It’s challenging to search for your birth parents with very little information to provide to reunion registries. What if you don’t know much beyond your birthdate? What if all you know is your birthdate? Can you really locate your birth parents with this little bit of information?
Technically, the short answer is—yes. But let’s add a huge caveat to that: It’s much harder to do a search with this limited bit of information.
Having only a birthdate in your knowledge bank, pre-search, poses a disadvantage for the searcher. With such limited information, your search may take longer. The “pre-search research” you’ll have to do will be intense—all just to be able to get to the point of entering the information you know into a reunion registry or database and then clicking “Find” to see what matches pop up.
Basically, the more information you have, the better. And maybe it can even shorten your time to discovering the identity of your birth parents (but don’t quote me on that; every search is different).
There are reunion registries that need only basic information—but even they need more information than just your birthdate.
- Who are you trying to find? (Birth parents, my adopted child, a sibling, a family member)
- Which best describes you? (I am the adopted person, I am searching on behalf of an adopted person)
- Indicate the birth year of the adopted person.
- Indicate the birth month of the adopted person.
- Indicate the birth date of the adopted person.
- In what country did the adoption take place?
- In which state did the adoption take place?
- When did the adoption take place? (Not sure, within a year of birth, more than a year after birth)
- Since the time of adoption, have you been in contact? (Yes, no, not sure)
Registries that are run by government agencies and individual U.S. states typically need more information than your birthdate—and much more information than the nine questions listed above.
For example, in their fact sheet titled Searching for Birth Relatives, the Child Welfare Information Gateway (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) advises searchers to take a series of steps before even engaging in a formal search—steps like assembling known information, researching state laws, and tracking down missing documents. Registries and search agents vary in terms of what they need from you, but, common to most searches are steps like tracking down “known information,” researching relevant state laws, registering with reunion registries, obtaining missing documents, filing court petitions, and ensuring emotional preparedness on the part of all parties (is everyone mentally ready for a possible reunion down the road?).
But what if you run into dead ends trying to track down the missing information? What if you can’t fill in all those answers on the very first search form of a reunion registry—even basic questions like “what state”? What if you fill out the entire search form, but you can’t fill out one question, and so the site won’t let you hit “Find”? What if the entire reason you’re searching is to find answers that you don’t yet have, answers that can’t be provided until you provide, well, more information? Information that, well, you just don’t have. Information that you have to spend time navigating state and national government agencies to obtain, and that certain state laws (e.g., some states still will not unseal adoption records due to closed-adoption laws) may still prohibit you from getting.
Sorry to cite an overused expression here, but, it’s the proverbial “what-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg” dilemma.
So, if all you have is a birthdate, how can you find your birth parents? The answer lies in two powerful methods that have become extremely popular and quite reliable: social media and DNA tests/registries such as those done by Ancestry, 23AndMe, and FamilyTree DNA (to name just a few—there are many others, so, do your homework). These sources are excellent ways to search for birth parents.
If the only information you have is your birthdate, then using social media as your go-to for finding a birth parent is highly recommended. In fact, the birthdate is #1 among the top three key pieces of information that every searcher needs in order to start their search, with #2 being the sex of the adoptees, # 3 being location.
There are a whole host of Facebook pages dedicated to adoption searches and reunions as well as adoption support. Do a search on Facebook and identify a few sites to explore. Scroll through their posts. Read the activity and results. Check out how many followers they have (that is key—the more reach your post gets, the better). Check their content and the frequency of postings. Do they seem to be active and engaged? How responsive are they to posters’ questions? Are they getting some real results? If you like what you see, join and like their Facebook pages. And when you’re ready, post a photo of yourself with your known information. Keep the text of your post short and filled with facts: “Seeking my birth parents. I was born at Mercy Hospital in Pleasantville, Idaho, on November 5, 1978. Adopted by John and Jane Doe of Brooklyn, NY. Contact [email protected]” Don’t post the same photo too often, or Facebook will identify you as a possible spammer and block you from being able to post anything else for a period of time. Putting your contact info ON the photo (e.g., taking a picture of the adoptee holding a sign with all the key info on it) is an important detail not to be overlooked.
Here are just a few Facebook adoption search and reunion pages that have a healthy number of followers and that are active daily and even hourly:
- Find My Family (“helping all adoptees and their birth family members—including birth mother, birth father, and birth siblings—locate each other and reunite through a free mutual consent search process”)
- G’s Adoption Registry (“helping people reconnect to find answers, family and medical history, and hopefully peace”)
- Searching for Adoptees (don’t let the name fool you; this site, “created to reunite families separated by adoption,” is for searchers who are both adoptees and birth parents)
- Adoptees Reunited (hosted by Adoption.com at http://registry.adoption.com/)
For some great tips, check out this article from our very own Lita Jordan on finding your birth parents and using social media to do it.
There’s yet another (sometimes unrealized) advantage of using social media to find your birth parents: It’s possible that you may end up connecting with people in your same situation (especially in the case of social media) who perhaps have had more experience in doing this, and they can share with you what they have learned, tips to avoid wasting time on unproductive search methods, advice on how to prepare for an upcoming reunion, what the best keywords to use are, and many, many other additional benefits.
Social media is great, but don’t stop there! Another method of using newer technologies to search for your birth parents is through the use of DNA registries. Wow, is there a lot of information out there about this. (It almost warrants its own article, but we’ll try to keep this brief.)
DNA registries can be a powerful source of information for those seeking their birth parents. Consider the case of Sally Armstrong of Dallas, Texas, featured in a recent article by Samantha Melamed in The Philadelphia Inquirer. She signed up to get a DNA test through the popular 23AndMe service, which includes an optional “DNA Relative” function. Armstrong enabled that function, even though search and reunion wasn’t the main reason she signed up for the DNA test. When she got her results back, she was notified of several fourth and fifth cousins and then, was matched with a half-sister. From there, she went on to discover that she had not one but four half-siblings, all of whom live in Philadelphia! Here’s the full story of the reunion. 23AndMe told The Inquirer that “95 percent of people who enable the DNA Relative function, which mines data on users’ chromosomes to spit out matches, find a family member who is a third cousin or closer.”
Having said this, keep in mind that DNA technology is still relatively new in terms of identifying family members and aiding in adoption searches. This technology is very much still emerging, changing, and growing. So, there are still limitations—big ones—such as the fact that your biological family members must also have had their DNA tested by the same service (and thus, residing in the same DNA database) in order for the two of you to be identified as sharing the same genetic material (i.e., being “blood relatives”). DNA testing is very popular right now, and it stands to become only more so. This means that more people will have their DNA results stored in the databases, and thus, searchers will be reaching even more people as the popularity of this service continues to grow and as the databases continue to become more populated.
So, armed with only a DOB, can an adoptee get any mileage on using DNA registries to find birth parents? Let’s consider this in the context of an actual example.
One adoptee wrote to the Huffington Post blog the following question: “I am adopted and have NO clues about my birth except a sort of ‘fake’ birth certificate from when I was born in Texas. No family name. No known blood relatives. Would the DNA test be a good option for me anyway? What will I learn about my family from taking a DNA test?”
The question was answered by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, and by Jake Byrnes, Genomics Technical Manager for Ancestry DNA. They responded as follows: “The short answer to your first question is ‘yes, absolutely:’ An adopted person can—sometimes—be fortunate enough to find the identity of their biological mother and father through one of the major commercial DNA tests available today. And the answer to your second question is ‘quite a lot’.”
Check out their article, “Can DNA Help You Find Your Birth parents? Part I” on the Huffington Post blog. There’s also a Part II of this article, in which the authors share a story of how two men discovered they were half-brothers through an Ancestry.com DNA test.
A useful website to check out is DNAAdoption.com. The very first line of the website might strike your fancy: “You’ve done a DNA test. Now what? We can help.” Are they talking to you or what?!? Their mission is to “teach and guide people searching for their biological roots to use DNA in combination with traditional genealogy search techniques and, when applicable, specialized adoption search techniques, by providing robust education, methods, guidance, and support.” It’s a site worth surfing to, and it has courses, resources, links, and a whole section titled “For Adoptees.”
A common recommendation for DNA testing, especially in the case of searching for birth parents, is to use multiple DNA testing services (not just one). Another piece of advice is to not rely ONLY on these newer methods of searching (e.g., social media, DNA tests) but also to engage in the more traditional methods of searching. Gates and Byrnes suggest a whole list of steps that searchers can start working through as they await the DNA test results—these steps will ensure that the searchers “cast the widest possible net for gathering information of all sorts—both through records and through genetics—about their birth parents and relatives. To prepare this list, Professor Gates consulted with a leading genetic genealogist, CeCe Moore, who specializes in the use of DNA to help adoptees find their biological relatives.” These steps are listed in Part I of their article.
In Part II of their article, Gates and Byrnes encourage adoptees to use DNA testing as a reliable method of finding their birth parents. “DNA testing can sometimes provide truly miraculous results for adoptees wishing to pursue information about their birth parents.” They affirm that “Consumer genetics tests provide an incredible genealogy entry-point for adoptees. Most tests on the market today provide two key results. The first is an estimate of where in the world your ancestors likely lived 10 to 20 generations in the past. . . . The second result is a list of individuals with whom you share long stretches of identical DNA. Your list of genetic matches constitutes the seat of all your biological relatives who have also taken the same test.”
So, with your DOB in hand, get ready to start searching. Good luck!
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