Gather All the Information You Can – Step 3
When I was searching for my birth family, getting my non-identifying information was the key to solving the puzzle. I was close to identifying my birth parents using all the DNA tests and family trees, and doing everything on the “where-to-start” lists, but the day I received my Non-ID information, was the day I was able to put all the pieces together. I was lucky that my birth parents were high school sweet hearts and the person that edited the non-identifying information left in the part about them graduating together in 1956. My DNA matches and family tree searches had told me that both sides of the families were all concentrated around 2 towns. I was able to look up the 1956 yearbook of the main town online and find them based on family surnames. After that, it was just confirming all the information listed in the report. It also helped that I look just like my mother. When I saw the yearbook picture it was like seeing my own yearbook picture.
Non-Identifying information comes from an adoption interview done by either the state or the unwed mother’s home the mother used. Sometimes it is done at the time of birth. My Non-ID information was from the Florence Crittenton home in Kansas City and then was filed with the state. It was conducted at the home a couple of months before my birth. Currently, many states are required to release some information from your adoption file upon formal request. Information you are entitled to depends on the state you were adopted in and date of your birth and or adoption.
Non-identifying information is generally limited to descriptive details about an adopted person and the adopted person’s birth relatives and is provided to the adopting parents at the time of the adoption. Non-identifying information may include the following: Date and place of the adopted person’s birth Age of the birth parents and general physical description, such as eye and hair color Race, ethnicity, religion, and medical history of the birth parents Educational level of the birth parents and their occupation at the time of the adoption Reason for placing the child for adoption Existence of other children born to each birth parent. Non-identifying information generally includes medical and health information about the child and the child’s birth family at the time of the adoptive placement.
Approximately 27 States allow birth parents access to non-identifying information. In addition, many States give such access to adult birth siblings. The States that allow birth parents access to non-identifying information include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. States that allow access to adult birth siblings include Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont.
Non-ID information has been edited to remove names, dates, and places. Here is a sample from my own Non-ID information from Missouri. “Mother: Blank, 18, is 5 5 ½” tall, weighs 134 lbs, has brown hair, brown eyes and fair complexion. Her nationality extraction is Scotch, Irish, French, and Indian. She graduated from high school and has had 3 months in nursing. She is a member of the Baptist Church. Father: This man, age 19 is 5’ 8” and weighs 170 lbs, has blond hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion. His nationality extraction is German and Irish. He has completed one semester in college and last worked as a lab assistant. He too is a member of the Baptist Church. “It goes on to describe my mother’s parents and her brother and sister. It even gives the health of my grandmother’s mother and her family. It describes my grandfather as “Blanks father, 41 was born in blank. He is 5’ 11” and weighs about 180 pounds, has brown hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion. He has been in the blank, and blank, since the beginning of World War II. He plans to stay in the blank until he has 20 years of service. He is now a blank with the blank.” It wasn’t too hard to guess that he was in the military.
The opposite of Non-ID is obviously Identifying information. Identifying information is any data that may lead to the positive identification of an adopted person, birth parents, or other birth relatives. Identifying information includes the current name of the person. It usually also includes an address or other contact information.
Using key pieces of information from Non ID, you or a Search Angel has the ability to develop a profile of the people you are looking for. In my case, we were looking for a 19 year old that graduated in 1956 in a small town east of Kansas City, entered the nearby nursing school, went to a Baptist Church, and whose father was in the military. It said she had a 15 year old brother and 13 year old sister. This alone wouldn’t have been enough, but with the DNA pointing at a couple of small towns in Missouri, it provided the missing piece. We need the Non-ID if available, plus the DNA, plus the family trees, and helpful DNA relative matches.
Hints About Non-Identifying Information
Request the information more than once if you didn’t get everything you needed the first time. This is especially true if the state tells you that there isn’t any information at all. I was told twice by the state of Missouri that I didn’t have any Non-Identifying information and once by the Florence Crittenton Home that there was no information. I was shocked when 5 pages of information showed up with the last request. I was upset with myself that it had been over 3 years since I had last requested it. Another reason to continue to ask for the information is that often Non-ID is created at the time of request. A person pulls the file and marks through the information they think would be identifying. This can differ per person. A person interpret important clues differently. I was lucky that information about my birth parents graduating together in 1956 was left in the report. If it has been a few months since you got your information, request it again, especially if it is free and hope that a different person edits it and the new version has new pieces of information included.
Non-ID may or may not be true. In most cases, the information is true, but women often changed the name of the father. Sometimes adoption agencies, accidentally or on purpose, lost or changed the paternal information since the father didn’t have any rights at that time. Missing or wrong information about the father is common. Mothers were not required to prove her identity, so sometimes an unwed mother would use someone else’s name.
If you were born in an unwed mother’s home or adopted through an agency, both the state and the agency may have Non-ID. It’s recommended you request Non ID from both resources. Sometimes the county and state will both have the information along with the home.
For people who were adopted from other countries, searching for your birth family can be much more difficult. Each country has its own laws dealing with information access. Some countries do not keep good records of birth families. The good news is that some countries do not seal their vital records, making it easier for adoptees to find information about their adoption and access a birth certificate. If you were born outside the U.S, check out the United States Department of State. Office of Children’s Issues, Intercountry Adoption page http://travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en.html.
Go to the U.S. State Department website for mailing addresses of offices of vital records in foreign countries.
Even if you have an amended birth certificate, it will have important information. Where were you born and when? You should be able to determine the city, county or parish, and state where your birth occurred. If you can also narrow it down to the hospital that is even better. When you were born of course is also important. My amended birth certificate still had my original birth time as 1:05 PM. It didn’t end up being an important fact, (except for my friend that does astrology), but it could have been important as a matching factor if I had been born in a city of high population.
1. Determine where the birth certificate records are kept:
Originals or copies may be in the county office for the recorder of deeds, the county clerk, in the vital records office or at the health department, depending on the state. Counties also likely provided them to the state government’s department of vital statistics or other health department. This sharing system may result in the state office having records that are missing at the county level, or vice versa. There have been many stories of adoptee being told that their records were burned up in a fire, or in some way destroyed. There may be copies in multiple locations if you hit a roadblock with one of them.
2. Consider secondary sources to birth certificates:
A birth certificate may be unavailable because of sealed records. If you have a name you may be able to find a birth record in a newspaper or other source. I grew up in a small town and they listed the number of boys and girls born each day in the hospital. In my case I thought I new my birth surname and was able to find someone that had old microfiche that was able to verify that a baby with my surname was born on my birthday in Jackson County, Kansas City. Ask your support group if they have any Search Angel help with records in your birth city.
Other Sources of Information
Contact the agency that handled your adoption. Ask what services they provide, how much they charge, and how long the wait is for help or information. Ask them if they have a registry and what they do with their records, does the county or state have copies? Will they give you the name of the attorney that handled the adoption?
Talk to your adoptive parents. I know this can be the hardest item on the list. It is hard to know how they will react and everyone that goes through this search grapples with wanting to know but also not wanting to upset their adoptive parents. I can only tell you that it is an individual choice, but I let not wanting to upset my adoptive mother hold me back too long. I missed meeting my birth mother by 4 years and I will always regret that. Have your main points in mind, for example “I really feel like I need my medical information”, “Now that I have kids of my own, I feel I owe them more information about my background”, “I have always wished I had a sibling and would like to know if I do and connect with them”.
Document what you know now. Write down everything you can that you already know about your adoption. Even if you already have non-identifying information, think about asking for additional information about your birth parents’ health, education, background, and interests. Make copies of everything and take good notes about where you found the information. If is easier than you would think to lose a paper or remember being told something but not remember who told you.