Adoptee Search Assistance

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.

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.

This web page is designed to provide 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 – When Discreet Tactics Fail
Step #5 – 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. 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.

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Step #2 – Understanding 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 informative historical article 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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

How to begin to determine which scenario is yours and start a search:

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Step #4 – When Discreet Tactics Fail

If your interviews with anyone connected with your time in China bring no information regarding your birth family, you are left with “shotgun” tactics as a last resort.

It is always possible to go from a discreet search to a public search, but doing a public search first may severely damage your success if later you try to do a discreet search, since the orphanage, as pointed out above, may by that time have contacted finders, foster families, and others and told them to not assist you in a search.

Thus, if you are unable to figure out the chain of custody from birth parent to orphanage, you are left with trying to reach every single birth parent in your orphanage area, or even in China. That sounds like a monumental task, but there are many ways of attempting to do this, some more successful than others. Two methods:

  1. Posters. Although some limited success stories have been seen, posters have become such a common means of trying to make a connection that they have become mostly ineffective. By now, since these types of posters are seen on walls, windows, and telephone poles all over China, people have largely tuned them out. Additionally, families often naively print specific information provided by the orphanage, such as birth date and finding location, but this information is very often inaccurate. If you do decide to use posters, provide vague and non-specific details in order to reach as many birth families as possible.

  2. Media Stories. Using media such as online newspapers and television news stations to promote your search information can have better “traction” than posters. Again, the trick to a successful “shotgun” approach is to have your media campaign reach as many birth parents as possible -- one of which will hopefully be yours. To accomplish a broad reach, your media campaign needs to go “viral,” and that is challenging. In 2017 we assisted a group of Chongqing families in crafting a very successful video, focusing not on specific children adopted from a specific orphanage, but on searching for any birth family that lived in the area. We continue to see successful matches from using that video. Read more about the video here.

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Step #5: – General Points to Consider

In general, good points to consider in any birth parent search include:

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 - The Story Continues informational website, full of lists, articles, and other interesting things for adoptees and their families:

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