A Difficult Decision
Whether you’re an adoptee or adoptive parent, you no doubt know that searching for birth parents is a big decision filled with questions, such as: Is it even possible to conduct a search? Where would I start? What are the chances of success? How much will it cost? How will my life change if I’m successful? How will I feel if I’m not?
We understand the difficulty with this decision, and we’re here to help. Read the information and steps below, and consider purchasing a Birth Parent Search Analysis to learn what your chances of success would be with a search. Contact us at any time for advice or resources.
Each A Personal Journey
Locating birth parents in China is becoming increasingly frequent, with stories of successful searches frequently seen in media and social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and other sharing sites. Each story is different, and each birth family was located through a different avenue. There is no one true way to successfully locate a birth family – it is very much a personal journey – but there are tools available to increase your chances.
Below is information and tools for conducting a search. When you decide to search, we want to help maximize your chances of success.
Step #1 - DNA Testing
Step #2 - Understanding the Challenges of China’s Adoption Program
Step #3 – Starting a Search
Step #4 – General Points to Consider
Step #1 - DNA Testing
The first thing you should do to start a birth parent search is get your DNA tested, because it is possible that a birth relative has already been located and tested by our sister company, DNAConnect.Org, or someone else. There are two steps to get your DNA tested:
1) Purchase a DNA kit from 23andMe or another autosomal DNA testing company, and submit your DNA. We recommend 23andMe because the vast majority of adoptees use that company’s database testing, which increases your chances of matching to any siblings, cousins, and other relatives who may have also been adopted. Submitting your DNA is easy; a typical DNA kit costs around $100 and includes instructions to collect your saliva and send it in. You will receive notification within six weeks that your DNA profile has been completed. You can then download it in a digital file format (zip file).
2) Upload your DNA profile to GedMatch. Once you have your DNA profile from 23andMe, upload it to GedMatch. GedMatch offers a collection database where everyone in the adoption community can put their DNA for matching with all other DNA, no matter the origin. We place all of our birth parent DNA with GedMatch for matching. It is free to upload, and very easy to use. GedMatch accepts DNA from Ancestry, FamilyTree, 23andMe, and most other autosomal DNA companies.
Your search may be a short one if your submitted DNA matches the DNA of a birth parent, sibling, cousin, or other close relative in China. The autosomal test allows you to match relatives from up to two generations back, which can also provide information to help locate a birth family. That is the power of autosomal DNA testing – the wide range of matches that can be made.
Step #2 – Understand the Challenges of China’s Adoption Program
After DNA testing, the next step is to become familiar with the challenges you might face in searching for birth parents inside China. A lot of information is available about China generally, and on the various orphanages specifically.
An excellent place to start is watching One Child Nation on Amazon Prime. This will show you the conditions under which birth families were placed with China’s One-Child Policy.
Another valuable source of information is our Open Secret: Cash & Coercion in China’s International Adoption Program law review article that details the various ways orphanages recruited children for adoption. By understanding these actions, you will be able to see if your own adoption circumstances are informative in determining a search strategy.
Step #3 – Starting a Search
Your search starts like the layers of an onion. First, there are basically two scenarios for how you arrived at the orphanage for adoption:
A) You were found randomly by a stranger at a public location such as a school, orphanage, hospital, or other location and taken to the orphanage. In this case, those associated with your finding won’t have any knowledge of your birth family. In other words, the chain of custody from your birth family to the orphanage was broken.
B) You were given by your birth family to someone who then took you to the orphanage. In this case, the chain of custody is unbroken. This is by far the most common scenario, contrary to what we all thought we knew about things.
The trick is figuring out which scenario is yours.
Our Birth Parent Search Analysis summarizes everything you need to know about your orphanage. Data used in the report includes a global look at finding patterns, birth family interviews, Baidu searches, and other important information that will help you understand how and why you came into the orphanage. Understanding this information is crucial to knowing how to conduct a search. Without it you are really flying blind.
Step #4 – General Points to Consider
In general, good points to consider in any birth parent search include:
► Earlier is better. The sooner a search is started, the better your chances for success. People move, especially in China’s very mobile society. Witnesses and birth parents pass away. The longer you wait to begin a search, the less chance you will succeed.
► Join a search group with families that are actively searching. Joining a like-minded group gives you access to more tips and support. One such group is China Birthparent Group on Facebook, which allows adoptees and adoptive parents alike to join. We also have a large search group with families that have purchased our Birth Parent Search Analysis.
► Submit your DNA to other databases. Some adoptees have also submitted their DNA to MyTapRoot (no longer operating) or other databases. While there is little harm to doing so (other than the expense), it is important to realize that these databases use allele DNA testing, which will only detect a birth parent/child relationship. Thus, siblings, aunts, cousins, etc. will be missed. Additionally, the databases most commonly used in China (national police data base, etc.) are not really widely utilized by birth parents inside China, except by those who have had children kidnapped. These two factors greatly reduce the probabilities of a birth parent match being made, since much fewer people inside China will have themselves tested, and you need a parent-child match in order to be successful. If you would like help putting your DNA securely into the national police database in China, contact us for assistance.
► Be careful with any birth family information you find. If you are successful in locating any birth family in China (not necessarily yours), do not just go to the local police station to do a DNA test. Although this might seem quicker, it does not allow for the birth family to be put into GedMatch for later matching if it fails to make a match with you. We can help arrange for their DNA to be collected and put into GedMatch for free, where it can be matched to yours or any other adoptee around the world. Many birth families will only submit their DNA once, thinking that is all that is needed. Doing a local test could very well mean that they will never be able to locate their child if they fail to match you. Take the long view. We are always ready to help with DNA collection, communication, and post-match guidance. Even if the birth parent is definitely not yours, obtain their contact information (phone, WeChat, QQ, email, etc.) and forward to us. We will do the rest.
► In-China searchers. A final word about utilizing searchers inside China. We created an Amazon-style review of the prominent searchers by surveying families that used them, asking them to share specific experiences. You can find the results here: We Know Who the In-Country Searchers Are, But Are They Any Good? The majority of these searchers have historical ties to the international adoption program, usually in the role of adoption agency guides. This has allowed them to form relationships with various orphanage directors and others. While this might seem positive, keep in mind that their continued ability to research is based on maintaining those good relationships and staying out of trouble. The bottom line, if push comes to shove, they will protect themselves and their orphanage relationships. You may never know this.
Thus, when hiring a searcher, be very specific about what you want done. Make a list of desired actions (finder interview, contact info from any foster family, finder, location, etc.). Require that if a birth parent comes forward for testing, their contact information must be provided to you. It is very, very important that you have the ability to follow up yourself with every contact made. If that kind of transparency is not able to be provided, move to another searcher. But be aware of the inherent tension between searching inside China, and the desire on the part of the searcher to be able to continue their business as a searcher. Locating a birth family that results in an international scandal coming forward is always a potential problem for the orphanages and as a result, searchers.
This page is just a summary of tools and tips for birth parent searches; other strategies and information are available. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us before taking any action. We are here to help.
Be sure to visit our new Research-China.org - The Story Continues informational website, full of lists, articles, and other interesting things for adoptees and their families.