I had lunch recently with a friend of mine who also happens to be adopted. We hadn’t really talked in quite a long time. You know the story–we’ve both been busy with our families and all the adventures and complications of raising teens and hustling them off to college and watching them blossom into young adults. But something amazing happened to her recently that changed her life. Literally, it changed who she was (er . . . is).
My friend (let’s call her Linda) has been following my story here on the blog, but she confessed to me some time ago that she never had the desire to search for her own biological family. She explained that “one family is quite enough.” Linda’s childhood with her adoptive family was not exactly idyllic, but she’s in a very happy family situation right now with her husband and grown kids–why complicate things? Because really, who knows what you’ll find? I get that. The decision to search is a personal one, for sure.
But Linda’s husband is big into genealogy. He’s done quite a bit of research on his own family tree. He’s not adopted. He’s just a guy who’s into his family history. He even invested in a DNA test to dig deeper into his ancestral history. Linda did one, too . . . just for the fun of it.
Linda had always been told by her adoptive parents that a big part of her biological ethnicity included ancestors of Mexican heritage. Well, guess what? When she received the results of the DNA test (she used AncestryDNA at Ancestry.com) she was shocked and fascinated to find that she has no Mexican blood in her at all! Instead, she found out that a substantial part of her ancestry is actually Native American.
Linda hasn’t changed her mind about actually seeking out her biological parents, but she is definitely interested in defining her family’s biological relationship to Native American heritage. In other words, which tribe? Were her ancestors here in America before Europeans made their appearance on the continent? I would find that prospect fascinating, too!
Linda’s husband is helping her build her family tree by reaching out to matches on Ancestry.com. She still has no real interest in searching for specific people or uncovering her adoption story, per se, but she’s hoping to discover more about her Native American heritage.
While we were sitting there at lunch chatting about the wonders of technology and DNA, an old-fashioned light bulb went on over my head. Discovering more information about her Native American heritage may be as simple as getting her hands on her non-identifying information! I explained to Linda how she has the right to receive the information. I explained to her how she could request her non-identifying information from the county where she was placed for adoption (she was born and adopted in California). It is entirely possible that the information would include the name of the tribe.
For some adoptees, the non-identifying information is enough to answer nagging questions. Sometimes it’s a springboard to wanting more details. Sometimes it’s a can of worms. But I would encourage all adoptees who have any curiosity at all about their ancestral heritage to request their non-identifying information. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that when I started my search I had my biological mother’s name. I thought that was enough information to find her. Turns out it wasn’t. But once I had the non-identifying information, I was able to put together certain details and find answers quickly.
So here’s a primer on getting your hands on your non-identifying information. When I got it some 25 years ago, it was a fairly easy process. All it took was a phone call and one visit to the County Social Services Department. Now you must make your request in writing. The information below is specifically for California, but the letter sample below can be adapted for other states that provide non-identifying information.
The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), or the licensed public adoption or private adoption agency that handled your adoption can provide non-identifying background information to adoptees. The information provided includes general facts about the birth parents and may include relevant medical information.You must request this information by writing directly to the licensed adoption agency, if known, or to CDSS at the following address:
California Department of Social Services / Adoptions Support Unit
744 “P” Street, MS 8-12-31
Sacramento, CA 95814
Your letter must include your name, birth date, and the full names of both of your adoptive parents. Also, your signature must be notarized by a Notary Public.
Non-identifying information is background information about the circumstances of your adoption. When it is prepared, the preparer typically (but sometimes not too successfully!) attempts to remove all of the identifying information (first and last names of birth parents, last names of other family members, etc.). Non-identifying information may include:
- Age of your birth mother and birth father
- Education background of your birth mother and birth father
- Religious affiliations
- Physical description
- Medical history of your birth mother
- Your birth family ethnicity, nationality or heritage
- Professions of the birth mother and birth father and their birth parents
- If the birth mother and father were single or married
- Circumstances of the adoption—the reason given by the birth mother for why you were relinquished
- Ages of the birth grand parents and information regarding other family members
- First names of grand parents
- Additional historical information or other information from the file that the social worker or preparer deems relevant
Remember, however, that the information that will be provided to you was originally obtained by a social worker (or other agency worker) from the birth mother (often under difficult circumstances). The birth mother may or may not have disclosed the information you are looking for. And it is quite possible that some of the information provided by the birth mother is false or untrue. She may have made up information or certain details out of fear or to protect herself or others. The bottom line is: BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING!
Here is a sample letter request:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
My name is ________________________. I was adopted in _________________ County in [year of adoption] through the [name of county agency or private agency handling adoption].
I am an adult adoptee and find myself in critical need of the non-identifying information contained in my adoption file or other records regarding my birth parents and any other data available regarding my biological family’s history.
Please note that I am not requesting identifying information or an original or amended birth record or certificate.
Name as Adopted: ________________________
Current Name: _________________________
Current Address: __________________________
Date of Birth: __________________________
Adoptive Mother’s Maiden Name (if available): __________________________
Adoptive Father’s Name (if available): _________________________________
[Provide here any other relevant information you may have regarding your adoption (court case no., date adoption was finalized, etc.)]
Thank you in advance for your assistance in providing this vital information.
Sign Your Name
REMEMBER—YOUR SIGNATURE MUST BE NOTARIZED!
It will take a few weeks (or more) before you receive a response from CDSS. You may get instructions on how to proceed with the local agency where your adoption was finalized. Then, after following their directions, it may take several more weeks or even months before receiving your non-identifying information.
Have you received your non-identifying information? What surprised you in the information you received?
You are doing such good work.
Thank you, Lynne! Living, learning and sharing! Can’t wait to see you in November!
That “Native American” DNA is probably Mexican. They are both indigenous Americans and related genetically. It is not that easy to tell populations apart, especially when they are close geographically, and you have to take AncestryDNA and other similar results with a large pinch of salt. I know it is more fashionable to be Native American, but it really shouldn’t be. It is based on contemporary social bias.
“10. If I have Native American ethnicity in my results what does that tell me?
The AncestryDNA test may predict if you are at least partly Native American, which includes some tribes that are indigenous to North America, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico.”
Thank you for your comments, Helen. But to be clear, my friend’s reaction to her DNA results have nothing to do with wanting to be more “fashionable” or a blind social bias. That would indicate a feeling of racial bias or inferiority, which she most definitely does not have. I apologize to anyone who reads any sort of feelings of racial or ethnic bias into the post. On the contrary, I believe there is marked lack of any sort of bias when it comes to ethnicity and nationality when it comes to adoptees. It’s simply a matter of identity. And yes, she may discover that her Native American lineage is based on Mexican nationality, but there are other possibilities to explore and many ways to explore it.
Sorry for the kneejerk reaction. One gets a bit weary of the Native American princess family tree legend in the DNA testing community and I wouldn’t be surprised if AncestryDNA plays up to it.
No worries, Helen! We’ll just let her story unfold!
Usually “Mexican” shows up on these types of tests as a mixture of Native American and Iberian (spain, portugal, etc.), as this is what the populations would have been 500 years ago.