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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Adoption Search and Reunion
Original content Copyright ©
2017 by Tamara Thompson.
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