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How to Find Your Birth Parents

Sep 03, 2018

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Knowing where you come from is a large part of your identity. For people who were adopted at birth, the desire to find their biological parents later in life is a natural reaction to instinct.

These days, social media and advances in DNA technology make this pursuit easier than ever before.

Finding the Names of Your Birth Parents

The names of biological parents are listed on the copy of the birth certificate issued at the time of birth. Decades ago, it was standard practice in most states to seal the original birth certificate in cases of closed adoptions to protect the anonymity of the biological parents. This was because of the stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock. A new birth certificate would be issued once an adoption was finalized.

The movement of adoptee rights has gradually opened up the laws for adopted children to obtain an original birth certificate (OBC), but they vary among states. Most states until 2015 required a court order for someone wanting their OBC. Now, anyone can obtain their OBC in at least 20 states by contacting the state’s vital records office.

If you’ve been denied in the past, it’s worth checking again. The rules are constantly changing and vary widely between states. Delaware allows you to obtain your OBC if you are at least 21 years old, unless the biological parents have filed a contact veto. Massachusetts has blackout years in which adoptees born in those years can’t access their OBC, while those born in other years can.

As of 2017, 25 states still have restricted laws preventing adult adoptees from obtaining their OBC without a court order. The county clerk can help you file a petition with the court for you to access your sealed birth certificate. You will probably meet with a judge to explain why you want your OBC. In most cases, judges only grant access in emergency situations and not for personal reasons. The cases granted access are usually medical in nature.

There are still options if you are denied access to your OBC. A state denying you your OBC can provide you with “non-identifying” information about your adoption. This is generally basic physical descriptions of your biological parents that don’t reveal their names. The state might reveal their age, race, or other information recorded at the time you were given up for adoption.

Find Your Birth Parents With Little Information

If you can’t obtain your OBC, there are still places to look to find information on your biological parents. The first place to start is asking your adoptive parents what they know. There’s plenty of adoption paperwork they had to fill out, so ask them if you can see it. Find out what agency they went through. Your adoptive parents might have names of who they dealt with to facilitate the adoption. If your adoptive parents aren’t available, try to find information from other family members, like an aunt or uncle, grandparents, or maybe even their close friends.

Read full story How to find your birth parents

Adam Smith at