Adoption research

A while back, I was a guest on a radio programme and a listener texted in a plea. She was adopted, she said, and she couldn’t uncover her birth mother’s name. “Please help me to find out who I am”, were the exact words.

On one level, this is absurd: I don’t know her circumstances, but she almost certainly leads a normal life, coping (or not coping) with all the joys and worries of work and money and immediate family in exactly the same way as someone who does know their birth mother’s name. She is who she is, in other words, as we all are.

But of course I’m being disingenuous. I knew exactly what she was asking and why it carried such a resonant pang of loss. At the centre of everyone’s network of allegiances, to tribe, parish, country , race, lies the family, and embedded ineradicably in the very notion of family is the need for a blood connection. Unfair and irrational this may be, but it is very old. For most of the existence of the human race, the only dependable guarantee of safety has been blood kinship.

None of this is much help to that listener. The uncomfortable fact is that researching adoptions can be extremely difficult. The vast majority took place in order to hide illegitimacy. Finding records of people who tried to leave no official traces, who didn’t want to be found, demands levels of persistence and resourcefulness well beyond the ordinary. But the sheer intensity of that need to know remains extraordinary.

Katherine Zappone

The Irish state is finally recognising the needs of adoptees and giving them legal rights to trace their birth families. Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone’s wonderful ‘Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016‘ formalises the record-keeping obligations of adoption agencies and the tracing services they need.

Two state agencies already offer tracing assistance of sorts. The Adoption Authority of Ireland offers free personalised assistance, while TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency, is actively archiving and making available records from the local religious adoption agencies that were the norm until very recently.  The Natural Parents Network of Ireland provides support for parents of children. who were adopted.

13 thoughts on “Adoption research”

  1. Both of my children have birth parentd. My daughter knoes who both of her bifth parents are. She has maintained contact with her birth father only. She stopped contact with her birth mother a few years ago. My son chose not to search for his birth parents. It should be a choice and I support both children (adults) in whatever they choose.

  2. I have a Dear friend who was adopted and after years of searching, found her birth mother. By this time the Mother was very old, and in poor health. It was a wonderful reunion for both of them. The birth mother was very young when her baby was born and the family gave the baby up for adoption.
    Too make a long story short, my friend was so happy and so thankful to finally know her Mother. It wasn’t long after this that the Birth Mother passed away. My Friend had wonderful adopted parents who were very supportive of her need to find her “Mother”.
    How blessed I was to have two wonderful mothers said my friend.

    Great article John. Very encouraging for many.

  3. I am an adoptee, and having had experience of all the agencies listed above I have to say that they have been a barrier to information rather than an assistance. The act you cite above requires that adoptees sign a statutory declaration that they will NOT contact their biological parents before giving the adoptee their own birth certificate. As most adoptees are interested in their own identity and background, this is both insulting and unnecessary – essentially profiling adoptees because they are adoptees and unlike other people need to go down this route to get information on themselves. Incidentally the AAI are not ‘obliged to carry out trace services for any individuals’ –

  4. Very encouraging article, John – thank you. We have spent over 35 years trying to find my Grandmother’s origins, and while I can’t say we have been obstructed, some of those who might have been able to provide us with access to information have not been as helpful as they could have been. I am not one for jumping on the bandwagon and criticising all those who were involved in the care of young mothers and their children – they were doubtless a mixed bag of good and bad, as all human organisations are, but times have changed and society has changed beyond recognition – it is time now to recognise this and provide every possible asstance to those women and children, and their descendants, to learn who they are and where they came from.

  5. I usually enjoy your pieces John but in this case I must make an exception.

    First off, why the picture of Katherine Zappone grinning from ear to ear? I have absolutely nothing against Ms Zappone but adoption is no laughing matter, especially for those of us trying to find our pasts with all the difficulties that that entails.

    Secondly, you describe the Adoption Bill as wonderful when it is nothing of the sort. While it may confer certain rights on adopted people it will also impose certain legal strictures upon them – legal strictures that are not imposed on any other citizen of the State. And we will still be hamstrung by the IOT v B decision of the Supreme Court and certain caveats within the Freedom of Information Act.

    The major selling point of the Bill is that it will grant adopted people access to the original record of their birth, but this right already exists as all civil registrations of births in Ireland are public record. Only now adopted people will be required to sign an affidavit in order to get that access, something that wasn’t previously required and again, something that is not required of any Irish citizen who is not adopted.

    Furthermore, on its own the original record of one’s birth is of very limited use to an adopted person searching for their past, given the scant information it will contain, namely the child’s date and place of birth [usually a hospital], the child’s original forename, and the mother’s forename and maiden name. There will be no mention of a father and no mention of an address for either parent.
    What adopted people need is not merely access to their original birth cert but full and unfettered access to their adoption file so that they might develop the fullest possible picture of how they came into the world.
    [NOTE: This access to one’s adoption file is the norm throughout the UK.]

    Thirdly, while my experience dealing with the Adoption Authority of Ireland has been a mostly positive one, the same cannot be said for my dealings with TUSLA. I have found them by times unprofessional, insensitive and untrustworthy and I would view them as an obstacle rather than a conduit to information.

    After five years of searching I eventually did meet my birth mother but sadly she has a cognitive impairment and consequently I can never have the conversation I might have hoped to have had with her.
    In the meantime, I’m still no closer to identifying my father’s identity. TUSLA have a name but refuse to release it to me so you’ll forgive me if I’m not grinning from ear to ear at the publishing of this Bill!

  6. The situation in the UK regarding adoptions is different. There are different rules for each of the several different legal jurisdictions (England &Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey).

    In England and Wales, and Scotland, the adoptee goes to an accredited, registered intermediary who consults the Adoption Register on their behalf.

    Contact is then made between the intermediary and the biological parent(s), and if they are happy to do so, contact details are provided to the adoptee.

    This is well illustrated by the TV series “Long Lost Families”, presented by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell. Nicky is an adoptee himself.

    1. Hi Michael,

      I was given to understand that adopted people in the UK were automatically entitled to their adoption file once they reach the age of 18.

      Is that not quite how it works?

      1. Hi Patrick,
        My understanding of English (and to an extent, Scottish) law as a non lawyer is that the Adoption File will tell an adoptee most of the information about their adoption, centred around the circumstances, and giving younger adopters their biological families’ names.

        However, where the adoption took place before the law changed, the biological family details may not be immediately available. If the adoption took place say more than 50 years ago, promises of anonymity may have been made which means that a Special Intermediary becomes involved, who alone can legally consult the Adoption Register where such details are kept.

        Hope this helps.

  7. Patrick, as a fellow adoptee I echo your reservations about the bill and it’s very saddening to hear or read it being presented as a ‘positive’ – is isn’t – it is essentially treating adoptees as a separate, distinct group who do not share the same rights as other citizens. All is not lost as regards identifying your BF. If you haven’t already I would urge you to do the Ancestry test, I was in a similar situation with TUSLA, name on file but wouldn’t release same. I had met my BM many years ago but she refused to identify my BF. I was able to identify my BF within three months of submitting my Ancestry test – thankfully DNA is not subject to data protection. Might I also ask that any further articles as regards ‘Adoptee Rights’ is clear in stating that we, quite simply, do not have any. There is no positive in asking someone to sign a statutory declaration – a legal document – in order to access their own birth certificate, the adoptee is tied into a ‘process’ with the authorities and cannot move out of that process without the threat of legal action, I don’t really understand how anyone could think this was a ‘positive’

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