Adoption Searches in New York

How to Find Your Birth Parents if Born and Adopted in New York State

We now know that it is natural and very common for an adoptee to want to know more about their personal history and original family.

The Coalition is not a government agency, does not provide direct search services, and is unable to assist you with accessing information in closed adoption records.  We ARE NOT SEARCHERS, however, we can point you in the right direction.

There are certain basic steps that an adoptee or birth family searching in New York State can take.

step one of an adoption search in New York StateRegister with New York State

New York is a closed records state which means that governmental agencies, courts, or adoption agencies WILL NOT release adoption records nor copies of original birth certificates.  The New York State Health Department does maintain a Free Adoption Registry that can help an adoption search and even facilitate a reunion.  It is a mutual consent adoption registry which means that both parties searching must be signed up for a match to be made.  Available medical information and non-identifying adoption information is also provided to adoptees over the age of 18 in New York. 

If you were adopted through foster care and the adoption was finalized, then the original birth certificate has also been sealed.   However, IF your original birth parent’s rights were terminated involuntarily via a termination of parental rights  (TPR) in court, then they are NOT allowed to register. As per the state: “A birth parent may not register unless…. the birth parent’s consent to the adoption or signature on an instrument of surrender was required at the time of the adoption.”  You can still try the registry especially if you are unsure of the status of a voluntary signature  vs. TPR, but remaining proactive and searching via other methods is recommended.

If you were in foster care, but never legally adopted, then you still have legal access to your original birth certificate.  Use the directions on the New York State Vital Records page to obtain a copy. Then, you will have the name of your parents at birth and can skip right down to #5 and get help from a Search Angel or just start googeling names! DNA testing can also help you connect to extended family such as grandparents, aunts uncles, cousins, etc.

For more information on who can register and how, please see Access to Adoption Records in New York State

Determine What You DO Know About Your Adoption Search

step two of an adoption search in New York StateStart by revisiting what you do know, what you have been told and what you think you remember. Ask questions and make direct inquires about your adoption. Gather whatever records, documents or even vague memories you can from:

  • Your Adoptive Parents: ask them for ANY paperwork they might have from your adoption. There is usually legal paperwork and the final adoption decrees plus any verbal information they might remember.
  • The Adoption Agency: many agencies keep their own records and have their own procedures involved for reunions, so they are a good place to start an adoption search.
  • The Adoption Attorneys: they might still records on hand and names, sometimes they might pass some information on.

It can also sometimes be helpful to see if any information can be had from the Maternity Home and / or Hospital that was involved.  You will also want to find out as many tiny rumors and bits of information as you can from extended family members or friends. Keep notes.

If you were in foster care, per OCFS regulation 18 NYCRR 428.8,  a non-adopted adult former foster child may have access to his or her social history.  Medical histories for foster children who were discharged to their own recognizance are available under Social Services Law 373-a.  Such a request would have to be made either to the local department of social services that had legal custody of the person or the voluntary authorized agency that cared for the person.  While OCFS supervises foster care and adoption services in New York State, actual individual case records are created, updated, and stored by the county social services department where the foster child resides. Therefore, if you know the county department of social services that was involved, you may wish to contact that office directly about your request. If you know the name of the foster care agency involved, you may wish to contact that organization as well. To find out the address and phone number of a specific county department of social services, please click on the following link: http://ocfs.ny.gov/main/localdss.asp

Other than the social and medical  history,  foster care records are confidential under Section 372(4) of the Social Services Law and are available only with a court order from the Supreme Court, Family Court or Court of Claims. You should be aware that there are limitations on how long an agency must retain foster care records. OCFS regulations at 18 NYCRR Section 428.10(a)(5)(i) provide that foster care records must be maintained for a period of 30 years following the discharge of the foster child from care.  Therefore, even if you could secure a court order as noted above, there is no guarantee that such records still exist. 

Birth parents  whose children were taken into care do not have accessor rights to files.

Check and Sign Up for the “Big” Adoption Reunion Registries

step three of an adoption search in New York StateYou might have it easy and your biological family might have begun searching for you as well, so try the two best national adoption reunion registries first. For anyone searching the International Soundex Reunion Registry and the Registry at Adoption.com are a must. There are many more Adoption Search data bases and registries to check and register for.

For more information and links to adoption registries, please see New York Adoption Reunion Registries and Online Information.

Create an Adoption Search Support Community for Yourself

step four of an adoption search in New York StateAn adoption search can take years and be long and frustrating or fast and furious or everywhere in between. No matter what steps one takes, anyone is bound to experience a wide range of conflicting and often quickly cycling emotions.  Having an understanding circle of people who have also experienced similar feelings is often vital to support emotional health. In addition, search support can also mean more hands helping and provide new avenues to explore while searching for your original family.

Please see New York State Adoption Search Support to find local in person and online adoption search support groups.

Use Technology and Ask for Help

step FIVE of an adoption search in New York StateTechnology and the internet have completely changed the way people conduct Adoption Searches. Not only does the internet allow those searching to find each other, but help and tools for searching are often just a click away.

  • Google: Google help you find more search tips and connect you to adoption search help. It is a vital search tool for digging up names, contact information, and other facts. Goggling your birthdate is key to see if anyone is looking for you and finding listings on Adoption Search registries.
  • Search Angels: Adoption search angels are people who volunteer to help others with adoption searches for free. Since they work on more than just one personal search, they tend to be really great researches with access to paid databases and people finding tools. Once you have non identifying information from New York (see step #1) , don’t hesitate in asking for help. A professional adoption search angel can be a miracle worker.
  • DNA Testing: DNA testing has literally blown up many adoption searches in the last few years. There are many folks who have searched for their family for decades with no luck at all and then, after DNA testing, they found family. The whole concept of “sealed” Adoption records is practically moot now due to DNA testing. 
  • Social Media Searches: Facebook, MySpace, blogs and even Twitter can be amazing tools for adoption searches. By opening up your search on social media you open yourself up to the many eyes and minds and Googling fingers.

For more information, please see New York State Adoption Search Technology and Resources

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