An RP How-To: Find an adoptee from Illinois' (and Ohio's) birth parents
*If you want to skip the backstory or are easily distracted and want to get to the how-to, look for instructions in bold.
When I first met my husband Adam in 2013, he told me early on that he and his sister Lauren were adopted from different families through The Cradle in Evanston, IL. I asked if he knew who his birth parents were and he was told that all he knew is that his birth mother was young and that she herself was adopted through The Cradle as an infant.
"Have you ever considered trying to find them?"
Adam shook his head. I was perplexed. My curiosity would have gotten the best of me early on and Adam, a few years away from 40, was perfectly happy just knowing where he ended up.
Over the years, I found myself occasionally obsessing - looking through unofficial online databases of siblings looking for their half brothers and sisters and women in their 50s and 60s who always wondered what became of their children. I would cruise some of their Facebook pages looking for a resemblance of the man who I planned to marry.
One day, on a whim, I went into the Illinois state adoption website and found the paperwork we would need to add ourselves to the official registry (called Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange). It was somewhat daunting, multi-pages, and... it sat on our kitchen table for a week. I asked Adam if he planned to fill them out and he said probably not. I asked if I could and he shrugged. And I left the paperwork on our window sill for another year until throwing it out during a cleaning binge. I think what held me back from sending it in, other than Adam's seeming disinterest, was that if you enter the registry and your birth parents are looking for you, there's an immediate exchange of contact information and it made me uncomfortable to expose ourselves like that without any inkling of who the other people are. We're private people and typically keep to ourselves and Adam is pretty sensitive, so I wanted to be able to consider the specific circumstance that we were entering before establishing contact.
I'm not totally sure what pushed me to look at the site again end of 2016, but I realized that there's a second way to approach a search:
You can request a copy of your original birth certificate (link goes directly to the form you need to fill out). At its worst, I thought this might be a cool thing for Adam to have - assuming his birth mother didn't contact the Illinois courts requesting that her name be redacted, it would have his birth mother's name at the time of birth, the permanent address supplied, and - the part that charmed me the most - the original signature of this young woman who gave birth Adam. The form is very short and easy to fill out. Along with the completed form, you must supply a photocopy of the adoptee's license and a check for $15.
I came home from work two weeks later and checked our mailbox and thought "...why would Adam get something from the Illinois Health Department?" Then my heart started pounding. It could be nothing or something important could be about to happen. I tore it open and scanned the document. Under the field that said "birth mother" in a handwriting that looked strong, but young, read "Susan Margaret Clark".
Susan Margaret Clark.
Do you know how many friggin women named Susan Margaret Clark there must be in the Midwest!? Clark is the 21st most common surname in the US (thanks Wikipedia!) and the year Susan was born, her first name was #5 (thanks babycenter.com!).
Fortunately, they also list Susan's permanent address at that time (1979) - so that is where our research adventure really began.
Here are the tools we used to find Sue:
- Housefax - $9.95/month
- Whitepages Premium - (yes, those Whitepages) - $9.95/month - you need to manually cancel your subscription at the end of the month or it'll automatically renew
- Facebook - free
Here is the tool that did not help us this time, but did help us in another case:
- www.ancestry.com - free for the first 14 days, $20/month after that - you need to manually cancel your subscription at the end of the trial period or it'll automatically renew
Step 1: Adam looked up the address on housefax.com and found that the property was sold by a John Clark in 1995 - that gave us a known relative to Sue.
Step 2: We searched for Susan Margaret Clark on Whitepages Premium using the year that she was born and those listings supplied names of known relatives and previous addresses. Adam matched what we knew to the listings and found one in a small town in Northern Wisconsin (I'm intentionally not naming the town for privacy).
Step 3: I Googled the town name along with Sue's name and found an old article about a small business owner trying to run a shop in her home - the address was listed, so I Googled that address and found the name of her business.
Once it became clear that we were on the verge of finding her, Adam started to get visibly excited about finding his birth mother. I guess it seemed like a long-shot before that.
Step 4: We found a Facebook page for that business where Sue is very active. Adam contacted her directly the next day.
It has been thrilling to see Adam and Sue get to know each other. There is already such a mutual appreciation there and Adam, who always sort of felt like there was nobody out there in the world like him, is finding that - actually - there was a woman in the middle of the country with many of the same interests and quirks.
A few weeks later, Sue came to Adam and said that her friend Cathy had requested her original birth certificate from Ohio and she sent us a photo of it which contained the same info - we were back on the case. We took a slightly different approach this time. I assumed that this woman would be easy to find because they had a common last name with an uncommon spelling.
Step 1: We looked up the house on Google Maps and found that it didn't exist anymore. Adam looked up the parcel info on housefax.com and found that the house was sold in the 90s to a neighbor who now uses it as a yard (not relevant, but interesting...). There was a woman's name on the house sale with the same last name listed on the birth certificate.
Step 2: I created a new family tree on ancestry.com. The first name I added was the birth mother's name from the birth certificate. Then I added the same we found on housefax.com to the tree as her mother. That was enough info for ancestry.com to start suggesting data (which they call "hints" to me). I immediately had Cathy's grandfather's name and a suggested marriage certificate that likely belonged to Cathy's birth mother.
And here is where we went wrong. We compared the signatures on the marriage certificate and a signature on the birth certificate and Adam concluded that they didn't match. I was convinced that the middle name - Ann - was written by the same person, but it was true that the rest of the signature didn't look alike*. This was our White Rabbit since we did, in fact, have the correct person.
*NOTE: It turns out that your signature probably evolves between the age of 16 and the age of 24. And then probably at the age of 30. And probably totally different around 45. But that's probably the one you die with because old dogs, new tricks...
Step 3: Run the names we found through Whitepages Premium. We had a mother's name and a daughter's name plus a year of birth and town, so Adam matched those and found three other names associated - one older, who was Cathy's birth mom's father and two younger who were presumably Cathy's aunt and uncle. This search also showed their known addresses.
Step 4: Scour Facebook. As I mentioned earlier, the last name had a unique spelling, so it wasn't that hard to find Cathy's uncle on Facebook which listed the town he was from as well.
Step 5: Adam ran Cathy's birth mom's name again and during the search found an address attached to one of the names that matched the address for Cathy's uncle. It also listed an alternative name - which matched the marriage certificate that we found on ancestry.com in the beginning. Whomp whomppp.
Step 6: Cathy's birth mother has surprisingly little online presence - so Cathy contacted her known family members on Facebook who eventually got her in touch with her birth mother and they have since met up.
In both cases, we lucked out - both birth mothers were happy to hear from these adults they gave birth to and in Adam's case, Sue was even still in touch with Adam's birth father, so he was able to speak with him as well.
We're thrilled to have Sue in our life and Sue loves us, so it was really the best case birth-parent-finding scenario.
HAVE YOU TRIED TO FIND SOMEONE'S BIRTH PARENTS BEFORE? WHAT TIPS AND TRICKS HAVE YOU USED? DO YOU NEED HELP FINDING SOMEONE? LET RENAISSANCE PERSON KNOW AT INFO@RENAISSANCEPERSON.COM AND WE'LL TRY TO HELP OUT! AMATEUR SLEUTHING? #YOUCANDOTHAT