Adoption can present many challenges in genealogical research, but free adoption records can help you sort out your family tree.
What Information Is Available?
Attitudes about adoption have changed dramatically over the last century. While adoptions were once highly secretive, there has been a gradual trend towards better record keeping and more open communication between birth parents and the adoptive family. Therefore, the more recently the adoption took place, the more likely you are to be able to find the information you are seeking.
Depending upon the age of the adopted child and the location of the adoption, records might contain the following information:
- The name and address of the hospital where the baby was born
- The doctor who delivered the child
- The baby's height and weight at birth
- The time and date of birth
- Birth parent background info such as age, education, nationality, religion, and marital status
- Contact information for adoptive parents
- Relevant medical and health information
Many people assume that an adoption with "sealed records" will have no information available. However, the law must specifically state what information is sealed. Anything that is not listed as protected information in the adoption papers must be disclosed upon request.
Adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents have a legal right to adoption records, although some states also extend rights to biological siblings.
Resources for Finding Adoption Records
The first place to look for free adoption records is the agency that finalized the adoption. If you have this information, the agency should be able to provide you with non-identifying information such as the age and nationality of the birth parents and the child's place of birth. Additional information will only be available if the birth parents signed consent forms at the time of the adoption.
If you want to look for official records, the US Department of Health & Human Services has a summary of laws that may be useful to you as you are planning your genealogical research. You can also download a state by state guide to policies regarding adoption records.
If you don't have much information to work with initially, posting a request on an adoption reunion registry may be helpful. These free resources seek to help reunite adoptees and their birth families. However, since registry participation is completely voluntary, you'll want to search on several different sites in order to increase your odds of finding a match.
- The International Soundex Reunion Registry is said to be the world's largest and most successful reunion registry for adopted children and their birth parents. Due to concerns about privacy, you can't submit forms online and you will be notified only if a match is made with the information you've provided.
- TxCARE offers a free database of people who are seeking to connect with relatives separated by adoption. There are listings posted by adopted children, adoptive parents, birth parents, birth siblings, and other birth relatives.
- Find Me is a free adoption database that is searchable by the adopted child's date of birth.
- Adoption.com maintains an adoption registry that is free to access if you are over 18 years of age. You can search records by name, year, state, agency, or country.
Names in Free Adoption Records
When you're searching for free adoption records, it's important to remember that an adopted child has a birth name and an adoptive name. If the birth mother opts not to give the baby a name, the original birth certificate will say something to the effect of "Baby Boy Jones" or "Baby Girl Smith." The adopted child's birth name remains his or her legal name until the adoption is finalized. This can take between six months and one year from the time the child is placed with the adoptive parents.
Seeking Support for Your Search
Searching for adoption records can be a complicated process, so it's important to be persistent. Gen Forum maintains a resource for people to ask questions relating to genealogy research and adoption. While the participants in the forum aren't official experts on the topic, many have personal experience to share that may be helpful in your own search.