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search

Term used to describe an attempt, usually by a birthparent, adopted person or adoptive parent but sometimes by volunteers or paid consultants, to make a connection between the birthparent and the biological child. Searches are usually accomplished by adopted adults or birthparents of adopted adults but may also be made by adoptive parents to assist the adopted person. Sometimes searches occur when the adopted person is a minor, although most searches are not made until the adopted person is considered an adult and is at least 18 years old.

Although it is not known how many adopted individuals ultimately search for their birthparents or how many birthparents actively seek their birthchildren, searching may be on the increase, at least based on the number of SEARCH GROUPS that exist nationwide and their activities on the Internet, although reliable statistics are not available.

In addition, a great deal of media attention has focused on this issue, and numerous newspaper features about "reunions" of individuals adopted at birth and their birthmothers have been published.

Speculation has centered on such key issues as whether the person should be contacted for consent to disclose his or her identity prior to an actual meeting; whether OPEN RECORDS would be more humane than traditional adoption, thus negating the need for a search; whether adopted persons who search for birthparents are better or less adjusted than adopted adults who do not search; and many other issues.

In addition, most states seal adoption records, including the original unamended birth certificate, permanently or at least until the adopted person reaches the age of majority, and it is extremely difficult to obtain a court order to unseal adoption records in most states. As a result, many searchers use a variety of methods-legal and illegal-to locate and identify the person sought, including both open and covert searching techniques.

Many states in the United States have established MUTUAL CONSENT REGISTRIES, wherein if both the birthparent and the adopted person agree that information should be shared, then identifying information shall be provided. There have also been efforts, led by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to establish a national Reunion Registry, although no federal registry has been established as of this writing.

Several studies have compared and contrasted adopted adults who search for their birthparents with adopted persons who have no desire to search.

The more the adopted person remembered being told about the adoption and the more negative early feelings about adoption were, the higher the probability the adult adoptee would search for a birthparent. A doctoral dissertation by Robert Allen Adelberg at Boston University in 1986 supports these findings.

A master's thesis by Rosie Ann Kauffman in 1987 at the University of Texas at Arlington found high self-concept scores in both searchers and nonsearchers and no significant differences. Adoptees with the highest self-concept scores were those placed in an adoptive home at an early age.

Research on adjustment levels of searchers versus nonsearchers has yielded conflicting results. A 1981 M.S.S.W. thesis by S. A. A. Aumend did find significant differences between searchers and nonsearchers. Comparing 49 nonsearchers to 71 searchers, Aumend found nonsearchers to have higher self-esteem, more positive attitudes toward their adoptive mothers and more positive feelings about adoption.

A study by J. Triseliotis reported in 1973 discussed 70 adopted adults who used the open records available in Scotland and compared these individuals with nonsearchers. His findings were

Adoptees who have experienced a happy home life and to whom the circumstances of their adoption has been made available by the adoptive parents, and who have not experienced a recent intense crisis, are less likely to feel the need to seek reunions.

A surprising finding by Michael Sobol and Jeanette Cardiff in a Canadian study was that the greater the information provided on the birthparent, the higher the probability the adult adopted person would initiate a search. This finding conflicts with other studies, which have found that a lack of information is correlated with a desire to search.

A major problem with most of the studies on this topic is that the number of subjects is small and, often, nonsearching (control) subjects are not available for comparison. Subjects of these studies are often self-selected. Reliable and well-mounted studies will be required before definitive conclusions can be reached. As of this writing, such studies do not exist.


Robert Allen Adelberg, "A Comparison Study of Searching and Non-Searching Adult Adoptees," Ed.D diss., Boston University, 1986.

S. A. A. Aumend, "Self-Concept, Attitudes Toward Adoptive Parents," M.S.S.W. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1981.

Katherine A. Kowal, Ph.D., and Karen Maitland Schilling, Ph.D., "Adoption Through the Eyes of Adult Adoptees," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 55 (July 1985): 354-362.

J. Triseliotis, In Search of Origins: The Experience of Adopted People (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973).

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