if you are planning on using any information obtained in order to search.
If in the course of your inquiries, you are able to determine if you were baptized shortly after birth, or if you were placed by a private agency with a religious bent, particularly a Catholic agency, you might be able to obtain a baptismal certificate that could contain information about your birth name and birth family. Churches in general keep excellent records and if there's any indication that your birth parents were active in a church or specific organized religion, it pays to look into it further.
The records of your birth can be a goldmine of information and in some cases can be relatively easy to get, as in many hospitals, after a certain period of time the records are moved to an archiving company and stored in warehouses staffed by people who know little about adoption and have had little contact with medical requests. The place to start, however, is with the hospital itself. If you do not have your birth name, you have a few options. You can request the records under your adoptive name and that of your adoptive parent(s), hoping that, especially in the case of a private adoption, they might be listed as responsible parties and therefore the records will be cross referenced and the clerk will just send them all to you,(do not mention adoption) or you can engage in a number of deceptive practices such as attempting to come up with a story as to why you don't have your birth name,(that doesn't involve adoption) or why you want to see the records of all the babies born on a given day. I am not recommending any of these methods nor vouching for their legality in your particular region under your particular circumstances, and if you are concerned about the legality of any of them, you should consult an attorney. In addition to the records of your birth, most Obstetrics units keep an 'OB' log that lists the babies born each day that could be of use. How long both the log and your particular birth records are kept varies from hospital to hospital but most hospitals do have the records in some form, kept somewhere, it may just take some persistence on your part. Do not mention that you were adopted. You will not receive your records even though it is not illegal for you to request them, nor in most places is it illegal for them to be provided to you. In fact, one can make a pretty good argument that you are entitled to them, but that is another matter. One thing to keep in mind is something happens if you're not aware of it You may attempt to obtain your hospital records without first knowing your birth name, thus tipping off the hospital that you were adopted. Your files will be promptly flagged, and when you do get the name and attempt to get your records again, you may be unable to. Some people however, had a different experience with an archiving company:
"At this point, I had a name, an age, a place of birth, and my hospital of birth. I wrote to the hospital again, and learned that they wanted by birth certificate before they would send me the documents. I ignored them.I waited nearly a year before writing the hospital again; this time, the records had been moved to an archiving company in Marietta, GA, and that company sent me my records. "
In most cases, your birth records will not indicate by any
special flag that you are adopted, and so if you do have your
birth name, you can usually obtain them without trouble if the
hospital has not destroyed them. On the other hand, usually one
of the attractions of obtaining the records is for a name, so
it's a classic double-edged sword, and you should use your best
City directories will likely be something that you become very familiar with in the course of your search. At this point, you will likely need to use them to find out more about the doctor that delivered you, the attorney that your parents used, the agency that handled the adoption, or the hospital where you were born. City Directories are a lot like phone books. They contain listings of businesses and individuals, their addresses, and their phone numbers, and are bound by city, or groups of towns, or regions. These books are usually hardbound and can be found in university and public libraries for surrounding areas, usually from about 1930 forward, but often much earlier. City directory listings contain more than phone books do, however, such as occupations, places of employment, and the names of others living in the same household, such as spouse or adult children. They can be used to trace a listing for a doctor to find out when s/he retired if s/he has, or where they are now located or now practicing. Likewise with an attorney. Also, if your adoptive parents are not able to come up with the name of the agency they used, city directories will list all the agencies in a given area at the time of your birth, which you can then contact. Usually there were just a handful. Finally, city directories can be used to find out if the hospital where you were born is still around or if another hospital is now located at the same address. Again, utilize your friendly research librarian or volunteer search buddy if you do not live in the area of your search.
You are now at the point where you might be in need of
specific tricks of the trade that only investigators in the
field will be able to assist you with .
There are certain search techniques and documents that I have left out of this post and are in general kept quiet by the professional community, as we have had the painful experience of having these resources shut down once they have become known. I have included other sources here, reluctantly, balancing the importance of the lay community knowing about them with the risks that are always involved when a search resource becomes "public".