Tracing your birth family

Introduction

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.

Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022

The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 (pdf) was signed into law on 30 June 2022. This Act gives adopted people, people who were boarded out, or who had their births illegally registered the right to receive:

  • Their birth certificate
  • Information about their birth and early life
  • Medical information

The Act will be commenced in 2 stages. In July 2022, the new Contact Preference Register opened for applications. This must be open for 3 months before applications for birth certificates and other information can be made. From October 2022, applications for birth information and tracing can be made.

More information on how this will work will be available soon.

The Adoption Authority of Ireland

The Adoption Authority of Ireland is an independent statutory body, and it is responsible for registering and supervising adoption agencies and societies in Ireland. It is also the central authority for intercountry adoption in Ireland.

New Contact Preference Register

A new Contact Preference Register opened in July 2022. If you were registered in the Adoption Authority's National Adoption Contact Preference Register, your information will be transferred to the new Register. You can update your preferences on the Contact Preference Register 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:

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

Note: The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 has been signed into law. The procedure below will change this year. More information will be published here when it is available.

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

Note: The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 has been signed into law. The procedure described on this page will change. More information will be published here when it is available.

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

Note: The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 has been signed into law. The procedure below will change this year. More information will be published here when it is available.

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.

Possible outcomes

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.

Counselling

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

Note: The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 has been signed into law. The new law changes the right of adopted people to get information about their birth. The changes will be implemented in stages over the coming months. More information will be published here when it is available.

Adoption Act 2010

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.

Trying to get your original birth certificate

An adopted adult has no automatic access to their original birth certificate under the current law. The Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022, which has now been signed into law, gives adopted adults the right to get birth certificates for the first time. This new law will be commenced in stages over the coming months.

Under the current law: 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.

Further information

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.

Adoption Authority of Ireland

Shelbourne House
Shelbourne Road
Ballsbridge
Dublin 4
Ireland

Tel: (01) 230 9300

Tusla - Child and Family Agency

Brunel Building
Heuston South Quarter
Dublin 8
Ireland

Tel: (01) 771 8500

General Register Office

Government Offices
Convent Road
Roscommon
F42 VX53
Ireland

Tel: +353 90 663 2900
Fax: +353 90 663 2999

Barnardos Post Adoption Service

Barnardos

Hyde Square
654 South Circular Road
Dublin 8
Ireland

Tel: Helpline (01) 454 6388 10am-1pm, Tuesday & Thursday

Adoption Rights Alliance

Treoir

28 North Great Georges Street
Dublin 1
Ireland

Tel: +353 (0)1 670 0120

Page edited: 30 June 2022