Adoption Search

How To Do Your Own Adoption Search In California

Are you an adoptee who wants to identify the name of your birth mother? Your first thought may be to obtain your original birth certificate. These are kept under seal by the California Department of Public Health and are not released except by court order. Similarly, the adoption file that has the name of the birth mother is confidential.

Is it possible to get court authorization to open the adoption file? The Department of Social Services website offers faint hope to adoptees, birth parents or adoptive family who seek to obtain the adoption file: “You must show good and compelling cause for the granting of the order. It is at the sole discretion of the court as to whether any documents from the adoption record will be released.” Most courts will not grant the petition except for particular medical conditions. But this is not a hopeless situation and the possibility for finding family members through alternative means is still good. You can hire a professional researcher or, if you first want to pursue this on your own, here are some recommended actions:
  • First, interview your adoptive family and make a note of everything you’ve been told in the past about the circumstances of your birth and adoption: the age of the biological mother, the geographical area she was from, whether she was she married or single, the name of the adoption agency or private attorney, and possible names of the birth parents or relatives.
  • Ask your parents for any scrap of paper they retained. This could include the petition for adoption, letters, checks they wrote, notations on envelopes and photographs.
  • Request the “non identifying information” file from the Department of Social Services or the adoption agency (if that’s known.) This provides biographical information on the natural parents and their parents, and the circumstances of your birth and adoption. A detailed file will report the birth parents ages, place of birth, educational status, type of employment, physical features, ethnic identity, religious affiliation, and sibling ages and gender. In California, this is available to the adopted person and siblings. The adult adoptee, birth parent or sibling can consent to contact; the biological mother or father can find out about the family that adopted their child.
  • While you’re waiting for that, search the court index in the county where the adoption was finalized for the adoption petition. This may have the birth name and the birth mother’s name and the adopting parents. Don’t tell the court clerk that this concerns an adoption. You’re doing genealogical research on your relatives.
  • Register at the International Soundex Reunion Registry, a mutual consent registry that seeks to unite families separated by “adoption, divorce, foster care, institutional care, abandonment, crisis.” This passive means to finding your family depends on both sides seeking reunion registering. You likely won’t get quick results and there are few matches relative to the number of people who were relinquished for adoption.
  • Contact the doctor or lawyer who arranged the adoption and see if they still have records.
  • Ask your current doctor to request hospital records where you were born, searching by your birth name and (if you know it) the birth mother’s name.
  • Foster care parents and maternity homes may have retained records.
  • Vital statistics — birth, death and marriage records, court lawsuits and divorces, historical newspapers, school yearbooks, tax refund notices, telephone books and city directories can all reveal possible biological siblings, extended family members, immediate blood relatives and neighbors.
  • View photos in high school yearbooks in the region where your birth parents lived. You may have a visual similarity to one of them and then be able to match the photo to a name.
  • Because California is a closed adoption state and an adoptee’s birth name has been altered, the adoptive name usually won’t appear in the widely available free California Birth Index for births from the mid 1960’s forward. Earlier years may have the original given name or the amended name, only.
  • DNA testing has solved adoption mysteries and pinpointed family names and locations where the extended birth relatives or ancestors have lived. Usually, the DNA results will reveal relatives within 4 generations, but then you have to trace those to find the family line that leads to you. DNA testing is most valuable when paired with traditional adoption search sources and methods.

Tamara Thompson
Adoption Search and Reunion
April 2017

Original content Copyright 2017 by Tamara Thompson.

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