What You Need to Know to Start Your Family Member Search
Sign Up on Free National & State Registries
First, before beginning any search, we encourage everyone to sign up on the two most important free registries:
The official state registry where you were born and/or adopted, if there is one, such as the New York State Adoption Information Registry (NYSAIR), or PAIR, the Pennsylvania Adoption Information Registry. Google the words “adoption registry” and the state you are searching in to find the link.
International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR)It’s a mail-in form.
What Information We Need to Begin the Search
When contacting a Search Angel for help, have ready at hand every piece of information you know about the birth and/or adoption. We understand there might not be much to go on. Most adoptees are forbidden by archaic, cruel laws from receiving their original birth certificates and knowing the names of and other identifying information about their mother and father; however, they are entitled in most states to “non-identifying information” from the adoption agency or state or court files. This is basically socio-economic, ethnic, education, and health information gathered by the agency from the relinquishing parent(s) at the time of adoption.
Search Angels can pick out certain pieces of this information and scour public records such as census, city directories, birth and death records, obituaries, high school and college yearbooks, etc., to identify and trace the right family. I have solved many cases with just non-ID alone.
Exciting New World of DNA Family Matching
If there is no non-ID, as in many private, attorney-handled adoptions, or illegal “black market” adoptions or abandoned baby cases, we recommend the searchers participate in DNA Family Finder databases to be matched with relatives from close (siblings or parents) to distant cousins. In fact, these DNA databases are proving to be so successful I am recommending them immediately as soon as adoptees contact me. They are all "non-invasive" tests (i.e., not blood-related) using cheek swabs or spit samples. In particular, we recommend four companies:
Ancestry Cost is $100, but goes on sale several times a year usually around holidays. With over ten million participants on this site, we have been having some exciting successes lately, mainly because most participants on Ancestry are genealogy-oriented and usually willing to share family information. This one is most effective when you know at least one side of your ancestry, for example, if you know who your mother is and are searching for your father. You can build a family tree for your mother to compare with matches.
FamilyTreeDNA offers a variety of tests. The one most frequently used is the "Adoptee - Family Finder" or autosomal (atDNA) test, which will identify both maternal and paternal relatives. If you do not want to buy a separate test on this site, you can upload your Ancestry raw DNA data for no charge. Other valuable tests on this site are the Y-DNA for males only (father's father's father's father and so on back 40,000 years) and the mtDNA (mitochondrial) test (maternal lines: mother’s mother’s mother’s).
23andMe Cost is $100 for just ancestry testing and matching or $200 for ancestry and detailed carrier status and other health reports.
MyHeritage is becoming a major player in the DNA world with its kit for $79, or you can upload your Ancestry raw DNA data for no charge, but you will have to buy a membership to review and communicate with matches.
If you want to expand your search efforts even further, there is a site you can load your raw data to called GEDMatch, which will allow you much higher levels of comparison with your matches. There are donations and small fees for certain applications.
There are tutorials on all of the sites and on YouTube to help you understand the complicated processes, as well as user groups on Facebook. Also look for blogs like CeCe Moore's Your Genetic Genealogista nd Richard Hill's DNA Testing Adviser for help. A good beginner's guide to DNA can be found at Beginners' Guide to Genetic Genealogy.
If you are not scientifically educated, be prepared for a long, steep learning curve. Above all, be kind to yourself. With patience and perseverance, each day will bring more interesting insights into your biological family and genetic makeup.