The resources used to find an adoptee’s birth family are similar to those used to locate missing persons in any situation. In a closed adoption, the adoptee will first need to find his birth mother’s name. Adopted people in open adoptions will likely already know their birth family name but may have lost touch with birth relatives for any number of reasons.
Begin With Phone Listings and City Directories to Find Birth Parents
Phone directories are the obvious place to begin searching for a missing relative when a name and possible location are known. Many online phone listings allow searches on as little information as last name and state. Browsing through the results can often yield important leads even if the actual person sought is not listed.
When a person’s location is questionable, city directories may be of help. Most city directories are kept in local libraries and are not available online, however they contain details not found in standard phone listings such as occupations, places of employment and names of other household members. Searching historical city directories can help pinpoint how long a family lived in a particular city.
Online People Search Tools for Locating Missing Family
A plethora of free online services have been developed to help locate missing people. Most of these function by compiling information from several other online sources into a comprehensive listing. Examples of some free tools are Pipl, Wink and Zabasearch, although many others are available. Comparing results from several of these search engines helps weed out the misinformation that is reported in some cases.
Social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are also good places to find people. Non-members can search for a name but additional details are available to those who register.
A basic Google search may turn up significant leads although it can take some time to read through pages of results. Phone numbers, locations and even e-mail addresses can be found this way. It’s best to use the advanced search option to limit the results as much as possible.
Public Records Can Help Find Birth Mother
Most important life events are documented by state or local government and these documents are available to the public either at no charge or for a small fee. Many public records or indexes can be accessed online. Most can be searched in person at local courthouses.
Public records that may yield clues to a lost relative’s whereabouts include:
- Marriage certificates
- Divorce decrees
- Name changes
- Property records
- Probate of estates
- Professional licenses
- Military records
- Civil and criminal offenses
Searching Obituaries and Other Death Records
An adoptee having trouble locating a birth relative must consider the possibility that the person is deceased. Check the Social Security Death Index or search for another death record such as an obituary. Even if the person sought is found to be alive, death notices of other family members may contain additional names, locations and even occupational information.
Additional Resources for Finding Birth Parent Facts
In some cases a legal notice may have been placed in the local newspaper to notify the birth father of the impending adoption hearing. A librarian can help conduct a historical newspaper search.
Churches keep their own records of important religious rites such as baptisms. Family member names can be found on these documents.
Alumni or professional associations may be able to put an adoptee in contact with a birth relative. Local libraries may keep copies of old school yearbooks.
Advice for Finding Birth Family Members
Keep in mind these reasons why women are generally much more difficult to locate than men:
- A woman frequently changes her last name when she marries. She may marry multiple times, resulting in multiple name changes.
- A married woman will sometimes use her maiden name or a previous married name as her middle name rather than the middle name she was given at birth.
- When giving her birth date, a woman will sometimes give a false birth year. She will usually give the real month and day however.
- A deceased woman will not be listed in the Social Security Death Index if she did not earn enough during her lifetime to qualify for Social Security.
Keep these things in mind when searching for any birth relative, male or female:
- Check for nicknames as well as full given names.
- Check for a middle name being used as a first name.
- Remember that mistakes are often made and names can be misspelled. Check for other possible spellings or common mistakes.
Many adoptees are successful in finding their birth parents’ contact information on their own using phone listings, people search tools and public records, but others may need the help of a private investigator or other professional. Once birth relatives are located it is time to decide how and when to make first contact. A large number of adoptees also take their new people search skills one step further by researching their biological family tree.