Adoptee Identity Search for birthparents

Answering Questions for Adult Adoptees

Rhonda Jarema

Nightlight Christian Adoptions

Today I received yet another call from an adult adoptee, questioning whether as the agency of her adoption almost 20 years ago, could we provide her with her original adoption documents. She wanted to find her family.

Whether adopted domestically or internationally, the interest in genetic origins is a fascination or even an obsession. Developmentally, late adolescence or early adulthood is a time of separation from the family and increasing independence. It is not unusual as adoptees go through adolescence and become adults to wonder about their family of origin. One adoptee wanted to know why her biological parents made the decision to place her. Another adoptee wanted to know why she was so outgoing, a characteristic she definitely didn’t get from her librarian mother and accountant father. An international adoptee wanted to join the army, but her parents couldn’t find her original adoption documents. Another international adoptee was estranged from his adoptive parents and only had his US driver’s license to prove his identity.

Although the desire to find out more information about their origins may be similar, the reason behind that interest may be different. In addition, the information available and how to access additional information is very different dependent on what type of adoption took place.

Adoption was very secretive through the 1970’s in the United States. Gradually it became understood that it was important to at least offer open adoption. By the 1990’s open adoptions were more common than closed adoptions. However, the amount of information shared still varied from very limited communication through the agency to relationships among the adoption triad of biological and adoptive parents and adoptee. Even today, despite encouragement about open adoptions, there are expectant parents who chose a closed adoption.

With open adoptions, at least at the beginning, there is a sharing of information. The biological and adoptive families share information with one another. However, often by the time the adoptee is a young adult there may have been years between when information was last provided. It is typical for the contact to drop off after a few years as the birth mother moves forward with her life.

For US adoptees there are a few options available in order to track down information about their genetic family. The first step is to read what information was provided at the time of birth/adoption. Taking the available information, the adoptee can then determine what information is available in each State. The ‘Child Welfare Information Gateway www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/search/searching is a great way to start. The adoptee can go on this site and determine what is needed to file for information from the State where they were born. They can access some limited information at age 18 and more information potentially becomes available at age 21. Some States have registries that allow both the genetic parents and adoptees to register and share information.

Even if personal contact information is not provided, registering allows the adoptee to access material that might not have been available in any other manner. It is not unusual for an adoptee to have questions about their adoption and genetics. Tracking down their biological parents can help them answer some of those questions. Although the adoptee may or may not be able to track down their biological parents, they may be able to obtain some answers to their questions.

The international adoptee has those questions and additional ones. International adoptees are the product of primarily closed adoptions. When my family adopted from Russia in 1995, we watched as the official took down a large leather encased book among shelves of similar looking books. She scratched out the names of our daughter’s original birth parents and inserted our names, written in an old-fashioned quill pen. We were provided with very limited information and signed a document that we would not seek out the genetic relatives of our daughters. Although we knew from US best practice that such ‘closed adoptions’ were not in the best interests of our children, we accepted it as that was the expected standard in that country.

With international adoptions, there is often just one original of the adoption documents and birth certificate. Unfortunately, there are limited ways to replace the documents making it difficult for the international adoptee to prove their origins, if they’ve been lost or destroyed.

For the international adoptee, a certificate of citizenship and US Passport can make all the difference between proof of their identity and being stuck in the quagmire of not being able to prove US Citizenship. For some international adoptees, they are finding out as adults, that their adoptive parents never even finalized their international guardianships with an adoption here in the US, leaving them without US citizenship.

Individuals who came to the US under a guardianship, needed to have their adoptions finalized here in the US. It is likely they came to the US under an IR4 VISA, meaning that the adoption needed finalization in the US, prior to US Citizenship being conferred. When inter-country adoptions are finalized in the child’s country of origin, the child likely came into the US under an IR3 VISA. This type of VISA signifies that the adoptee is eligible for US Citizenship. With the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, international adoptees with US parents became eligible for US Citizenship. As of 2004, these Certificates of Citizenship were automatically sent to families whose adopted children entered the US on IR3 VISA’s. However, if an internationally adopted child enters the US on a guardianship and IR4 VISA, they can obtain the US citizenship following the finalization of their adoption in the US.

In a few cases, the adoptive parents may have provided copies of their adoption documents to their adoption agency. However, this is rare unless it was required by the agency. If the adoption records are missing or destroyed, adoptees can apply to USCIS to obtain copies of their original adoption documents. It is form G-884. The website application is http://www.uscis.gov/g-884 They can also apply to the court in their country of origin, for certified copies of their original adoption documents. This is more costly and time consuming, as it would require contracting an attorney or an Intercountry adoption coordinator in the city where the adoption took place.

Of course beyond the desire for the proof of the adoption and US Citizenship, is the desire to find genetic family members. The easiest approach would be to take whatever information the adoptee has whether from memory or taken from the adoption records. With a name and a city, often relatives can be found on Facebook or for those from Eastern European countries, V’Kontakt. There are also ‘searchers,’ individuals who work as detectives to help adoptees connect with their biological family members. They are not formal detectives typically, but people who for a fee will help track down family members and make contact, then providing letters, photos or assisting with contact, depending on what is desired from all parties.
Social Media makes contact much easier whether the adoptee is domestic or international. It is fairly easy to put in a name and do a search. This may be a way to begin a search. However, as with anything, it is important to do it with caution. I’d encourage any adoptee beginning a search to first determine what they want out of the search and discuss it with trusted family members or a therapist. It helps to have a goal. Such a search can open ‘Pandora’s box, bringing up additional issues or it can be a beginning step towards healing and finding answers to previously unanswered questions.

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