Adding an adoptee to a family tree or creating a family tree if you are an adoptee need not be a great dilemma. After all, the emphasis on a family tree is on FAMILY. When a child is adopted, he or she becomes part of the family that adopted them. It should be as simple as that, but often it is not. There are purists who insist family trees should be based solely on genetics and biological relationships. But what bond is stronger than love? An adoptee needs merely to decide which is more important to them, researching their blood relations, or searching the family that lovingly gave them a home. Granted, this could be a difficult decision, and there are many variables involved.
These sorts of decisions are personal ones, and the answers can’t be given by others. What we can do is provide general guidelines for you to go by if you decide to trace your family tree, biological or adoptive. Tracing your adoptive family tree is much the same as any genealogical search. The only difference is that it should be made clear that it is an adoptive line for the sake of other genealogists whose search may lead them to your family. The more difficult path is that of searching your birth family history.
Tracing your Birth Family
Tracing your birth family is obviously the most difficult road to take in searching your family history. Often adoptees have no idea of the identities of their real parents or any other relatives. The privacy issues surrounding adoption may make it virtually impossible to go in this direction. If however it is important to you to search your biological line, you must be prepared for some hard work. You will have to question your adoptive parents, who may be hurt that you seek to search your birth family. These are sensitive issues and must be handled with care. Other adoptive parents may be completely supportive and even assist you in your search, you might not know until you begin. The key is to give lots of thought to what is most important to you, and go from there. Keep in mind that it may be a long and emotional journey with lots of frustration experienced along the way; you’ll need patience and perseverance and a lot of emotional support.
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If you decide to go through with a birth family search, you’ll have to know the name of the hospital you were born in and the name of the adoption agency that you were adopted through. It’s possible you may find that there are no records of your adoption. It’s possible your adoption could have been an informal one, or even illegal. These are the type of obstacles you will unfortunately encounter as an adoptee. The nature of adoption is to keep the identity of the participants a secret, so lots of detective work will be involved.
Nevertheless, there are resources that one can utilize in tracing a birth family history. The agency or state that handled your adoption will have information, though names may not be forthcoming. Laws regarding the release of identifying information vary worldwide; you will need to find out first hand what they are in the area you’re searching. There is the option of hiring outside assistance such as private investigators or an intermediary search, but that can be expensive. Intermediaries are people with access to your adoption files via court approval or their association with an adoption agency. They will act as a go-between you and the family member you are searching for, and ask their permission for you to contact them. If they decline however, the file will be closed and your search in that direction must end.
A lifeline for adoptees in tracing their birth families is a registry known as The International Soundex Reunion Registry. It is a registry where by mutual consent, people who are either searching or would like to be found, can enter their personal information. If a match is made the parties involved are notified. The excellent thing about the Soundex Registry is that it is an international database, and it’s free. There are catalogued records of orphanages available online, but there is usually a charge or subscription fee to search these records.
There is also the option of combining your family trees. This involves twice the work of course, but also twice (at least) the rewards! You would simply place yourself at the centre of your family tree and have your two families branching off in different directions. This will involve a lot of experience in researching and other resources such as time and money, and is not recommended for beginners.
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Encountering an Adopted Relative
You may encounter an adopted relative when building your family tree and be faced with the question of how to add them. This can be quite more common than you realize due to movements like the Orphan Train Movement which took place between 1854 and 1929. Approximately a quarter of a million orphans were taken off the streets of major cities and placed in homes across the United States and Canada. There were similar movements in which orphans were sent from Britain to the North American continent. If you do discover a relative who is adopted, it is appropriate to add them to your family tree. They were obviously loved enough to be taken in by your ancestors, and so should be given due honour. A note can be made that they were adopted, and you can simply move on to your next biological ancestor.