Oh, the tough decision: letter or phone call? With calling you get fast contact and the chance to be seen as human quickly rather than as a letter. You get your wondering over with fast too. On the other hand, if your contact might be compromised (ie- spouse or family who doesn't know about you), and you may not have any kind of conversation if s/he's not alone. One smart thing to do if you pursue this route is to make sure you say something early in the call like, "I have been having some phone trouble and want to ask you to please take down my # in case we get disconnected and you want to get back to me." That way if they need to get off the phone they still have a way to reach you if the scene is not good or if they later change their mind.
I called for my first contact but did some exploration first- I actually wrote scripts and rehearsed the hell out of them. (Definitely write yourself a script and go over it a lot or you will quiver and sound suspicious- being likeable and confident is what carries this off.) The first call (turned out it was to my grandmother) was fake market research where I said, basically, (in my friendliest way) "Hi, this is Louise with Research Associates. We are doing a four question, one minute survey on consumer buying habits. (Then without asking for permission, I asked) Do you feel your buying habits are influenced most by radio, TV or print media? Thank you. Do you use coupons? Thank you. How many are in the household? Thank you. And their ages? Thanks so much for your time, Ms. XXXX, have a great day." That's how I figured out my b-mom didn't live where I thought. I was pretty sure I had my grandparents.
I waited a few days and wrote another script saying that I was starting some genealogical research for a friend with the same last name, and could they please go over a bit of family stuff so I could see if there were any links? (I recommend saying you are just starting so you don't have to have much info if asked.) I had some names ready to go in case they said, "Well, what names do you have so far?" and "What libraries have you been to?" so I knew some historical society places and had them ready. When I placed this call I got my grandfather who went down thru the generations from the Civil War and ended with himself and his wife. I asked if they had kids, he said yes, two, and he said their names so I was sure now I had the right family. Then I asked if his kids had kids and he said his son did not but his daughter had 3. (This was my b-mom so I now knew I had siblings!) I asked their ages and he said 8, 6, and 4. I was 20 and knew I was not "in the count" as it were.
I could have stopped here and later sent a letter or flowers. I made a judgement call- we had established a nice rapport and he was a sweet man. So I said, "Did your daughter have a little girl on (my birthdate)" and he said, "Oh, you've been very kind but I'm afraid we don't talk about that." Long pause. I finally said, "I'm her." Thankfully, he was happy and burst into tears, and the first thing he could say after his outburst was, "How are you, honey?".
Letters work a lot too. They allow the receiver to digest the info and to read without reacting like they might in a phone call. On the other hand, letters can get to the wrong people and sending certified can maybe compromise the recipient. Also, for some people, letters are ignorable where a phone call is not.
Flowers are sweet, a little manipulative, but definitely signify your good wishes! Know where you are sending them though- best if you are certain the recipient is alone! Hubby could wonder who has the hots for his wife! And flowers have to be explained to whoever lives in the house.
It can help if there is an answering machine when you call. In helping someone else I did a phone call for a b-mom who didn't know if her son was married or not (she thought he may not have been told he was adopted, so she was being cautious), and the machine basically said, "This is Tom, Sherry and I can't come to the phone" so that cleared that up fast.
For a genealogy letter, the one below is written from an adoptee standpoint but a b-parent knowing the adoptive name could alter and use it too, emphasizing a desire to include all members of the household in the research.
I am writing to you because I am doing some genealogical research on your family's surname which is the same as mine. As I am pretty much in the beginning stages, I'm afraid I have a lot of leads but am not yet establishing any ties. It is my hope you can assist me.
So far I have found family members whose given names include Christian, Ryan, Morgan, ___(birthparent or adoptee name here)___, Elizabeth, Charles, ___(adoptee birthname here)___, Anna and Michael. Some of these are old while others are quite recent. I am especially interested in family members born as recently as the ___(birthparent or adoptee decade of birth here)___ since these will become the easiest to research and perhaps find common ties between us. Of course it is not my wish to pry into family info where I am not welcomed, but I hope to find even the smallest bits of info that could assist me.
Will you help? Family has become increasingly important to me (add if you can- especially as I have/or consider having children of my own) and the knowledge of self and potential shared health history is key to me as well. If any of the above given names has meaning to you, I would very much appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I can be reached at your convenience -
by mail-123 Main St. etc.
by e-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone- (555) 555-5555 -please feel free to call me collect.
I would appreciate hearing from you in any case to ensure you received this so I know where I stand in my search. Thanks very much. I very much hope to hear from you.
Your Current first name with birth last name
Obviously you will need to alert people in your house that you are doing this so they don't blow a call and not recognize "your" name. Remember too that you may need to change the outgoing message on your answering machine to not conflict with the letter- so you may want to switch to a generic greeting.
In addition to these ideas, Curry Wolfe offers some great tips for first contact here. Most of her stuff here is very well-thought out, but I disagree on one point: her suggestion to tape your call- outside of varying state legalities, you really don't want to be messing with a machine during this very special and scary time- it's just an extra stress... plus many machines will produce beep tones every 15 seconds and who wants to explain that? Other than that, her page is one of the best on this oh-so-tough experience of the first letter or call.
Another good overview on contact comes to us from Rema's site here.
So it is ultimately up to you. There's no one "right" way, but it is best if you choose the way you think you would like to be approached. Some people actually argue that since you are genetically related, what you are most comfy with may be shared by your relative. The key is putting your best foot forward in writing or calling, being likeable, confident and friendly.
Connie Chung (an adoptive parent) recently showed two very extreme cases of oddball searchers who got obnoxious or overly persistent, and did a very real disservice to the searching community, reinforcing fears of "that rude adoptee on your doorstep". I don't know ANYONE like this. What I do know is that the majority of the many reunions I have seen have gone positively when handled with respect and caution. There is an effort on right now (by the people who believe in closed records and making it illegal to search) to characterize adoption searchers as unbalanced stalkers. To these people I say "Stop using bizarre and extreme cases to try to make your point. It is NOT wrong to be cautious and respectful in approaching someone with whom you would like to communicate, especially when we know that more than likely they WANT to be contacted as statistics show. We all know "No" is "No". That you found a few freaks who lacked decency (as you will find in ANY group) means nothing. The real indecency is in the current closed records/shame-based system which makes all this planning and caution necessary. I may be going to hell for all the lies I had to tell to find my birthfamily, but I did it right, I compromised no one, and they were damn glad I did it."
We're not insensitive, greedy or stupid. We've had YEARS to think about the implications of what we are doing and we want to do it right. Probably no one hasn't thought of this, but remember that discretion is important because you do not know who knows what in the household and thus do not want to compromise someone by "outing" them unwillingly, or jeopardize the odds of a good reunion this way either. Remember the person you contact is likely to not be expecting it and they may need time to digest things. Birthparents may have unknowing family members, while adoptees could be wary of expressing heartfelt happiness if their adoptive parents are scrutinizing their reaction. You want first contact to be a private, dignified, and gentle moment so you can both breathe and think.
Good luck. You don't have the right to a relationship, but you do have the right to offer. All you can do is open a door. It's up to them if they want to walk through it.
PENNSYLVANIA ADOPTION MAIN SEARCH MENU PAGE
PAFind EMAIL LIST - a FREE e-mail list of PA searchers helping one another.
STATE REGISTRIES AND POLITICS - Why neither are helping PA searchers much.
RELINQUISHMENT PAPERS - Like to see an example of PA relinquishment papers?
YOUR OLD AGENCY - Backtrack here for possible help in search.
COUNTY OF FINALIZATION - Some county specific info. You need to find this out and it may not be where you think.
THE DECREE - Adoptee is adopted in the county of finalization, records now sealed. Want to see a decree?
FORMAL PETITION - Learn how some counties make it a bit harder.
NON-ID - Learn what it is, and how to ask for it.
WAIVERS OF CONFIDENTIALITY - File them!
PA ADOPTION LAW - the easy version or the actual wording.
ADOPTION GROUPS - known in PA that handle search, support, legislation or all three.
SEARCH BASICS - In addition to this whole menu, here's a list of ways to search and try to be found.
SEARCH SUCKS! I NEED A *@$#! BREAK! - Take one, pal.
HIRING A SEARCHER OR PI? - Caveat emptor! Read some parameters and cautions.
THE UNIFORM ADOPTION ACT or UAA - Learn more about "The Evil Act". Coming to PA or your state?
CITY PAPER - Coverage of adoption search, law and the UAA in PA.
PERSONAL ESSAY - on adoption with info for all sides of the triad.
REGISTRIES AND GENERAL (NON-PA) ADOPTION STUFF - links to varied good places.