The Search for a Birth Parent

by Connie Lenzen, CG

Adoption research is a special type of genealogical study. It can be difficult and frustrating since names of birth parents are not always known. It can be emotionally draining. Yet, it is a search that many people are compelled to complete.

Patience, persistence, and knowledge are needed to locate the birth family. There are steps that you can take to successfully locate your birth family. They are

Read a genealogical "how to" book and an adoption "how to" book. These books have helped others in their search:

Obtain a copy of your birth certificate.

Since June 2000, Oregon adoptees can request a copy of their original birth certificate; the one that was sealed at their adoption. The fee is $20.00. Send your request to Oregon Vital Records, PO Box 14050, Portland, OR 97293-0050. See the web page at

In other states, the laws are different, and often the birth certificate is an amended certificate. Still, it may contain important clues. Locate the office where you can order your birth certificate at the website for "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention"

Seek out information about your birth.

Interview everyone who may have some knowledge of your birth and adoption. Locate people who were present when you were an infant. They have memories that you do not have. They may recall small items, like a birth name that you were given. Begin a search diary where you record all of this information.

Learn adoption laws for your state. Are all adoption records closed? Can you obtain a copy of your birth certificate? Does the state allow for confidential intermediaries?

Two websites with information about adoption laws are:

Obtain your "Non-identifying information" from the agency that handled your adoption.  Names are deleted, so it is "non-identifying." This file contains information about your adoptive family at the time of your birth.

If you were adopted in Oregon, the Adoption Services branch of the Department of Human Services maintains a website with information about non-identifying information. See their section called Voluntary adoption registry. Information about the state's Assisted Search Program ($400 fee) is also on this page.

If your adoption was handled by a private agency, the Coalition of Oregon Adoption Agencies provides weblinks to those.

Trace the birth parent when you have a name.

When you have a name of a person, you need to locate them. They probably moved, and privacy laws may limit your resources. Here are some resources that will help:

City Directories

R. L. Polk city directories for Portland, East Portland, some other Oregon cities, Seattle, Washington, and some other Washington cities are in Oregon libraries. Polk city directories list residents by name, street address and telephone number, and sometimes give occupation or employer. You can trace a person through the years to see when they were listed in the directories, their address, and sometimes where they worked.

Marriage & Divorce Indexes

Your birth parents may have married — either to each other or to someone else. In most states, indexes to marriages and divorces are public record, and you can look at them.

The Forum has the following Oregon marriage indexes in the fiche collection:

Marriage, 1971 - 1989, listed by bride and by groom.

Divorce, 1971-1989, listed by groom's name.

The Forum's subscription on the society's computers provides access to numerous other marriage and divorce indexes.

Death Indexes

A death index is a list of people who have died, and it is arranged by last name. If you locate a relative, you can obtain an obituary that may give information on your person. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) lists deceased people who had a Social Security account, and for who the Social Security death benefit was claimed. The SSDI is on-line at:

The Forum has the following death indexes in the microfilm and microfiche collections:

Oregon, 1903-1970 (on microfilm) 1971-1992 (on microfiche)

Washington, 1907-1987 (on microfilm)

California, 1980-1984 (on microfiche).

Cemetery Records

Cemetery records may help you locate death dates for older relatives, and an obituary can lead to other relatives. The Forum has a large collection of Oregon cemetery records. Check with the Research Assistant at the desk for help in accessing these.

A useful online source is

Obituary Index

Obituaries are a wonderful source of information about people. They are a mini-biography and usually list names of survivors and where they are living. The Library Association of Portland's newspaper index includes citations for published obituaries (not death or funeral notices). It is on fiche at the Forum (1920s - 1987). Newspapers included in this index are:

The above newspapers can be found on microfilm at the Multnomah County Library (Central branch - 801 SW 10th, Portland) and the Oregon Historical Library (1200 SW Park Ave, Portland).

The "Historic Oregon Newspapers Online" database on the University of Oregon's website has links to numerous Oregon newspapers. See

Phone Books

The Forum has a collection of old Oregon phone books. Many towns that do not have a city directory are included in this collection.

There are a number of phone directories on the Internet. These will give the listing for people who are currently in phone books. One of the easiest to use is:

Organizations that can help.

The Forum offers classes in genealogical research methods. While they are not labeled, "adoption research," the techniques will work in adoption searches. Brochures for classes and seminars are posted in the Forum library and on the website,

Reunion Registries

This is a system for matching persons who desire contact with their next of kin by birth.

The International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR) is the nation's oldest and largest mutual consent reunion registry, and it is a free service.

International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR)
PO Box 2312
Carson City NV 89702-2312

For names of other reunion registries, go to Cyndi Howell's website. She maintains a large list of adoption "links." Find this at

© 2002-2011

Connie Lenzen, CG

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