At Legacy Tree Genealogists, we are often contacted by individuals seeking assistance in finding information regarding biological family members. Utilizing advancements in genetic genealogy and thorough genealogical research, we have helped many clients find closure. However, for many, the journey does not end at identifying their birth mother, birth father or siblings. We consulted with industry experts Richard Weiss of DNAAdoption.org and Curry Wolfe, for insight and guidance into the next question that often arises—”How do I contact my birth parent?”
Searching for birth parents has never been easy. In many states it was almost impossible. Searching was filled with frustrations, disappointments, and brick walls. Then came DNA testing, a new avenue to find your genetic family. All kinds of questions about using DNA to search come to mind; could it really work, what do I do first, which company to use, what do I do with the results, how long will it take, are there people to help me, and the list goes on.
Finding Answers in DNA
Many of your questions will be answered on-line. It will be necessary to do your homework and learn about DNA and how to work with your DNA results. Here are just a few places to start your learning process: the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), the Legacy Tree Genealogists blog, and DNAAdoption. There are also several books that serve as excellent resources for learning more about your DNA test results: “The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” by Blaine T. Bettinger; “The Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com” by Nancy Hendrickson; and “The Adoptee’s Guide to DNA Testing” by Tamar Weinberg. There are also a multitude of memoirs, webinars, conference, and local genealogical societies out there to help you along the way.
The Search for Your Birth Family is Finally Over – What’s Next?
You have tested with the DNA companies. DNA has taken over your whole life. It seemed hopeless many times, but you stuck with it. One day a very high cM (centimorgan) DNA match comes which will help you complete your search. Bingo! You found your birth parent and he or she is living! You compiled your genetic family tree. You know all about your birth parent and his or her family. You know where they live. Family pictures were on-line. Maybe you found too much. Excitement is running wild. You want to shout about your find from the roof tops! You want to pick up your cell phone and call your birth parent to tell him or her about all the cool things you found out about them! But wait!
Considerations Before Making Contact
Have you given any thoughts about how your birth parent may feel by your contact? When were you born? What were the adoption norms at that time? Was your birth mother told you would never know about her? Your birth mother may never have told anyone about you. Did your birth father know about you? Both may be married, have children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. You may be their secret. Your re-entry in their life will bring back a flood of memories. These memories may be very intense and may put his or her emotions in a different place than yours. They will need time to process their feelings and share this news with their family. They may even want to keep your contact a secret for a time. Everyone deals with contact in different ways. As you prepare to make contact, always be mindful of their feelings and concerns.
Have you given any thought about your contact, letter, email, or a phone call? Much goes into making that first contact after separation of so many years. What is said and not said during initial contact is very important.
Ask yourself how you would like to be contacted, by letter, phone, email, or social media. Your birth family may feel the same way you do – or they may not. Texting is not the right way to reach out the first time.
A letter or email is always a good contact method. It may be read over and over and allows time to reflect. A picture says a thousand words and may be included in a letter or email. A letter or email should be short and simple. This is not the time to express sorrows and needs. Introduce yourself by giving your birth name, date of birth, location, and why you are reaching out. Send your letter in a greeting card. Do not send by certified or registered mail. This will bring too much attention to the letter.
The phone call is the instant gratification method, but it may be difficult to determine the best time to call. It is not always a great time to talk. It is important to take into consideration the time of day, holidays, and family events. It may be your only opportunity to hear your parent’s voice.
After you have drafted your letter or phone script, one of the best things you can do is have someone from an experienced organization such as Concerned United Birthparents or DNAAdoption review your letter to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls.
Never let anyone rush you into making contact. This is a very important step you are taking and should be done only when you are ready. You may draft your letter or email over and over until you have it right. You may rehearse your phone call too. Always have time to talk when you make that call. Don’t do it in a rush. You will know when the time is right. Be thorough, mindful, and patient.
I Contacted My Birth Parent, But They Haven’t Responded
Keep in mind that memories surrounding relinquishment are full of all kinds of emotions; love, loss, separation, denial, trust, truth, and many more. Surrender decisions were not made easily, in many cases, not of emotional free-will. When these emotions surface, they may be over whelming, and take time to work through. Our fast-paced world wants instant actions and replies. Instant expectations may not be reality in some adoption reunions. A delayed reply is not an indication of how things are going, it just means more time is needed on the other end. Patience.
Additional Resources for Guidance
As with DNA, there are experienced and reputable places where you can start to learn about and develop understanding and empathy of your birth family’s experiences and perspectives that will help you navigate contact and reunion. DNAAdoption offers an excellent presentation, DNA & Secrets: Help and Support that can serve as a great starting place. We’ve also compiled a list of useful resources for dealing with unexpected results in your DNA.
Legacy Tree Genealogists has extensive experience assisting clients with learning about all facets of their heritage. If you’re seeking answers to a family mystery, we will do everything within our power to figure it out and to present you with the facts you need. Using a combination of genetic and traditional genealogy methodologies to identify biological family members is a particular specialty. Contact us today for a free consultation and to discuss options.