Finding your birth family


While this site is primarily about people who spent all or part of their childhoods in children's homes rather than peole who were adopted, I am currently going through the process of trying to help someone find their adoption records and trace their birth family. This has made me realise that doing this is not as clear and straightforward as I had hope it was.


So this guide is the result not of theory, but of the actual steps I have been taking myself.


I am very happy to add your own top tips and ideas you have gleaned from your own journeys through the process.


You can email me at  

The best way we can learn is from each other!




Sadly, there are people out there who are happy to take advantage of you and take money off you for doing things that should cost you much less. 


I have listed the costs
of each step of this process,
do not pay
any website or any individual
more than this.



Step 1



(If you already have this, please skip to step 2)


Getting your birth certificate is important before you can build up your family tree or access your adopton records. 


A copy of your full certificate will have more details on than the short version.



What your birth certificate
can tell you


   Your full name at birth


   The place of your birth


   The name of one, perhaps both, of your birth parents


   The home address of a parent, or both parents


Whether your parents were married
to each other at the time of your birth


Whether your parents had died
before you were born



Copies of birth certificates can be ordered from the General Register Office (GRO)


You will need to register on the GRO site for which you need an email address and a password but registering is free.


To order a certificate, you will need to know your birth surname and first name, and the year of your birth. There is a cost of £14 for each certificate.


These are the full details GRO asks for:

Finding your GRO reference


However, if you find out your GRO index reference number, ordering your certificate can be quicker, and it will be £3 cheaper.


You can find your own GRO index number through a great (and totally free!) website called


You do not need to register to use the site.


Simply enter the details you know about yourself.





The site will ask you for a date range : from MONTH/YEAR to MONTH/YEAR.
This is the date your birth was registered so it could be weeks or months after your actual date of birth.


So, if your known date of birth is
1st December 1990, a suggested date range would be:





Clicking 'find' will give you a list of possible matches in the given location.


When you click on the one that matches you, you will be given an option to 'view the original' (this is a free service, you will not be asked to pay) which will be a picture file (pdf and a range of image formats are given as options).


The image will be a picture of a page in a register.


Entries in the register contain the following information:


your surname - your first name - middle name or middle name initial - surname of mother - district in which birth was registered - volume number - page number


NB. If there is no father registered, your mother's surname will be given both as your own surname and your mother's surname.


The volume number and page numnber make up your GRO reference eg. 9L / 1234 This pair of numbers is what you need to order your birth certifcate. 




Step 2




This is basically a register, so that you, as an adopted adult, can say whether or not you are happy to be contacted by members of your birth family. Members of your birth family can also register to say whether they are happy to be contacted by you.


You can make your own selection so, for example, you can say that you do not wish your brith mother to be able to contact you, but you are happy for any brothers or sisters to make contact.


To register you will need to complete Form CR part 1


You will be asked to include a payment of £15.


If you are the relative of someone who was adopted and want to go on to the register you need to fill in Form CR part 2


To register as someone who is a birth relative, you will need to send in a payment of £30 with your form.


Once your form has been received and you have been added to the register, you will receive a letter which might give details of the relatives you have on the register or which might say that you have no relatives on the register. This can be disappointing but it may simply mean that your relatives did not know about the register and so have not registered on it.



Step 3




As an adopted person (over the age of 18) you are entitled to see your adoption records if you would like to.



What your records can tell you


Adoption records can tell you about the circumstances of your adoption. This may be something that your adoptive family have already told you, or it may not.


Some questions may be answered, such as how old you were when you were adopted, why you were adopted, others may not, such as the name of your birth father, how your mother felt about it.


The records can only not tell you about what happened to your birth family after you were adopted - nothing about where they live now, or any brothers or sisters or half-siblings born after your adoption.



What you will need to know before you apply for your adoption records:


Your birth name

Your date of birth

Where you were adopted ie. which county



Finding an Adoption Support Agency


You will need to find what is termed 'intermediary agency' to access your records on your behalf. This will be an adoption support agency in the area in which you live at the time you make the application.


This may be different from the county in which the adoption took place.


This website is an excellent starting point. Simply put in the postcode of where you live and a list of relevant agencies will pop up.


Contact the agency nearest to you and ask them to support you through the process of accessing your records. Make sure that this is a free service. If they suggest charging you, try the next agency on the list.


Step 4




It can happen that, having gone through all the steps above, you still do not know the current whereabouts of your birth family members and so are unable to make contact with them.


When the adoption support agency gives you your adoption records, you can discuss with them contacting your birth family and they will be able to advise you.


While some adoption suport agencies used to carry out this level of detective work for people, most are unable to do so now. Some agencies will underake such searches but will charge a significant fee. There are also private family history research organisations which undertake work like this. However, this can be very expensive which bills getting larger as time goes on. It is very important to agree a fixed fee in advance of the work. The quality of the work can also very enormously with this types of services.



Taking care


If you do find somone who may be a member of your birth family, take great care to check who they are.


If you are arranging to meet,
take someone else with you,
and arrange to meet in a public place.


While it does not feel great, not to trust someone who may be your family, there are some very convincing scammers around.




Using details from your birth certificate and your adoption records, there are useful resources which might mean that you can undertake searches for your borth family yourself for relatively small amounts of money.

This is a free-to-use website which can mean that you can track births and marriages easily. It does not current whereabouts or contact details however.


Online directories
Online directories such as give addresses from electoral rolls and sometimes telephone numbers. However, because it only gives names (and not dates of birth etc.), it canbe difficult to be sure you have found the right person. There is a charge of around £20 (incl. VAT) for looking up the details of 6 people.


Local libraries

Libraries in the area you are researching will be able to help you look people up on the electoral rolls so that you can try to find addresses. This should be a free service if you do the search yourself. The librarians can also be useful sources of advice.


Family history sites

Sites such as and can be useful in building up a family tree, although not always useful for current locations. Most offer a free trial period - as long as you cancel any payment arrangement. is a free site but it does tend to link through to other sites where you will need to pay to see documents.