For starters, you will more than likely be working without an original birth certificate. Unless the adoptee got it when the records were open for a while (mid 70's to 1984), it is highly unlikely s/he will get one. The records are closed to adoptees wanting their original birth certificates, but it never hurts to try. Birthparents cannot find out their "child's" name after adoption either from the birth certificate as they are not entitled to one, having given up rights to the child. The adopted child gets an "amended" (aka-falsified) one listing adoptive parents as though they were birthparents, as well as their own adopted name. Birthparents will get nothing if they request it post-adoption because, having relinquished parental rights they are advised they have no further interest in the birth. Depending on the birthmother or anyone who may have influenced the process, the birthfather's name may or may not be present. (Sometimes for financial aid or to avoid a paternity dispute, it was deemed best to not name the birthfather.) Ask for yours anyhow- mistakes can happen. Get whatever info you can from elsewhere and you may be able to make some deductions, you might get lucky when you get non-id with some critical tidbit, you might get someone who blurts something like I did. Just take the shots and build a foundation.
Organize yourself. Get files and notebooks, keep a sheet accumulating the info you have learned, and a log showing what you did, when, and the results. Not only will this keep you organized, it will show you where you are and have been which comes in handy during those down times. It also gives you an area in which to brainstorm.
1. USE STATE REGISTRIES- Adoptees should pay $4 and see if your b-parents registered with the state Biological Parent Registry yet (most don't know it exists but try). Birthparents should make sure they register here. Info on this is at the PA State Law and Registries Page.
The state also has a health registry which is relatively new (about a year or two) and from what I have gathered from legislative aides is pretty untested. Theoretically, b-parents leave health info there for their adopted kids to pick up. Just like the above registry, it is only successful if the b-parent has filed info there. It's certainly unknown and since it's voluntary who knows what an adoptee might get if anything- anyhow, info on this is on that page too.
2. Register with ISRR- this is the biggest reunion registry there is. It is maintained offline, it's free, but they work by donation. Info is on this page.
3. Do the state-specific things: Join PAFind, a free online search and support group for adoption in Pennsylvania. You can read about it here.
4. Register with that big beautiful World Wide Registry run by David Gray here - it is the biggest online registry there is for free, and searches registered there get broadcast to various places- great exposure (but consider using an alternate email addy for yourself to avoid getting spam where you don't want it).
5. If you are an adoptee, talk as much as you can to your a-parents. They may know more than they would volunteer, but might cough up more if you ask. I know, you're scared of hurting them. If you let them know you are in search I hope you can let them know how little it has to do with them, that it is not a lack of love that drives you to do this, if indeed this is the case for you. My a-parents knew my original name from my adoption decree. They were planning on telling me when I was 21. I did not know this and got my pre-adoptive birth certificate (when you still could) at age 18. Be sure to hit on other family members too, favorite aunts and uncles, close friends of your a-parents, older siblings or cousins who may give you the scrap of info you need.
6. If you are an adoptee, think hard about the social climate of the time and place you were in at birth. If yours was a private adoption, who might have been the conduit? Might your priest have hooked your parents up? Are you close to a relative you can ask? Are your a-parents friends with someone in a position of influence? Are they pals with an attorney? Do your a-parents have friends with adopted kids and they all maybe used the same lawyer or agency? And a lot of referrals came through the a-mom's ob/gyn physician. S/he's the first to know if someone is sterile and often helps steer folks to attorneys or agencies.
7. If you are an adoptee who went through an agency you usually can get non-identifying info (called "non-id"- meaning no names or places) and the quality of that will vary. I got mine AFTER my reunion, and after my b-mom had died. (Even in death they tried to protect her so-called confidentiality that she was never promised and never wanted.) I went thru an agency that had several branches. When I asked for non-id from the branch my a-parents went through, I got a freshly typed sheet of one page. Then I decided to ask the branch my b-mother must have gone through. Jackpot! Over 20 pages of info that made me a re-reading fool for days. Most of it was on her and her counselling, some was on me and the pre-adoptive study and foster mom I stayed with. It was obnoxious to look at- totally censored and whited-out, but I was blissful. I did my request over the phone and could not have asked for more, but I suspect my agency was unusually forthcoming. I encourage live appointments where possible to build rapport and to give that other person a chance to "slip"- on purpose or by accident and give you the info that you need. There may be a very few good souls who will put some info or clue on a table and then have to go to the bathroom, leaving you alone with it. I would also ask point blank for "photocopies of the original records with identifying info deleted, not a summary". The reasons for this are manifold. One- someone could miss something that should have been whited-out. Two- Summaries are just that- short and sweet, retyped by someone in a rush to get it done. If you can't get a name at least get some detail to swoon over. Three- when stuff is whited out from a typed document you can often figure out how many digits or letters were removed by lining the covered area up visually with the line above it. I have a pal in South Carolina who knows she is from a town with 8 letters in it- so I sent her a list of all the SC towns with 8 letters. This might come in handy somewhere- you don't know.
Additionally- adoptees should request non-id from both the agency/attorney, and the court in which the adoption was finalized to increase the odds of what you get. PA law allows relatively loose interpretation of what is considered "non-identifying information" so each person- the courthouse, the lawyer, the social worker- may all give you different info. Dawn has a pal who got standard descriptions from one and THEN got her b-mom's name from another- and found in one day. Warning- the law says adoptees are entitled to this- but the law doesn't say it's free and we have found a variety of fees!
Birthparents can try getting non-id but in many cases they may be told it is not available to them since they gave up an interest in the child. Some agencies and attorneys are open about this some are not.
8. Whether you are a birthparent or an adoptee, file waivers of confidentiality. This is to reassure record keepers that if the persons you specify come looking for you, you WANT them to get your identifying info. There are no guarantees, but it may very well help. You want to file these with the agency, attornies, but especially with the county court in which the adoption was finalized, which is usually the home county of the adoptive parents. If you are a b-parent and do not know what county your child was adopted to, you want to find this out so you file your waiver in the right court. You may be able to get this thru your agency if you just tell them why you need it- to file the waiver. If not, you should be able to ask for it from the Bureau of Vital Stats. To clarify: where an adoptee was relinquished and where the adoption was finalized are not the same thing necessarily. I was born in Philadelphia County but my adoption was finalized miles away in another county- the one my a-parents lived in.
9. Get a good overview of PA stuff by going to the main page of this site here.
10. Study up on the UAA- the Uniform Adoption Act. This bill- HB654- was once studied in PA and it's ugly. Thankfully, this law did not pass. It would have made it criminal to search in PA. Still, this bill was built on legislation marketed around the country so you should know about it. There's a page of links about it here.
Montgomery County's Senator Stewart Greenleaf is the most on the "open records" side. In previous sessions he has proposed bills which would give adult adoptees greater access to their orignal birth certificates upon adulthood. Ed Krebs is a closed records bill sponsors ( the forer HB 654). Even if Greenleaf proposes another open records bill, you may have problems with it - Greenleaf's past proposals included a provision to still allow a b-parent to VETO their biological child getting their original birth certificate. This is typically called a birthparent veto. It's great we all try to help on this list when help is asked for. It's time to see the end of making the state a falsifier of documents and keeper of secrets. Imagine a world where adults took responsibility for their own affairs! Let the legislators know that you, their constituent, and your loving family and friends will not be supporting them if they cannot support ACCESS TO ORIGINAL BIRTH CERTIFICATES AT ADULTHOOD. Birthparents- let them know you neither were promised, nor wanted "confidentiality" where this is the case. Do you believe the state should basically assume birthparents want confidentiality? Do you think the desires of a birthparent to confidentiality should supercede the right of an adult to his/her own birth certificate? Is there any other class of citizen that has to ask permission to see their birth certificate?
DON'T LET THEM SNOW YOU. Some legislators and their aides that supported the UAA in PA (the former House Bill 654) and even more recent legisltion in PA, try to sell this kind of legislation as a wonderful boon to the adoption triad because it will establish a registry. PA already HAS a registry and it neither works (adoptees cannot register, no one even knows about it) nor does it address the central issue- if you are an adoptee, your rights are violated- you cannot have your own birth certificate like every other citizen. You were a participant in this event and can not have proof of it. The state holds your ancestry and health information. Just who is that info held for if not the one who was born?
11. Read Shea Grim's Search Series. She is really sharp- she has a law degree and devotes all her time to the adoptee open records cause. Go read it here.
12. Post your search on your mailing list regularly- you never know who is reading, and where it could get forwarded to. Forward your search info to appropriate places. There really are people who just do tons of forwarding in the hopes your info gets under the right nose. Bless those angels!
Post your info any and everywhere. There can be some nasty flaming folks over at alt.adoption and alt.search.adoption (wear your asbestos suits) but your search will get exposure. Go to any search engine and do a search on "adoption registries" or similar words- and get to work. Be prepared to delete solicitations from private investigators who search registries for e-mail addresses. Most people I know make it a rule never to use someone who actively solicits this way. If for some reason you get an interest in using a PI, ask around a LOT and post the name to the list and see if you get a response on them- good or bad- from your listmates.
On exposing your email address on the net... be aware, that even here in PA we have people working on a self-promotion agenda who will spam you to sell search books, force you onto mailing lists and groups, and try to position themselves as adoption authorities. It's a same this has to happen but thankfully enough of us have been through it to be wise to it.
Adoptees should place an ad in primary newspapers of your birth city. Birthparents should place one in both adopted and birth cities as well. Pray that the right person sees it, or that someone who recognizes the info sees it and remembers their neighbor or classmate or cousin. It doesn't cost a lot. Take the long shots.
13. If you read info on a registry about PA searches, copy and post it to the list in case it helps anyone. Always get and mention the web address too in case we get a match.
14. We often work on a current search list for all of us. The goal is- Once we get these together, we have an easy list for us all to print out and keep by the computer so we can look out for each other when websurfing. Also, we can send it on to other places or post it other places to help us all. We have a lot of folks who just read posts and that's okay- but what if the party you seek is on the list and also only reads? What if I mistype your info in my database? You'll never know! Please send your info to the list periodically!
15. Post any problems you run into on your way- it's likely someone here could have found a way around it, have a letter that could help, or ideas. Ask for help.
16. If you are an adoptee and know the doc that delivered you, make an appointment to see him/her or write a letter. You may pay for an office visit, but you can thank the doc personally and see what you can get. Many docs dump records after so many years. Some don't.
17. If adopted, find out if your hospital had birth journals- small handwritten books of births, often called ob/gyn logs. You can try the records dept, archives dept, or the birth registrar's office, division of medical records. Wherever you go, try not to say the word "adoption"- everybody gets weird and secretive, and for God's sake there is nothing in the law that closes hospital records! Yes, a lot of folks want to help, many fear for jobs and lawsuits too. It's also my understanding that hospitals are not required to keep your actual records forever but that they are to keep your admission card- I saw mine and it didn't have much info but maybe yours will be different. Even if not, it felt like I was taking possession of my own life when I got the first document that recorded my birth.
18. B-moms should contact the hospital and doctor and billing departments of hospitals to get their records. Who knows what you will find? Did someone else pay your bill? If you went thru a private ob/gyn get those too.
19. If you are an adoptee kept any length of time by your b-parents and you know their religion, check with affiliated area churches. Maybe you were baptised.
20. B-parents- if you know your child went to a family with a particular religion (maybe of your choosing) you could try to do the same, maybe over a six-month period. Baptismal records are kept.
21. Orphan search? You can try calling the Catholic churches that are around orphanages & get baptismal & 1st communion & any other info they might have. They often keep it in a separate book.
22. Adoptees, if you know your b-parents' high schools, colleges, tech schools, try to get or go see (in the library) copies of the annuals, or post for help on the list- maybe we can get info for each other. You can maybe look for resemblance (may work for some) or maybe you have a first name and can contact all those people. Find the school website- maybe their is alumni info or people to contact. Find people who may have been in your b-mom's class- people remember who disappeared, whose sick aunt in another town needed caring for, or was pregnant visibly. Dawn went to a high school reunion and got a list of remembered pregnant people.
Here are a few websites I know of for yearbooks/schools/reunion info:
High School Alumni
School and other reunion info
Ignore any search company you see on TV in ads or on talk shows. To most searchers on the net, one in particular is poison, selling idiot $200 "search kits" and charging $1400 for search regardless of state with no guarantees. Also avoid 800 or 900 # search services who charge by the minute and have cute numbers like "HUGS NOW" or "SEARCH USA" or the like. Avoid guarantees about how "we will keep looking till we find." They could look forever and hold your money and you have no recourse. If anyone has a good story to tell about these places I am game to hear it, but I have not heard a one yet. For more caveats on hiring a PI or searcher, go here.
23. If you are an adoptee and do not know how long your b-mom kept you (think about your age in the earliest picture of you with your adoptive parents), try contacting the primary newspapers in your town of birth to try to get your birth notice. Often, if it was known the b-mom intended to relinquish a child the hospital would not give the birth info to the newspapers- some actually would stamp "DNP" on the records (Do Not Publish) so no mistake would be made. HOWEVER- if no decision had been made at the time of your birth it is possible it made it to the paper. A long shot, but worth a phone call or two.
24. Most local phone companies permit you to have two listings for your home phone free of charge. If you are a b-parent, do what you can to keep a working phone number with your name in the town your "child" may look for you- the name you went by (maiden or assumed) when you had your child. Maybe you have a friend or relative there you trust. The city part is not crucial, but it could be helpful if your child is not on line and thus does not have access to "whole country" searches with a name. Make sure you are listed in all the major look-ups on the web like:
Yahoo - click on "People Search"
25. B-parents should consider keeping informal "tabs" on their significant other that was the other biological parent to the adoptee so when the time comes they can be easily located.
26. If you are on AOL here is an idea- Saw this on a another list and thought it was clever and either adoptees or b-parents with can do it as long as you have AOL. A b-mom searcher who knows her offspring's a-name wrote that she looks at cities people live in in their AOL profiles as well as at their ages. This gal has a name to search with. In this way she can locate regional people who seem happy to help in yearbook lookups. You could use this same system with no name to try to find classmates of someone you seek too, to see if they remember anyone having to leave school. Obviously use some discretion since you are talking with a stranger, but this lady says people are very cooperative- if she IM's, they look it up on the spot generally. And if she can't IM them she emails. Nice idea!
PENNSYLVANIA ADOPTION MAIN SEARCH MENU PAGE
PAFind EMAIL LIST - The mailing list for Pennsylvania adoption search with 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.
PHONE CALL AND LETTER IDEAS - When you are close to making that respectful first contact.
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.