Adoptions in your family history?

Adoption NurseryMany people tell me about an adoption in their family history. I have heard many miraculous stories of success in searching. Some of this success has sometimes been luck but definitely involved hard work. I think anyone that goes on this type of search opens up a whole new secret world. In family history we want to know more about ourselves from knowing about our ancestors. For someone that has been adopted, there is an impossible gap of knowledge about themselves and a huge gap in their family history. Searching for birth parents can be one of the hardest searches in family history.

In Australia, an original birth certificate is done when a child is born. Then when the adoption is finalised,  another “amended” certificate is issued with the adoptive parents details listed. At 18, an adoptee can access the original birth certificate’s identifying information to find their birth parents. (It can be younger, if all parties agree.) To get your original birth certificate you need authorisation from the state adoption unit. The state adoption information unit is generally part of the community service unit in each state. The adoption information unit will work differently in each state, but will have a process of confirming your adoption and giving you authorisation to find out more information. (The state births, deaths and marriage registers will generally not issue you the original birth certificate until you have contacted the state adoption unit. In Queensland, you need to attach the authorisation papers from the unit before applying.) Once you have confirmed your adoption and have authorisation papers, you can contact births, deaths and marriages to apply  and pay for your “original” birth certificate.

The original certificate may include names, ages/dates of birth, occupation, places of birth and addresses. Only the people listed on the certificate can apply and get the information. (Something to be aware of is that if a fathers name is not listed on the certificate, then even if a father wants to find their adopted child it can be quite impossible.) Adopted parents may also be restricted on trying to get this information, as they are not listed on the certificate. Getting the original birth certificate is just the first step in what may be a long journey. (If you are trying to find more information about a father, then checking for a marriage certificate of the birth mother may help.)

Steps for finding more information

Birth/Marriage/Death Certificates – if you get information on your birth parents, it would be well worth applying for any birth/marriage or death certificates for them. Even if you can’t track them down you may be able to find the grandparents or uncles/aunts information.

Deed Poll – some people change their name by deed poll, it could be worth checking whether your birth parents did. Many unwed mothers would change their name when babies were born.

Check electoral rolls –  the birth mother may have lived at a local address near the hospital. They may have also lived with their parents. If a birth mother gets married you may lose being able to track her but you may be able to follow the family through brothers and grandparents, that you find on electoral rolls.

Old telephone books – not everyone may have enrolled to vote. But nearly everyone had a phone. In a small town or area, even if there is a number of people with the same surname may still help narrow down possible families.

Family History Research – if you have found the birth mothers parents on an electoral roll and then have her parents name, it may be worth checking family trees on subscription websites like Also approaching a family history society in the area that the birth took place may help.

DNA searching – Many people that can’t find more information, generally turn to DNA testing as a last resort. The science can be a bit confusing and it can be expensive but many people have had success in finding cousins.

Newspaper notices – Newspapers list many family notices for deaths, marriages etc. It can be worth searching Trove for any mention of your birth parents/grandparents. I have also heard of people contacting the newspaper themselves to see if the newspaper would do an article on their search.

Probate – If your birth parents have passed away, probate should have all their records for their estate to be administered.  This may include their will, items to be distributed, affidavit of witness to death, etc.

All family history research can come with success and brick walls.  If you are adopted, contact the adoption unit in your state and get personal guidance about your situation. I think the search for a birth parent is a very special journey and filled with highs and lows. I wish you luck in your search and maybe it can help you will break down one of your walls to find a very important piece of family history.

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