Searching for your Birth Family

Image of a couple's hands holding a tiny pair of shoes

As regular readers of my blog know, I first became a father at 16 and my girlfriend and I decided to place the twins for adoption. I have also had the opportunity to find the twins and reconnect with one of them in the past several months. There was recently lots of interest in my post about receiving the letter from the daughter I placed for adoption, and I have heard from a few people interested in beginning their own journey to find their birth families. This post is for them.

Starting your Birth Family Search

Find out if the jurisdiction you live in has open adoption records or if they are closed. I live in the Province of Ontario and the government opened the records almost five years ago. This makes it much easier to get some basic information that you can use to start your search.

Much of this advice is Ontario-specific because it is the jurisdiction I know best. If you weren’t born here or didn’t place children for adoption here I’ll provide some resources at the bottom.

In Ontario you can request two kinds of information, with one caveat. If the birth mother did not identify the birth father on the birth certificate or to the adoption agency, your/their name will not be on file and as a result you will not be able to access any of this information or get information about your birth father from the official records.

Non-Identifying Information

If you know where you were born or where your children were born you can request the non-identifying information related to your adoption. You will receive non-identifying information about your birth family, information about the adoptee’s family, details related to the circumstances of the adoption, and other related information. You will also receive details about where the adoption took place and was finalized.

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This information can be requested by members of the birth parents, immediate birth family, adoptees, adoptive parents and children of adoptees.

Identifying Information

The second kind of info you can get is the identifying information. You can apply to the Registrar General of Ontario for this information. This comes in the form of long form birth certificates. If you are a birth parent you will receive a copy of the adoptive birth certificate showing the adoptee’s name as given by their adoptive parents. The names of the adoptive parents and their address at the time will be blacked out. That doesn’t mean you can’t read it though. The marker could be fainter in some parts, you may also be able to enhance the image electronically to glean more information from the record you receive. If you are an adoptee you will receive your original birth certificate with the name you were given at birth. You will also receive a copy of the adoption order showing the change from your birth name to your new name.

Contact Preferences, Disclosure Vetoes and No Contact Orders

Requesting this identifying information may also yield another form which will make your search much easier. You may also receive a contact preference form. Either party to the adoption may submit a form with their current contact information to be included in the file. That information is then shared with anyone on the other side of the process who requests their information. You may also receive a response indicating that the other party has filed a Disclosure Veto – which means that no identifying information will be released. The other possibility is that you might receive a no contact order which prohibits you from contacting that party. You will be fined $50,000 if you breach that order.

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Now What?

Once you get the information that exists in the official records, then what do you do? The information you receive will be as old as you are or as old as your birth child is. If you don’t receive a contact preference form, you will not have any current contact information. Birth parents or adoptees may have changed their last name through marriage or for other reasons. People may have moved to another jurisdiction. This is where the detective work starts.

I strongly recommend starting with a web search to see what you can find. I fully expected a years-long search. The twins I placed for adoption were adopted by a couple with an extremely common last name so I had pretty low expectations about how long the search would take. I lucked out. It took me 15 minutes to find them – well their dad actually. I was fortunate that he had taken a high profile job and that a media release had been done when he took the job. I found an article that referenced his family and the names and all other information corresponded with what I knew. It is more likely that this will not be the case for you.

It may be worthwhile to join or connect with your local chapter of Parent Finders to get access to support and resources. They support both adoptees and birth parents.

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Depending on your knowledge of searching archives and tracking people through moves and official records you may find it necessary to hire a private investigator to assist you in your search. Depending on the information you are seeking a librarian can also be of great help. My mother is a librarian and maybe when she reads this she can put a comment below to provide additional information about the ways in which librarians may be able to assist you in your search.

Adoption Disclosure Registry

In Ontario you can submit your information about the birth – whether yours or the child you placed for adoption – to the register and if the other party is also searching, there will be a match and you will be notified that there is a match. A social worker will then facilitate your reconnection with the other party if everyone agrees.

Unlike accessing the identifying information, the register is open to all members of the birth family. Grandparents and siblings can also initiate a search through the registry.

Other Adoption Resources

Parent Finders Canada

Adoption Council of Canada

Government of Ontario Adoption Records


Please feel free to share your stories below if you have been through the search process and would like to share advice based on your experiences and what you have learned. 

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