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Adopted Adults Who Search for Their Birthparents

Learn why many adopted children go searching for their birthparents.

In this article, you will find:

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Adopted Adults Who Search for Their Birthparents

To search, in adoption terminology, means to seek out a biological relative. Most searchers try to locate their birthmothers, sometimes followed by a search for the birthfathers. Some searchers try to find birth siblings as well.

Adoption Alert

What if your minor child (under age 18) tells you that she doesn't want to wait until she's 18 to search? Should you get involved in the search for her birthparents?

My view is that unless you have some compelling reason to start now, the search should be delayed until your child is an adult. Children under age 18 are unprepared for the emotional turmoil an adoption reunion can sometimes generate. (In fact, sometimes people who are 18 are still unready.)

Here are the primary traits of most searchers:

  • Most are female.
  • Most are in their childbearing years (whether male or female). Having their own child can propel them into thinking intensely about what their own birth must have been like and wonder what their biological mother was like. They may also worry about possible inherited diseases.
  • Many are well educated. A well-educated person would consider it possible to find a birthparent; a less-educated person might not know how to begin a search.
  • Many are only children in the adoptive family. If the adopted person is an only child, he may wonder whether he has any siblings out in the world. If he grew up with siblings, whether biological or not, the desire for sisters and brothers may have been fulfilled. (Certainly he would not idealize siblings, having lived with them!)
  • Many have very little information on what their birthmother looks like, what her medical history is, and what kind of personality she has. This can spur adopted adults into searching. (Lack of medical history is especially frustrating to some adopted people.)
  • Some report learning late (in adolescence or adulthood) about their adoption or learning about it in a traumatic way. This might also spur an adopted person into searching, but not always.
  • Some people are more curious by nature than others, and they need to know everything they can about virtually every subject. Information about their biological family members is no exception.

Why Do They Search?

Here are some of the main reasons adopted adults give when asked why they decide to search for birthparents.


Researchers Katherine Kowal and Karen Maitland Schilling found several major reasons why adopted people search. The most prevalent (24 percent) was birth, pregnancy, or the adoption of a child. One subject stated, “As I rocked my newborn son in my arms, I wondered who had rocked me.”

Other reasons included encouragement by another person, medical problems in themselves or their children, and a change in the relationship with the adoptive parents. Another precipitant was a “life-cycle marker”—the timing of a particular birthday or the time in general seemed right to the adopted person.

Curiosity About Their Roots

Probably one of the easiest motives to understand is sheer curiosity. Maybe the adopted person doesn't resemble her adoptive parents or anyone in the family—and wonders whether she looks like anyone in her biological family. She may feel very different because she is of a different ethnic background.

She may wonder about similarities beyond physical ones. Does her birthmother share any of her interests? Is she athletic or musical? Does she hate to get up early, too? What's her pet peeve? What's her favorite holiday?

Personality traits may also be inherited. Is the birthmother an introspective, shy type or a bouncy, gregarious person? Is she the first one to try something new, or does she like to stick with the tried and true? These are a few more issues the adopted adult may wonder about—and probably has wondered about for years.

Medical History

Many adopted adults want medical background information for themselves, as well as for any children they have (or may have). They may wonder whether their birth families have any history of heart disease, cancer, or other illnesses that have a genetic link.

For some adopted adults, the desire for medical information is really a subterfuge. It's the socially acceptable reason they offer for searching. However, the real reason they search is for one of the other reasons listed here.

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