THE BLOG
01/20/2015 03:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Adopted and Curious?

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The popularity of genealogy speaks volumes of the basic human interest in uncovering the mysteries of lineage, heredity and the ancestors who came before us.

Adoptee curiosity is no different from anyone else's and is even more understandable for those who don't know from whom they inherited their eye color, musical talent or sports ability. Adoptees lack this simple, basic knowledge all others take for granted. Some do not even know their ethnicity and even their vitally important family medical history is a blank slate. Whether you are eight or 80, if you are adopted and have not met the parents who brought you into the world, you no doubt have questions, like those expressed by Hallee Randall, 11, who inspired this post.

Adoption curiosity begins with the understanding of what it means to have been adopted and grows with knowledge of biology, birth and genetics. No matter how loved, happy and content, the adopted child grows up wondering why they were placed for adoption. Generalities based on nation of origins suffice for a while but many seek more specific answers.

Being told that you are adopted is like being told, "Here is a box that holds the secrets to your life, but it's locked and we don't have the key." The message is of forbidden fruit that is kept secreted because it contains secrets that might harm you or others.

Recognizing and Breaking Down the Barriers

The result of not knowing is nagging curiosity battling fear of the unknown and fear of hurting adoptive and birth parents. And the biggest one of all -- fear of rejection.

The flames of these fears are fanned by myths, misconceptions and old wives tales about adoption that die hard. Overt and subtle negative societal messages permeate discussions of adoptee search and reunion:

• "Why would you want to find those who abandoned you? They didn't want you then, why would they want you now"

• "If they cared, they'd have searched for you."

• "You have no right to interfere in their lives. They have a right to anonymity."

• "Searching -- even expressing curiosity -- will hurt your adoptive parents. They are the ones who were there for you."

• "Only ungrateful, angry, or disgruntled adoptees search."

Well-meaning "warnings" may come from loved ones and friends attempting to protect adopted persons:

• "Watch out what you ask for. You may find some awful truth that you'd be better off not knowing."

No matter how awful the truth is it is the truth and it is better to know than not know. Knowing your heredity could help explain a lot and might be critically important for you and future generations. If cancer or heart disease runs in your family, knowing could save your life. If your family tree is riddled with alcoholics, you may want to temper your social habits accordingly.

Families who lost children to adoption are told that they have no right to disrupt their child's life. They have no access to their adopted child's new name and thus cannot search if they wanted to.

The vast majority, however, long to know of the well-being of their adopted-out children and are delighted to be found, even those who have kept it a secret. Birth fathers and any siblings -- pre or post your birth from either your father or your mother -- may not even know of your existence.

Where to Start?

Step one is to give yourself permission. Waiting might men losing the ability to actually meet people who could die in the interim.

The next step is to ask your adoptive parents what they know or what papers they have filed away concerning your adoption. They may likely have a decree of adoption which has your name at birth. They also will know the attorney or adoption agency who handled the procedure. Some adoptees, however, prefer not to involve their adoptive parents.

Submit your name, date and place of birth, and all other information you have to the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR) which is a free database. Do not get discouraged if neither of your parents know of the registry and thus have not registered.

If you were American born, learn the laws regarding the original birth certificate for adoptees in the state in which you were born. Find that information here. If there is a registry in your state, utilize that as well.

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If you are fortunate enough to have been born in a state which legally recognizes your right to your original birth certificate then you have accomplished the biggest part of your search -- you have your mother's (and maybe your father's) name. Women, however, generally change their names when they marry, making your father, if he is named, easier to find. Unfortunately, fathers are seldom named on adoptees' birth certificates.

States that do not allow access to birth certificates have no restrictions on using other means to find your kin. Many adoption agencies are cooperative, to varying degrees. It is possible that your birth mother filed a waiver or left a letter for you. At the very least, adoption agencies will give you non-identifying information about your birth mother and father, if known. Some agencies, for a fee, will try to locate them and contact them on your behalf. There are pros and cons to making contact through an intermediary. How and when to make contact are issues best discussed with a support group of adoptees and birth parents. (See "Reuniting" )

If you've tried all of this with no success, do an online search for adoption support groups in your state, or google "adoptee rights" and your state. You will find activists working to change laws that deny adopted citizens the same access to their birth certificate all others have and you will also find knowledgeable adoptees who have overcome the obstacles and successfully found their kin.

Whether you have access to your birth certificate or not, you will need help finding your kin. Avoid private detectives and paid searchers. Try to locate a "search angel" on Facebook or through local groups in your area who are experts in using public information and will help you at no cost.

A relatively new tool for adoptees is DNA testing through companies such as 23andMe. As with registries, you can only be matched with others who have submitted samples, however, genetic testing can lead you to anyone related to your mother or father, including grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Additionally, DNA testing can give you some medical clues to possible hereditary diseases you may have a predisposition for in your bloodline.

Reuniting

You may choose at some point to make contact and try to meet with the family members you find. Know that you are making this decision based on your timing and readiness, not theirs. Initial contacts -- and reunions -- run the gamut. Some are instantly and forever welcoming, gratifying, and wonderful. Others may start out with difficulties caused by shock, secrets, or anger that may require a great deal of time and patience. Other reunions start out on a high like a honeymoon and then fade. They are as individual as each person and as unique as all other interpersonal relationship. You may or may not like, or have much in common, with those you find but whatever you find, you will have found your truth.

Finding your roots is not about replacing loved ones. Parents are no more replaceable than a new child in a family replaces those already there. Healthy, loving parents know that they are capable of loving multiple children and that children love grandparents, aunts, and uncles as well as their parents. They also know that children grow up and fall in love without detracting from the love for their parents.

International adoptees will find this New York Times article of interest.

You have every much a right to know your heredity as anyone else even if the laws in your state have not totally caught up with that fact.