Finding Your Birth Records
Julia Feast (Search and Reunion Consultant) gives expert video advice on: Have adoptive people always been able to access data about their origins?; Will adoptive parents have any information about birth parents?; At what age can I obtain my birth records? and more...
Have adoptive people always been able to access data about their origins?
Adoption was first legalized in 1926, and at that time and for many years after, it was thought that it should always be closed, that adopted people should have no right to information about their origins. It was, sort of a complete cut off. But since 1975, adopted people have been able to apply for information, which will enable them to get a copy of their original birth certificate. It was a big change, because people, until that time, believed that adoption should end all ties with the birth family. And for many years people believed that once a person was adopted, that would be okay, and it would be fine. But in fact, the experience of adopted people over the years since adoption was legalized in 1926, made people aware that adoption doesn't end with an order being made. It has lifelong issues and people may need to access information about their backgrounds. So the 1975 act was a good thing for those adopted people who wanted to find out more, because they had the choice and opportunity to do so.
Will adoptive parents have any information about birth parents?
When people are adopted, the adoptive parents are usually given information about the adopted person, particularly today, where there's usually lots of information passed over. But in years gone by, when adoption was first legalized up until the seventies and eighties, the amount of information maybe varied. Some could be limited and some could have a lot more. So it's hard to say whether adoptive parents will always have a great deal of information, but they should have some information to help an adopted person progress their search and also to give them some details about their family.
At what age can I obtain my birth records?
Once the adopted person reaches the age of 18 and if they were adopted before the 3rd December 2005, then they are allowed to apply for information to enable and to obtain the copy of the original birth certificate.
How will my birth certificate help me in my search?
The birth certificate contains crucial information to help people begin a search of birth family members. You know, for example, it will have the adult person's original name and the name of the birth mother and birth father that was named on the birth certificate and with addresses that can be a starting point point for people to begin their search.
What procedures do I follow if I don't know my birth name?
If an adopted person doesn't know their birth name, then they would have to apply to the registrar general. If they were adopted before November 1975, then they would have to apply for what's called access to birth records. Arrangements must be made for them to see an adoption worker at a local authority or an adoption agency so they can get the information to enable them to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. If an adopted person was adopted after 12 November, 1975, then they would not be required to have a meeting with an adoption worker in order to get a copy of their original birth certificate. They would be offered the option to do so if they so wished.
Do I have to have counselling before obtaining my birth certificate?
If an adopted person doesn't know their original name and they're applying for a copy of their original birth certificate, then they are required to meet with an adoption counsellor. Although I must say that people don't like the word 'counselling' in this because a lot of adopted people say "I don't need counselling". So we would much rather frame it saying an adoption meeting, an adoption consultation, where you have the opportunity to meet with someone who understands about the adoption search for and the issues, to help the adopted person to consider the deficit areas they may face along their journey in obtaining information about their background.
Should I get counselling before I start searching for my family?
In many ways, we would say that it is a good thing to meet with somebody outside of your own family network who can really help you think about the issues that can be involved. This is not to put people off, but just to give them an opportunity to think with time about what could happen, and the possible outcomes that can be as a result.
What information will the counsellor be able to provide me with?
There are two different types of meetings that an adoptive person can have with an adoption worker. If the adoptive person is seeking just the information to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate, then they will have just enough information to enable them to apply for the original birth certificate. But when the adoptive person applies to the adoption agency - the agency that arranged the adoption - then they may get a lot more information. It could be details about why they were adopted, information about their birth, parents - knowing how they look, their heights, all those sorts of things, and in their interest. So that meeting often is a second meeting for many adopted people. It's where they will get a lot more information about their background. However, saying that, not every agency has got a lot of information. Sometimes, if it was a private adoption for example, where an agency hasn't been involved, there could be very limited information.
What do adoption records contain?
The adoption records will usually contain information on the original application form. It would hold details, for example, of the birth mother, her age, a description, maybe what she did for a living and the interests that she had. Also, information about the birth father, if information was given over.
Will adoption records contain any information about my birth father?
If the birth mother had given the birth father's name to the adoption agency, then that will be recorded on the agency's record. And this information can be given over to the adopted person. Sometimes, although the adoption agency may hold information about the birth father's name, this does not necessarily mean that that birth father has been interviewed and even knows about the birth or the pregnancy. So information about the birth father is always given out in context of how this information was passed over to the agency.
Will my adoption records explain why I was adopted?
Adoption records usually contain information about why a person was adopted, and the circumstances and reasons for the adoption. But sometimes there will be more information than others. For example, if an adopted person was a foundling, when they are being left somewhere in a hospital and no other information, then the details on the record will be limited. If it was a private adoption, then again the information may be very limited, and there may be some information held at the court, and the adopted person would need to contact the court to see if that information could be passed over.
How do people usually respond when reading their adoption records?
Accessing information about yourself and your origins can have a huge emotional impact. People vary in the reactions they have. For some people it's fantastic because they have found so much more information and can understand the reasons they have been adopted, and also the good things that they have got from their adoptive family. For some people, they may have learned information that is upsetting and difficult and it may take some time to come to terms with the information they have heard.