Tracing your birth family
If you were adopted in Ireland, you may want to find your birth family. There are specific ways to try and find your family, and there are organisations that offer practical advice and counselling throughout the process.
You can also follow these steps if you are a birth parent trying to trace your child who was adopted.
While it is possible to trace your birth family or child on your own (or with the help of a private detective), it is often advisable to conduct searches using the official channels. This is to make sure that neither party is forced into something they are unwilling or unable to cope with.
This page explains the process for tracing your birth family, the possible
outcomes of your search, and the laws on tracing a family.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland
National Adoption Contact Preference Register
The Adoption Authority maintains a National Adoption Contact Preference Register. The register helps to facilitate contact or the sharing of information between adopted people and their birth families.
Participation is voluntary, and contact through the register is only initiated where both parties (the adopted person and the birth family) join. There are 5 levels of contact. The register lets you choose what level of contact you wish to have. If you need to make any changes to any of your details, contact the Adoption Authority with your request.
When you join the register, your details are checked against other people on the register to see if there is match. In other words, this check will find out if there is someone on the register who is looking for you, or is willing to share information with you.
You can find further
information on the National Adoption Contact Preference Register, and how
it can help in the search for a birth relative if you or your relative were
adopted, on the Adoption Authority's website.
If you know the adoption agency
There is no central location for adoption files in Ireland. You may have to apply to a few organisations to get the information you are looking for.
Your first step should be to contact the adoption agency responsible for your placement (or for the placement of your child). This will be:
- A registered adoption agency or society, or
- Your Local Health Office in the HSE, or
- Tusla – the child and family agency
The adoption agency should have a file on your adoption, and this may have some information about your origins (or about where your child was placed).
What happens when you contact the adoption agency
In general, when you have contacted an adoption agency about finding your birth family (or child), you will be asked to fill out a form giving some basic details about yourself.
You will be contacted by a social worker from the agency and asked to come in for a meeting. On your first visit, you should ask about:
- The agency's policy in relation to searching for birth families or adopted children
- How long a search will take
- What kind of support the agency will offer you.
Generally, the agencies will only give out non-identifying information to begin with (no full names or addresses), unless they have the consent of all parties.
If the adoption agency has closed
If the adoption agency that dealt with your case has closed since your placement, your records will have been transferred to other bodies, such as the HSE or Tusla. You can check the Tusla website to see if Tusla is holding the records for the agency that dealt with your adoption. If the adoption was organised through an agency other than those listed on the Tusla website, contact the Information and Tracing Unit of the Adoption Authority for assistance.
If you do not know the adoption agency
If you do not know the name of the adoption agency, you should email or write to the Information and Tracing Unit in the Adoption Authority. You will need to include some proof of identity.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland has details of all legal adoptions dating from 1953. They should be able to give you the name and contact details of the agency that dealt with your case. Normally, it is the agency that arranged your adoption that traces your birth family.
Once you get the name of the agency that dealt with your case, you can try to contact them directly. See ‘If you know the adoption agency’ above.
If you were an Irish child adopted in Northern Ireland, the UK or USA, you
can find information
on where your records are held on the Tusla website.
If you were not legally adopted
If you are unsure if you were legally adopted, you should contact the Adoption Authority’s Information and Tracing Unit. The Information and Tracing Unit will check their records and let you know if a formal adoption order was made for you.
If you were not legally adopted, you can contact the Local Health Office in the HSE in the region where you lived as a child. The Local Health Office may be able to help you trace your birth family, as it may have been involved in (or had some knowledge of) your placement.
If you still have your original birth certificate, you can check it for details of where you were born. You can also contact some of the support organisations listed below for guidance – see ‘Further information’.
Finding your birth father
If you decide to trace your birth father, you will generally have to contact your birth mother first. The birth father's name is frequently not listed on a birth certificate and your birth mother will be the only person who can identify him.
If his name is listed on the birth certificate, you should contact the Adoption Authority or the adoption agency that dealt with your case for advice on how to proceed.
There are a number of possible outcomes when attempting to trace your birth family.
You may find the birth mother, birth father or adopted child you were looking for and reunite with them. On the other hand, you may find them and discover that they do not want to meet you. They may have died before you got a chance to meet them.
It is also possible that you may never find the person you are looking for. This is more likely if you are dealing with records from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s or 1960s, as these records generally contain very little information.
The process of tracing your family, and the range of possible outcomes, can be very emotional. You may benefit from talking to a counsellor and talking to other people who have been through the same experience.
Most adoption agencies and the HSE offer counselling to people trying to trace their birth family. There are also support groups and self-help groups for people who have been adopted, or who have placed children for adoption. See ‘Further information’ below.
The law on tracing your birth family
The legislation on the tracing of birth families is set out in the Adoption Act 2010. The Act does not specifically state that adopted people should have automatic access to their birth certificates. However, under Part 10, the Registrar General must keep a record of all adoptions. This is known as the ‘Adopted Children Register’, and is available to members of the public for inspection.
The Act also requires the General Register Office to keep an ‘index’. This index allows for connections to be traced between each entry in the Adopted Children Register and the Register of Births. This means details of an adopted child's birth parents can possibly be traced back to the Register of Births. Due to the sensitive nature of this information, the index is not available to the public and you must apply to the Adoption Authority to get access.
Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2021
On 11 May 2021, the General Scheme of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2021 was published. The General Scheme provides for the full release of the birth certificate, birth information, early life information, care information and medical information for anyone who was adopted, boarded out, or the subject of an illegal birth registration, and for anyone with questions in relation to their origins.
The General Scheme is presently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. Once that is completed, the next stage is for the Birth Information and Tracing Bill to be published and debated in the Oireachtas.
Trying to get your original birth certificate
Under existing legislation, an adopted adult has no automatic access to their original birth certificate. This is because all birth certificates contain personal information about the birth mother and her right to confidentiality must be respected. Generally, your certificate can only be released if your birth mother has given her consent or where it has been confirmed that she is deceased and there are no other issues arising.
However, if you have tried and failed to find your mother, if she has died, or if she refuses to give her consent, you can apply to the Adoption Authority. The Authority will review your case and write to the adoption agency and request a report from the agency which will include:
- Details of their contact with your birth mother and with you, as well as your birth mother's views on the release of the birth certificate
- Details of your hopes and expectations about getting your birth certificate and the information which may be on the certificate. This is of particular importance in cases where your birth mother may not be open to contact, or where she may be opposed to the release of identifying information
- A recommendation from the social worker about the release or non-release of your birth certificate based on their findings during the process
If your birth mother cannot be located, the report must outline all the efforts that have been made to find her. If it is discovered that your birth mother is deceased, a copy of her death certificate must be provided with the report.
It is possible that the certificate will give an address or some identifying detail about your birth mother, and the Authority must protect her privacy. Based on information about your case from the adoption agency or HSE, the Authority will decide whether or not to give you this information.
If you have gone through this process and the Adoption Authority has refused you access to the information relating to your case, you can make an application to the High Court for a judicial review of the Authority's decision. However, this is an expensive process.
Cost of tracing your birth family
Depending on the adoption agency involved, you may be asked to pay a fee for the tracing of a birth family member. This fee goes towards the costs of phone calls, travelling and other costs that are incurred during the search.
Some agencies do not charge any fee.
You can find information about tracing for adopted people on the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies website.
You can also download tracing guides for adopted people from the Adoption Rights Alliance website.
Making a complaint
If you are trying to trace your birth family or child, and are unhappy with the help you are getting from your adoption agency, you can make a complaint to the Adoption Authority.