How to Find My Birth Mother (and Should I?)
Closed adoptions are less common in the 21st century, but in decades past they were the norm. If you’re the product of a closed adoption, the decision to seek out your biological mother is a big one.
Adult adoptees are often filled with questions. You might be wondering some of these yourself:
- How to find my birth mother?
- Should I find my birth mom, or is it better to leave things as is?
- Does my biological mother want to be found?
- What should I call her? Birth mother? Biological mother? Mom? First mother? First mom? Mommy?
- What if I find my birth mom and she doesn’t want a relationship with me?
- How can I get access to my original birth certificate?
- Do I have other biological family members I’m not aware of, such as siblings or half siblings?
- Should I talk to the adoption agency that handled my adoption?
- Should I hire a private investigator?
- Should I take a DNA test?
- Why did my birth mom give me up for adoption?
- What were the circumstances surrounding my adoption?
- Will I need to get a court order to access adoption records?
- How to find my biological parents with no information?
- How many people are in my birth family today?
It’s seldom easy to find birth parents, but with persistence and the right resources, you have a good chance of finding your biological mother and getting your questions answered.
How to Find My Birth Mother Quicklinks
What Should I Call My Birth Mother?
Once you find your birth mother, what should you call her? As we discuss in our article about what titles are appropriate for an adoptee to call his or her birth mom, there are no right or wrong answers.
Origins co-founder Jenny Wallentine called her birth mother “Mom” on their first phone conversation because it felt right.
Other adult adoptees prefer to use their biological mom’s first name.
There are so many options. Trust your intuition and go with what feels right.
Should I search for my birth mother?
The decision to search—or not search—for one’s birth parents is a deeply personal choice. Not every set of biological parents welcomes a reunion with their adult child…though many do.
If you’re an adult adoptee feeling a longing to find your birth mother and connect with her, ask yourself if you are willing to take the risk of rejection or disappointment to potentially gain an amazing connection with her and other birth relatives.
In many cases, reunions with one’s biological parents is a positive thing for an adopted person. However, it’s important to be realistic about the potential for your reunion to be deeply disappointing or even hurtful.
Does My Birth Mom Want Me to Find Her?
A majority of mothers think constantly about the child they gave up for adoption and would welcome the chance to connect with her or him.
Still, there are a few birth moms who are not open to meeting their child. This is rare, but it does happen.
It’s impossible to know, without seeking her out, whether your biological mom will welcome or rebuff a reunion.
The real question is: are you willing to take the chance of being rejected to potentially gain an amazing relationship with your biological mother?
For a deeper exploration, see “Does My Birth Mother Want Me to Find Her?“
(Note: a professional liaison service, such as Origins Genealogy, can assess your birth mom’s willingness to meet you, can show genetic proof of the parent-child relationship, and can reassure her of your good intentions. We can also help you connect to your birth father, find adopted siblings, or locate other birth family members.)
How to Find Your Birth Mother
OK, you’ve made the decision to go ahead and find your biological mother. Where to start?
Searching for your birth parents can be a grueling slog at times. Keep your eye on the goal and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.
Here are some resources and steps you can take to find your bio mom. Some are free and can be done on your own; others have a cost or may involve a professional assistance.
- Gain access to your original birth certificate and other adoption records
- Research her on social media (if you have your birth mother’s name or identifying information)
- Talk to your adoptive parents about what they know and assess their willingness to help you
- Try to find members of your extended birth family who might be able to help
- Search reunion registries (websites for reuniting adult adoptees with their birth parents)
- Take a DNA test and look for genetic matches
- Get professional help from a private investigator or genetic genealogy company
Accessing Your Original Birth Certificate and Other Records
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Access to Adoption Records (AAR),” state adoption records are protected to varying degrees on a state-by-state basis, but “in nearly all States…all files related to the adoption process [are] confidential and withheld from public access.”
What this means is that you may have a difficult time accessing your original birth certificate (OBC) and other records, depending on your state. Many states release your sealed adoption information upon your formal request. Others…not so easy.
Each state has a state registrar, office of vital statistics, or similarly-titled state agency that handles adoption records. You’ll need to contact the equivalent department in your state of birth.
Non-Identifying Information Vs Identifying Info
When you begin researching access to state adoption records, you’ll encounter different rules for identifying as opposed to non-identifying information. It’s important to know the difference between the two. It’s also important to note that both informational categories can sometimes be included in public records.
Non-identifying information includes demographic info and “the health, behavioral health, developmental, educational, and social histories of the child and the child’s parents and other birth relatives” (AAR). Such information can include the following:
- The adopted child’s birthdate and birthplace
- The ages of the birth father and mother
- Physical characteristics of the birth father and mother, such as eye color or hair color
- The birth parents’ medical history, religion, or ethnicity
- The birth parents’ occupations and educational backgrounds
- The reason the birth parents placed the child for adoption (extenuating financial circumstances, pressure from family members, etc)
- Biological siblings from the either or both birth parents
Identifying info is—surprise!—information that could help identify the “birth parents, the adult adoptee, or other birth relatives” (AAR).
While the boundary between identifying and non-identifying information blurs a bit—occupation, physical characteristics, birth date and birth place could be used to help identify birth parents—identifying info includes the following:
- Names of the birth parents
- The birth name of the adopted child (which may be different from the name your adopted parents subsequently assigned you)
- Addresses where either birth parent has lived
- Companies where either birth parent has worked
- Social security numbers of the birth parents
- Contact information of the birth parents, such as email addresses or phone numbers
- Certain types of medical information
Accessing Adoption Records and OBC By State
Some states are much more tightfisted than others when it comes to releasing an adoptee’s OBC and records of the adoption.
If you’re lucky enough to have been born in Nebraska, Oregon, Kansas, Vermont, or Missouri, for example, you can demand a copy of your OBC along with other documentation related to your adoption.
Louisiana, Kentucky, Florida, and the District of Columbia, among others, will only release the OBC upon order of the court.
Texas will release identifying information about the adoption only if the birth parents and adult adoptee have each registered their consent for said release in a state adoption registry.
Then there are states that allow for the adult adoptee to request their OBC and identifying info about their birth family…with conditions.
Arkansas, in turn, allows adoptees to request their OBC and birth family identifying info, but also allows a birth parent to have his or her name redacted from said documentation.
Stay Tuned for a State-By-State Report
Origins Genealogy is working on a comprehensive report: whether you can (and how to) obtain your original birth certificate and your birth family’s identifying info by state. Coming soon!
Researching Your Biological Mom on Social Media
If you have her name and city of residence, you have a decent chance of finding your biological mom on social media. If you have only her name, your chances vary depending on how common or unusual that name is.
For example, if her name is “Sarah Jones” and you have no idea where she lives now, you’re in for quite a dig.
If, on the other hand, your first mother’s name is “Winona Jasperson,” you may have a shot at finding her on social media, even if you don’t know her city or state of residence.
Social Media Platforms to Try
There are so many social media sites and apps now, but only a few of them are relevant for finding your biological mother. That’s because, demographically speaking, people of her age group are much more likely to be on a select few platforms.
- Facebook: with nearly 3 billion active monthly users, this should be your first choice
- LinkedIn: if she is still active in her career, you have a good shot at finding her here
- Instagram: a billion active users, but trending younger; may be worth a shot if you don’t find her on Facebook or LinkedIn
- Pinterest: a much lower chance, but maybe still worthwhile
Enlist the Help of Birth Family Members and Adoptive Parents
You may have people in your life who know more than you do about your adoption. Your adoptive parents, if open to helping you, may have resources or facts that you’re not privy to, as can your extended family.
If you’ve managed to identify other any birth family members, they can certainly help as well.
Often, any little shred of info can help you narrow the gap to finding your biological mother.
Search and Reunion Registries
An adoption reunion registry is a website or organization for reuniting birth parents to adult adoptees.
These organizations are typically dedicated to the promotion of adoption reunions between biological families: adopted child to biological father, adopted child to first mother, adopted child to biological siblings, and so forth.
There are many different adoption reunion registries. Some are specific to a given state, while others are nationwide or even international.
For a good directory of many different registries, check out The Child Welfare Information Gateway.
If you have the time and motivation, registering yourself on these and participating in their associated communities might be an avenue to connect you to your first mom…if she happens to also be involved.
If you are lucky, your first mom is already on there, and is performing an adoptee search to try to find you.
Even if she is not in the communities and registries, you can still tell your adoption story to the best of your ability, providing as much identifying information as you can, in case she eventually joins.
Another benefit of participating in search and reunion registries: you can share your story with other adoptees and learn from their journeys and challenges. Don’t underestimate the power of participating in a community of peers.
Many adoptees opt for DNA testing in their search for their first mother or other biological family members. A DNA test from a reputable company like Ancestry or 23andMe can often reveal close genetic matches. Or it might not.
When it comes to taking a DNA test to locate genetic relatives, including birth parents, success or failure depends on how many—and which—of your relatives have taken the same DNA test and are consequently in the database to compare your DNA against.
For example, if you take a 23andMe DNA test and your relatives have taken the AncestryDNA test, you won’t see them in your list of genetic matches. Take the Ancestry test, and there they are, in the Ancestry database.
Or vice versa.
Even if you find a close genetic match, you may have difficulty untangling the exact nature of the relationship (this is where a professional genetic genealogy company can come in handy, hint, hint).
Private Detective or Genetic Genealogist?
Many adult adoptees opt for professional assistance when they have exhausted all other avenues. Or when they have exhausted themselves.
If you’re looking to hire someone to fast-track your search, you could go the route of the private investigator (PI), or that of the genetic genealogist.
Being a professional genetic genealogy company ourselves, we at Origins Genealogy think we have an edge over PIs. Here’s why:
- A PI is a generalist, most likely with no deep understanding of DNA testing or interpreting test results.
- Genetic genealogists are trained in investigative research, both online and offline. From social media research to private databases to archival materials, we know how to root out connections and follow the trail.
- Genetic genealogists can make sense of murky DNA test results, and can cross-correlate them with other forms of research
- Genetic genealogists are in line with private investigators, price-wise
In short, when you hire a genetic genealogist to find your birth mom, you’re getting a very specialized type of investigator: one who specializes in finding birth parents!
Contacting Your Biological Mom
Once you’ve identified her, how are you going to make contact with your birth mother?
You could opt for a thoughtful letter to your birth mom.
You could have a trusted friend contact her on your behalf, as Jenny Wallentine did.
Or, you could use a professional liaison service, such as Origins Genealogy.
However you choose to make contact, here’s to the best reunion and relationship you could possibly have!
Birth Parent Finding Service FAQ
There are various ways for locating your birth mother in the absence of identifying information about her.
If you’re an adoptee 18 years and above, depending on your state of birth, you may be able to access your adoption records and original birth certificate, which will give you identifying information about her.
You can also take a DNA test from 23andMe or Ancestry, and compare your results with matches in the database.
If you find other living biological relatives, they may be able to help you locate your birth mom.
Finally, a professional genetic genealogy company such as Origins Genealogy can help shortcut your birth mother search. Our professional researchers can analyze DNA test matches, conduct forensic research, and triangulate online and offline sources to help pinpoint her.
In most cases, biological mothers want a reunion with the child they gave up for adoption. When moms put their children up for adoption, they often spend the rest of their lives wondering if they made the right decision and wondering how their child is doing.
However, in a minority of cases, a biological mother is not open to meeting their child. This can be for a number of reasons, including fear of being judged, keeping family secrets, and more.
If you’re willing to take the small chance of your birth mother not wanting to meet you, you stand to gain the much larger possibility of a relationship with her.
There are a number of good DNA tests to help you find your biological mom (or to locate adopted siblings, biological fathers, or other genetically-related family members).
23andMe and AncestryDNA are the two leading at-home DNA test products. Both are very good. Origins Genealogy reviewed AncestryDNA vs 23andMe and concluded that Ancestry is best for genealogical purposes. 23andMe, in contrast, is superior for health panel and health screening applications.
It’s preferable to inform your birth mother of your genuine intentions once you’ve located her and are ready to contact her. Then you can tell us about yourself, including your schooling, career, hobbies, interests, and anything else you want to say.
You may also inquire about her by sending her the following questions:
- How has your life been up to this point?
- Have you ever wondered if you have a child?
- Were you taken aback when you learned about me?
- What’s it like to have me in your life right now?
Origins Genealogy can also function as a liaison if you’re concerned about contacting your mother for the first time. We may contact her and provide confirmation that you are his biological child, removing any questions she may have about your claims. And we can make it easier for you to meet him.
There are free avenues you can take to find your birth parents, such as scouring social media, searching free public databases, and joining reunion registries. Often, these are very time-intensive. If you have the budget, you can pay for DNA testing, or for a professional genetic genealogy service to speed up your discovery process.
Adoption records are sealed and confidential, so you can’t access them online. Depending on the state that you were adopted in, adoption records can be accessed by requesting them from the adoption agency, the state office, or from the court of the respective State of birth.
When an Adoption Order is granted, your original birth certificate is usually replaced with an “adoption certificate,” which is sent to your adoptive parents.
As an adoptee of legal age, it is now your responsibility to determine if you need to petition the court or send a request letter to your local vital statistics office for a copy of your original birth certificate, depending on the state where the adoption took place.
Most states allow post-adoption contact provided the adoptive parents and birth parents agree, as well as the adoptee if s/he is of legal age. If you wish to learn more about your state’s adoption laws, we recommend contacting your local adoption registry.
The optimal age to notify a child if they are adopted is when they are 6-8 years old if they are from a closed adoption. According to Dr. Steve Nickman, six-year-old children are often well-established in their families and do not see learning about adoption as a danger to their feeling of security.
Adopted children who grow up in open adoption households may have contact with their biological parents and so are probably aware from the beginning that they were adopted.
When an adopted child reaches the age of 18, they are legally an adult and can make their own decisions, just like a biologically-related child. This does not change the parent-child bond, which is as strong or weak as the adoptive parent and adopted child have made during the course of the relationship.
Asking your family if you’re secretly adopted is the simplest method to find out. Taking a DNA test, preferably with your parents’ permission, is the most conclusive way to determine if you were secretly adopted.
Adoption records can be found in the clerk’s office of your state court, the adoption agency that handled your adoption, or a government entity that deals with adoptions in your state.
In technical terms, the difference between birth mother and biological mother is that birth mother refers to a woman who gives birth to a child, whereas biological mother refers to the woman who is the source of one’s mitochondrial DNA.
In other words, the biological mother is genetically related to the child, whereas one’s birth mother…gave birth to the child.
In most births, the biological mother and birth mother are one and the same.
At Origins Genealogy, we recognize that there are scenarios in which the woman birthing a child is not genetically related to the child (egg donation, for example).
However, we use the terms biological mother and birth mother interchangeably, given that the mother who births a child is, in most cases, the one genetically related to the child…especially in adoption cases (which make up the majority of our client base). In fact, we have yet to encounter an adoption scenario in which the birth mother was not genetically related to the child she birthed.
If you’re an adult adoptee (18 years and above) from a closed adoption, you may be able to access your adoption records and original birth certificate, which will give you identifying information about your biological parents.
You can also take a DNA test from 23andMe or Ancestry, and compare your results with matches in the database.
If you find other living biological relatives, they may be able to help you locate your birth parents.
A professional genetic genealogy company such as Origins Genealogy can help shortcut your birth parent search. Our professional researchers can analyze DNA test matches, conduct forensic research, and triangulate online and offline sources to help pinpoint her.
Adoption records normally include both identifying and non-identifying information. This information covers the age, place of birth, educational attainment, medical history, physical characteristics, and more of the birth parents. Other vital details are the reasons for the adoption and the location details of the adoption.
Yes, a biological mother may be able to reclaim custody of an adopted child. This is accomplished by demonstrating to the court that the choice to sign the relinquishment paper was made under duress or deceit. Because this is a case-by-case situation, we recommend that you verify with your local state court.