Adoption and Genealogy

Friends of mine are celebrating the finalization of their adoption journey. What a wonderful time of year for that kind of celebration. Adding new family members is always a joyful time be it through marriage, birth, or adoption, we throw parties and celebrate. I like those kind of parties!

Adoption brings unique challenges to genealogy. Some of those challenges include closed records, lost records, forgotten or lost facts, people whose memories are fading. Thankfully for the genealogist, each year it is a little easier to search for those adoption records and histories. One site to look at when beginning an adoption record search is https://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/search/records.cfm.

When you are searching for adoption history though, don’t overlook the obvious. By that I mean those people who were around during the adoption. Family and friends. They always know the secret. Not every adoption is closed with difficult to obtain records. Some are open and the adoptee is welcome, even encouraged at times, to seek out birthparents. But even in those cases, some facts and perceptions are left out of the records.

Turning to the friends and family who were supporting the adoptive parents can give you an understanding of what was really going on at the time. Perhaps they know the convoluted relationships that made the adoption possible. You know the relationship, the one where Cousin Mary’s brother-in-law’s niece is in a difficult situation? Having that information when a search began would drastically narrow the search parameters.

With all that being said however, we need to be cognizant of the fact that maybe this isn’t our duty as the family genealogist. If the adoption was years ago and everyone involved has died then I say go for it, no problem. If, however, some of those involved are still living we need to realize that unless we are directly involved, this may be none of our business. “I just want to put facts in my tree”, you say. “Are those your facts to share?” I ask in return. This is not just a case of revealing Skeletons in the Closet as my previous post addressed. These are real people with real hurts and we need to understand that adding to that already existing pain is not what we want to do.

Adoption and genealogy go hand in hand and I praise God when I come across it in my own tree because I know that here is someone who cared about this child, someone who loved this child enough to share their name. If an adoptee in your family comes to you looking for information, consider their age and the circumstances before you answer. Think through on whether the person is ready for what you will share or whether their parents are ready for you to share what you know.

Adoption and genealogy are challenging. What do you do when you come across an adoption? Do you stop and thank God? As family historians, let’s be the ones who bring adoption out into the open, not to reveal the pain, but to share the joy.

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