[Below are some things to think about as you begin your search for your loved one, based on the experience of G’S Registry’s Search Angels. This discussion is mainly from the perspective of a birth-parent seeking a child, but it’s good for everyone to read, because it covers lots of important background concepts and information. After reading it, a good way to begin your search is by printing a copy of the text, and then circling whichever tips and strategies apply to your own search; from that you can make a great To-Do list. You can also copy/paste tips/etc, and sort them into your own game-plan.]
If your search is for an adopted child, gather as much information as you can: the date and place of birth; the hospital; the city, county and state of adoption; the adoption agency that placed the child. Everything.
Your odds of success are better if you know the placing agency, especially if it was a private adoption agency rather than a public one. A private agency is an advantage because you may be more likely to find someone who is sympathetic to your cause, such as a social worker. If the original caseworker is retired, and can be located, she/he may feel more free to talk than a current employee. The social worker who placed your child through a private agency may still remember the child and the family that received the child. Furthermore, a private agency will probably have good records of the adoption. In general, their smaller case-loads mean that they have (relatively) more social workers per child than a large state-run agency. Likewise, public adoption agencies will most likely be less sympathetic to your efforts, or less able to help. (A public adoption agency places several hundred children for every one child placed by a private agency.)
The information in the medical records may identify the person who signed the baby out of the hospital (probably the social worker who delivered the baby to the adoptive or foster family). If a foster family was used before placing the baby with an adoptive family, there may be still another trail to follow. (Courts approve and pay foster parents, so records do exist.) Some adoptions are legal, and some are illegal – just as some are public and others are private. To identify the adoptive family, you may need to search court-house records of all of the persons who adopted a child within a year or two after the child's date of birth. Doing so may turn up names of adoptive families who went through that particular court.
You may need to find out if other local courts also processed adoptions in the years related to your search. Remember that older children are adopted as well as infants, so you may want to expand the time-frame of your search, beyond just a year or two.
Obtain as much information as possible from relatives: family bibles, birth certificates, death certificates, obituaries, and other documents. Numerous states have a birth index in their state archives which lists every baby born in that state. Also try looking at the state microfilm archives and in libraries for old adoption records, from every court in the state.
And don't forget the paper trail: i.e., besides the sources per se, there may be various pieces of paper that might help you. For hospital birth records, you’ll want to pick these up in person. Other paperwork includes the original birth certificate, adoption petition (which is in the courthouse), adoption final decree (also in the courthouse), amended birth certificate, non identifying information, court order, and medical records (sealed adoption records are a last resort.)
In addition, here are several sources that many people have found useful in their adoption searches. Regarding adoption agencies, some states have recently passed laws requesting adoption agencies to conduct searches on behalf of adoptees and birth parents (you’ll need to contact specific agencies to see if any new laws can be of help to you; or a Search Angel may know). Both private and public adoption agencies maintain adoption records of the children they’ve placed. There may be as many as four copies of these sealed adoption records, filed with the court, the attorney, the agency, and/or the state. The agency should have the name, age, and general background information about the person you are looking for.
Remember that agencies are not experienced at finding missing persons, but they may have the last known address (or other vital information) that will help you. Many times an agency search consists of nothing more than writing a letter to the address where the person was living when the adoption was finalized; but this address is as old as the adoptee, and may be useless. If the letter is returned as undeliverable, the agency typically considers the search to be over. (That's why you want to wait till the very last moment to do this step – you don't want any doors shut to you.) Many of the agencies that have begun doing searches are back-logged with requests, so they may not be able to spend a lot of time on any single search.
Here’s another thing to be aware of if you ask an agency to search for your child. If an adoptee is located and does not react in a highly positive manner, some social workers might interpret that response as negative, and you will probably be told that the adoptee does not want contact – when the truth is that the person may actually be open to a reunion but just is in shock. (This is another reason for not having an agency do this too early in the search.) If you yourself make contact with the adopted child in any kind of situation, and that person seems hesitant to speak with you, do not force the issue. Simply leave your contact information (including social security number, in case you move). The Adopted child may want to meet you later, after a rest-spell to let the news sink in. We can never know how long they may need, but we do know that people can change their minds when you least expect it.
So, a good rule of thumb is to take a deep breath – one lasting days or weeks – before you take any action that you can’t take back. Once the adoptive family is identified, the approach must be carefully planned, and executed in such a way as to avoid hurting anyone. Anyone. For example, although uniting siblings is not as emotionally risky as reuniting parents with their children, it still requires care and preparation. So, always strongly consider having a third party make the original approach on your behalf, regardless of who you’re contacting. If you’re absolutely sure that you want to do it yourself, then practice a few times – either in person or by phone – with a friend or a Search Angel, or several. Anticipate and practice a variety of scenarios, choices of words, reactions, and your responses to those reactions. Then do it all again. Of all the encounters in your entire life, this is the one in which, by far, you won’t have a second chance to make a good first impression.
In a nutshell, understanding the adoption process is the key to understanding how to find a person who was adopted. Your individual situation will dictate which search techniques work best. Plan every step carefully. Be diligent, persistent, patient, polite, considerate, even-tempered, fully-prepared, compassionate and forgiving. Once all the above are taken care of for your cherished reunion, then, if it was meant to be, it will be.
Authorizing Release of Identifying Information
Here are some specific things to do, and a little background information so you’ll have some idea of what you’re doing, and how to do it best.
Write to the state department of human services adoption services, authorizing release of identifying information about yourself and that of your birth-child. (This request is referred to as a waiver of confidentiality / request for identifying information.) Include all of the information that you have about your child's adoption (as noted above), in addition to your gender and race. If a search is conducted and consent is not given, you will need to make requests in (or to) the county and court of jurisdiction . (Don’t do this too hastily or prematurely – this is important.) Your letter might read something like this:
"If there is currently a letter on file for me from my birth parents or any other relative, I would appreciate you forwarding it to me. My name is ___________; my date of birth is __/__/___; my birth-brother is _________; father unknown at this time. I would like to request any and all identifying information you may have regarding my biological sibling as provided in _____ (refer to applicable state law here ) and any identifying information regarding any medical records as provided _____ (refer to applicable state law here). Please place this letter in any file held by your agency concerning my siblings’ care and my siblings’ adoption."
This letter may be used as a waiver of confidentiality. This includes the release of any agency records, hospital records, and court records. With the information you have on hand, ask the courthouse (of the city in which their court adoptions took place) which court(s) handled adoptions in the years of the birth; for example, April 1987 to April 1989 (probate, county, chancery or circuit courts.) Different courts may have handled adoptions, not just one, so make sure you know exactly who was responsible for court records pertaining to adoption for the years in which you are interested.
Once you know what court records you need to examine, understand the laws of your state regarding adoptions for the years you are searching. For example, your brother’s previous year before birth and two years after. Example:1987 to 1989 (this may be obtained through a state archive, library or law library.) If the laws for the years (such as 1987 to 1989) stated that a petition must be filed with the county court clerk’s office for probate court, then this is the place to begin. Some counties may use circuit or chancery courts. Some states may have other names, so it is necessary to understand exactly what laws were in effect for the years you need to search.
Most legal adoptions require the adoptive family to file a petition requesting permission to adopt a child. This information will be recorded in a "Minute Book" which is similar to a diary. Each Minute Book should also contain an index. Each day, entries are made of each case that goes before a judge, and each case is assigned a number. Each court keeps an account of which cases go to court in a "Docket Appearance Book," which is similar to an index. Be aware that different counties may have different ways of doing this. But generally most counties will have some sort of record-keeping system similar to an index, showing who goes to court each day.
A good resource to begin using is your local public library. See what the law says about adoption where you are searching. (You can also visit the links for each state on this Website, containing each state’s adoption laws.) More than likely, the adoptive family went to a judge, had an attorney, and filed with an agency – all before the birth occurred. The court probably gave a trial period of one year before the adoption was final. If so, this means there's a paper trail. Were the records public? Yes....Is the court responsible for maintaining a daily log? Yes.
.There should be a book available somewhere that documents everybody who appears in court. Although it is not made public in every state, in many states it is public information. This "Docket Appearance Book" will record who appeared in the local county courthouse, the date, and the reason for the appearance. There may be separate books specifically regarding adoptions, just as there may be separate books for divorces, wills, and other civil issues. Usually only one court in the courthouse handles adoptions. Find out which one it is.
A "relinquishment" is required to terminate the paternal rights, allowing the child to be legally adopted. In most courthouses, a "Docket Book" is kept of all people who go before a judge in a court of law, which is similar to a daily log book. No single rule will apply to the people and the types of cases that are heard in each court room. State and county laws differ, so no one rule will apply to all searches. In many states, the docket appearance is a public record. If so, it is an excellent place to start an adoptive search.
The search for an adoptee begins with the paper trail at the courthouse. Look at the appropriate time-frame in the Docket Appearance Book (if it is a public record) for all children who were adopted through the placing agency that you used. The "process of elimination" will narrow the possibility of which child is yours, based on the child’s gender, age, the adoptive agency, and other specific facts.
Thanks to modern technology, there is a possible alternative to following paper trails. There’s a slim chance that one of three people might be willing to help you: the social worker who assisted in the original adoption, the attending physician, or the attorney who processed the adoption paperwork. If all of your other attempts have been unsuccessful, you can use the Internet (and your Search Angels) to try to locate the above people. It’s a long-shot, but it’s still a shot.
Sad but true, birth-parents don't usually understand the adoption procedure beyond the point of surrender. They are not aware of the process, and what the adoptive family went through to get the child. They do not know what records exist, where the records are stored, how to ask questions, or how to begin. They are usually told that the records are sealed and that they have no rights. The only thing that most birth-parents know is that they had a baby, and signed a paper.
Imagine being 14 years old and making a decision that is irreversible -- the decision of a lifetime. You may have been a mother who was not old enough to have a driver’s license or vote, or a father who was not old enough to join the military... yet you had a baby and you made (or your were forced to make) a decision on the future of your child – yours – your child. You may have been ill or troubled in some way, or not able to afford to take care of your child at that time. You may have been forced by doctors or hospitals or well-meaning family to give up your child that you wanted. Despite all of this, you are still its mother – the mother who loved and who still loves your child… still its father – the father who loved and who still loves your child.
Your chances of finding your child are better if the child was adopted through a private agency rather than a public one. (Compared to a state’s huge & confusing case-load, a private agency may handle only a dozen male and a dozen female adoptions in the adoptee’s county of birth, per year.) But, please don’t let that discourage you, if you’re dealing with a public agency. One of the reasons Search Angels are so useful is that they’ve learned the subtle ways to "work within the system," fully legally and honorably.
For example, when dealing with state government offices, the workers there are often required to follow the exact wording of laws, and thus they may unintentionally treat equally valid request in different ways. They will often give your requests much more prompt and thorough attention if you simply tell them that you’re doing "family tree" or "genealogical" research, rather than speaking or writing anything using the words "adoption," or "adoptee," etc.
Doing so is 100% honest, moral and legal, because you truly are doing family tree and genealogical research, aren’t you? So, whenever you’re asking anybody for anything, first try your best to learn any subtleties or restrictions by which the clerks or officials may be governed. And then think of this little story. There was once a cigarette smoker who asked his minister "Is it okay if I smoke while I pray?" The minister impatiently snapped back, "Of course not! Your mind should be only on your prayers!!" Another smoker saw this and, the next day, asked the same minister, "Is it okay if I pray while I smoke?" Without blinking an eye, the minister replied, "Of course! There’s never a bad time to pray!!"
It’s not just what you ask, but how you ask it.
So, from one angel to another – and whether or not you smoke – this probably wouldn’t be a bad time for an extra prayer or two. J
God Bless, and Best Wishes,
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