To find birth parents, you need DNA testing and plenty of support. Get started with this article on how to find birth parents, whether you’re an adoptee or have unknown birth parentage—and get 2 free downloadable guides to help you move forward!
Thank you to Troy Olson, VP of DNAngels.org, for writing this guest blog post.
My name is Troy, and I’m the VP of a non-profit organization focused on supporting those who want to find their birth parents. Our team has solved thousands of cases, but our mission is to help millions. That’s because there are millions of people on this earth who don’t know who one or both of their parents are. I talk to these folks every day. Our team offers support free of charge to the searcher.
In this article, I will tell you the basics of how to find your birth parents. I hope that all who read it will learn where they can get started, and know that they are not alone.
How DNA testing to find birth parents works
Tens of millions of people have taken DNA tests in the last decade to learn more about themselves, their ethnicity, or out of general curiosity. When you take a DNA test you can be matched to others with whom you share similar DNA. I can’t emphasize enough that almost every birth parent case we solve is by using a DNA test.
Here’s how it works, explained as simply as I can.
When you purchase a DNA kit online, you are shipped a small kit in the mail. This kit includes a tube or swab for collecting a small sample of your DNA. Following the instructions in the kit, you will collect and then mail back your sample. The sample is received and processed by a lab, which then sequences your DNA into a digital file. This digital file is then compared and matched to others who have also taken a DNA test. You are notified when your DNA test and matching is complete, and you are able to login to their system and see your ethnicity estimates as well as matches you have to others.
Which DNA test should I take? (or take first)
There are multiple companies that offer DNA testing with databases of others testers to whom you might be matched. Our organization typically recommends starting with Ancestry DNA for two main reasons. First, they have by far the largest database of people who have been tested. At the writing of this article, it is over 18 million. Second, they have many advanced tools available which are very useful for sorting your matches and building your biological family tree.
In some cases, we do recommend searchers take other DNA tests to increase the chances of finding matches or for specifically targeting international audiences. Learn about other DNA tests for finding relatives.
Is DNA testing accurate?
Quite simply, yes. In some cases individuals have to resubmit a DNA sample because the first try didn’t work, but we have always found the DNA test to be accurate, when it comes to finding relatives.
Understanding DNA matching: What if my birth parent(s) haven’t taken the test?
When you take a DNA test you will be matched with others with whom you share DNA. With some of these, you may share so much DNA that you have a recent common ancestor. (With your sibling or half siblings, your recent common “ancestor” is one or both parents. With a first cousin you share a grandparent.) In some cases you may have a match that IS your birth parent, grandparent or even great grandparent. For your closer matches who post their family trees, you can learn to analyze how you might be related—which can eventually lead to the family—and often the individual parent—you are looking for.
How can I get help when I get my DNA test results?
You are ABSOLUTELY at the right place to get the answer to this question! YourDNAGuide.com is one of the best places online to get support in analyzing and understanding this part of your journey. Start with YourDNAGuide’s free, downloadable birth roots guide and companion email mini-series.
You might also enjoy my article, How to find a biological father without his name.
Other tools and methods besides DNA testing to find birth parents
Outside of DNA testing, there are other tools and methods that you can use to find birth parents. We have solved cases using these techniques alone, or in concert with DNA testing.
- Request your original birth certificate if you are adopted. If you were born in the USA, and you were adopted, it’s most likely that your birth certificate was updated to the names of your adopted parents. In some states you can request a copy of the original birth certificate. You can see an up to date list of state laws here.
- Mutual consent registry for adoptees. There are many websites where you can submit your contact info and information about your birth and adoption in the hopes that your birth parent(s) has also registered or will register. If you do a Google search for “mutual consent adoption registry” you can find them. Frequently there are also registries set up for individual US states or other places where you may have been born. Be cautious what information you provide, and be aware that some of these websites may be trying to sell you a service. Learn more about finding birth roots in the UK.
- Interviewing family and others. Though it can be an exhausting and difficult process, interviewing family and friends who were alive and present around the time of your birth can sometimes garner valuable information for your search. Rather than approaching the topic with direct questions about your birth, it can be more effective to ask context questions. Consider this line of questioning:
- “You graduated high school in 1977; what did you do after high school?”
- “Did you spend much time with my mom when you were working that job?”
- “Back in those days, what did people do on dates, or if they were getting serious with someone?”
How should I talk to others about doing a search
It can be very difficult to put into words your desire to search for birth parent(s). For this reason, it can be very difficult to talk to those who are closely tied to you, or may take some offense at your desire. For this reason, we created a free guide to help those having trouble starting conversations. It is focused specifically on talking to parents (such as adopted parents) but the principles can be used for just about anyone.
In creating this guide, I had an “ah ha” moment when an adoptee mentioned how she could not fill out the family health history portion of an intake document when going to a new doctor. What a poignant reminder that you don’t know anything about your origins!
Getting support for the emotional and spiritual journey
No matter what brought you to search for your birth parent(s), I want you to know that you are not alone. On any given day there are hundreds to thousands of people searching online for help. Almost every day in my email box I read statements like these:
- “Finding out my dad is not my biological dad has flipped my world upside down”
- “I have never felt emotions like this in my entire life”
- “I’m feeling irritable, confused and a lot of anxiety”
- “I guess I’m just going to give up at this point” (after two days of searching)
The journey of discovering family can be one of the most exciting, terrifying, saddening, joyous and exhausting that life can give us. For this reason, we always HIGHLY recommend having a support net of people to help.
3 tips for birth roots searchers
At DNAngels.org, we are still learning lessons and being humbled every day. But we still want to share some lessons we have learned, which might be helpful to you at some point in your journey to finding birth parents:
- Take this process slow. We are always methodical in the search to ensure that we eliminate the possibility of errors. When you do make contact, don’t try to rush into a relationship. Time is on your side.
- Don’t give up. But it’s okay to take a break. Some cases we are able to solve very quickly. Others take a lot of time. And still others hang on for who knows how long. I have many people say they are going to give up, saying it to me as if it’s someone’s fault. My message is always one of hope. Even if a case isn’t solvable right now, it’s okay to step back or step away for a time. But that aching desire may not go away. Suppressing it only makes it show up in other places in your life. Just don’t give up.
- Get support. You shouldn’t take this journey alone. If you haven’t already caught this theme, you will now. You shouldn’t do this alone. There are many organizations and individuals like us who are ready and willing to help. We are commonly known as “search angels.” There are also great professionals like Diahan Southard here at Your DNA Guide who can help you along your journey. You should also have loved ones and friends who can at least cheer you on in your search if nothing else. Religious leaders can often be a good spiritual support during this journey.
Reach out to DNAngels.org to get free help finding your birth parent(s) from their volunteer team of search angels.
Take your next step
Read 3 tips to discovering your birth roots, and discover more expertly-instructed, do-it-yourself resources from Your DNA Guide that can help you identify your birth relatives and build your birth family tree.