What to Do If You Want to Find Your Birth Parents

Woman in white sweater looking out the window.

Getty Images / martin-dm

As an adoptee, it's only natural to wonder about your birth parents. Whether your curiosity began as a child or developed later in life, questions about your origin can linger in the back of your mind, compelling you to find answers. (And that's okay!)

If you're an adult with the desire to find your birth parents, it's important to consider all aspects of the process—both practical and emotional. The journey requires a determined yet delicate approach for the sake of all parties involved.

So, where do you begin? While every adoption situation is different, there are some general questions and factors to keep in mind before starting the search for your birth parents.

What Is Your Goal? 

Before diving into your search, ask yourself: why do you want to meet your birth parents? Do you have questions about your family or medical history? Are you wondering where your eye or hair color came from? Or do you need a sense of closure?

No matter the reason, it's helpful to assess the overall goal for tracking down your birth family.

Are you looking for a one-time meeting or a subsequent relationship? Your reasons for a reunion are just as significant as the search itself. It's essential to be absolutely sure you're ready.

Once you're set in your decision, try talking to your adoptive parents about your intentions. They might be able to provide information about your birth family and advice or opinions about your decision to find them. On the other hand, they may experience feelings of rejection, in which case you can assure them that your decision is in no way a reflection of the love and support they've provided you.

Consider All Possible Outcomes

While many begin their search in hopes of a positive outcome, it, unfortunately, does not always turn out that way. Here are some potential outcomes to consider:

  • You don't find any information. Even with your birth parents' names and numerous resources, it is still possible to come up empty-handed after a search.
  • They have passed away. There are situations when adoptees discover a birth parent or family member has died.
  • They don't reciprocate the desire to meet. It's possible that all of that time and effort is spent on someone who does not want any contact or relationship with their biological child. If this is the case, take the time you need to process your emotions and seek comfort from those around you (while respecting their decision).
  • You discover a birth parent with a checkered past. Whether it's substance abuse or other concerning behavior, you will need to decide how you want to proceed.
  • It's a happy reunion. They welcome you into their lives without question.

Since there are so many ways your search can end, it's important to set and maintain realistic expectations to try and avoid being blindsided by unsought emotions.

Which Type of Adoption Were You Involved in?

If you're not already familiar with your particular situation, you'll need to look into the different types of adoption. Knowing which one you were involved in can help you narrow down the best resources to connect you with your birth family. Here are the most common adoption arrangements:

  • Open Adoption: When the adoptive parents and birth parents remain in contact throughout the pregnancy and after the birth of the child. The level of openness is different for every family based on the child's needs, but many typically include texting, photos, or phone calls. (And sometimes, even visits.) Open adoptions have become more common in the last few decades. A survey of 100 U.S. adoption agencies found that most of their infant adoption placements were open.
  • Semi-Open Adoption: The birth parents and adoptive parents keep communication open, but use non-identifying information. It's usually handled through the adoption agency or professional.
  • Closed Adoption: No information is shared between the birth and adoptive families.
  • Foster Care Adoption: The adoption of children in foster care (state or social services' custody), often due to harmful parental behavior (abuse or neglect).

Figuring out the specifics of your adoption arrangement can give you information that helps point your search in the right direction.

Choose the Best Search Strategy  

To really hit the ground running, you'll first need to gather any information you have access to. Your adoptive family can help provide adoption details, including birth records and the names of any hospitals, attorneys, dates, adoption agencies, and more. The next step is to review the different resources available.

Keep in mind, the process can take anywhere from weeks to years, so it's important to approach it with an open mind — and a lot of patience. Having a solid strategy in place can help keep you organized and on track.

Here are some of the different avenues for finding your birth parents:

Adoption Reunion Registries

Thanks to ever-advancing technology, many state and national databases and registries have been established to help connect people with lost family members. "Mutual consent" registries are a great place to start, since both adoptees and biological parents sign up with the intention of providing their identities.

If a parent or child searches the registry, they may receive a match if their family member registered as well. This is especially helpful if your state denies access to adoption records.

State Adoption Records

In most states, adoption records are accessible once you reach 18-21 years of age (or with adoptive parental consent). Of course, the level of restriction depends on your adoption state.

Through adoption records, you may be able to obtain "identifying information," which leads to the identity of your birth parents. Most states are able to release identifying information as long as the person or people being identified give their consent. If not, a court order must be obtained that determines "good cause" for releasing the information.

You also have the possibility of obtaining your original birth certificate. After an adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents receive a new birth certificate for the adoptee. To access the original, you'll need a court order, request, or consent, depending on your state's laws.

Social Media

In this digital age, social media plays a powerful role in how we interact with others. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and other popular platforms provide a massive boost for your efforts. All it takes is one mutual acquaintance to connect you with the person you're searching for.

If you're comfortable doing so, you can share your story, name, baby photo, or any other relevant information in hopes that someone will recognize you and be able to help. You can also ask your friends and followers to share it publicly to help expand your reach.

DNA Testing

The advancement of DNA testing has created an incredibly effective way to discover your biological roots. There are quite a few DNA Testing Kit options out there to provide you with a test and any DNA match results. The list of matches provides more information on how closely you're related; so, even though you may not find a parent, you could potentially find other distant relatives to aid in your search.

No Matter the Outcome, Try to Stay Positive

The process of finding your birth parents can bring a wave of varying emotions. Whether you're nervous, excited, anxious, or overwhelmed (or all of the above), the best way to navigate your journey is to make the most of any outcome—positive or negative.

If it doesn't turn out as you hoped, you can still take solace in knowing you did everything you could to find answers, and will always have the support of everyone who helped you try. And that, in itself, is a positive outcome.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Openness in adoption: from secrecy and stigma to knowledge and connections: practice perspective. 2012.

  2. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Access to adoption records.