Working with what we have to go on

One of the challenges of starting a search is beginning it with almost nothing to go on. Sometimes we have the age of one-birth relative, the state we were born in and not much else to go on.

Old school traditional search would start with the specific area you were born. Perhaps records from an attorney, or agency, a doctor or state run adoption agency. With public adoptions there is usually a paper trail. However, with private adoptions, what you don’t know can leave you in the dark with where to start.

I usually encourage folks to focus on their specific State they were adopted in. To try and acquire whatever can be acquired by legal means; perhaps a vital records or social services arm of the State, where you can find out what your rights are as an adoptee. The American Adoption Congress has a great list that seems up to date most of the time on State Legislation as it concerns Adoptees (

After folks explore what is available at the traditional level, and have flipped all the switches they can for requesting information, my next action suggested is DNA testing. Some may feel it is leaping right into the science of searching. However, in this day and age where tests are no more than a hundred dollars a piece, it feels kind of silly not to consider it the natural next step.

The problem is some people cannot afford leaping into DNA testing first. They are  sometimes forced to take on investigating what can be found out without funding. If any schools are known, or we can think that the birth mother or father was born in the vicinity of the birth of the adoptee we can look at all the schools in the region and hope we find one where we can crack open some yearbooks from the local colleges or high schools if we think we could possibly find a needle in a haystack of pictures appropriate for the age of the birth mother or father.

It is not too far fetched to go this route, but it may be more realistic to wait for a sale at one of the three major DNA companies (AncestryDNA, 23andMe or Family Tree DNA) before spending too much of your patience on far flung searches. Results from these companies can come back with dozens and dozens of potential genetically related cousins to give your search a big boost in the right direction.

Going from millions to thousands of people may not seem like an accomplishment, but it really is. Any more clues we use from there on out can only help us narrow the search to specific years to focus on.

If there is anything I can encourage people to do while they weight for DNA results or information coming back from the state, is to read up on other search stories available in the hundred or so great titles available out there. I have a big list under “Searching”, “Literature and Links” section of this website.

Patience will be your friend and frustration your enemy while we plot your journey forward. I found my investment into my search depended on several factors. One that was beneficial to consider was a longer-term commitment to an subscription. Tapping directly into their records to help substantiate relatives built out on your trees based on DNA related cousins is a perfect tool to use. While there are free resources out there, it makes it more difficult to transcribe and position your documentation. As each tree building site seems to have a proprietary way to building out your ancestry tree.

After all is said and done, one can usually download a GEDCOM file containing your ancestry tree and buy or use a third party free site or software to house your tree longer term, if you cannot afford to stay with a monthly subscription based on a 3rd party provider.