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Both of my cousins were adopted.  I’ve known this my entire life.  Never did it affect my relationship with either of them, but they have been my own personal examples in the ongoing discussion between “nature versus nurture.”

Susan is an angel.  She has always been the sweetest, most giving person in our family.  Dipshit…er, I mean David, was a demon spawn, a bad seed, mean, goofy and downright nuts.  They were both raised by my aunt and uncle in a upper middle class household, so any deviations in their characters have always been my proof of genetic influence.

I have at times imagined who their birth parents may have been; Susan being the result of a love tryst between an affectionate young couple, and David being the progeny of a violent coupling within an insane asylum.  These were as far as my speculations ever went.  I have never seriously cared one way or the other and neither have they so far as I knew…until last summer.

Susan and I met for lunch, which is always a pleasant affair.  After a few moments of jabber she pulled a manila envelope out of her purse and laid it on the table.  It was then she first told me she’d made her first attempts at discovering her birth parents.  She’d sent a request to the state records office in Sacramento (She was born in California.) hoping to get some medical information and they referred her to The Childrens Home Society in Los Angeles.  That was the organization that placed her in her new home.

She was astonished to receive a very detailed pile of documents including a narrative about her parents and grandparents.  It listed relative ages at the time of her birth of her parents, siblings and grandparents.  Also listed was the occupation and place of birth for her grandparents and a check list of any medical situations she might want to know about.  The only thing missing was the actual birthdays and names of her relatives.

Susan then asked me if I could somehow get the names of her birth parents from the available information.  I had my doubts.  If I could have had one name, then I would have tried my hardest, but without at least a name I thought had nowhere to start my search.

Over the last ten or fifteen years I’ve become very good at finding people.  Originally I tried to locate my service buddies.  I signed up for a few search engines, including Ancestry.com, PeopleFinders.com and Switchboard.com   As time went by I decided to find old schoolmates, girlfriends, even a long lost cousin or two.  I’ve shared my successes with Susan more than once, so I knew the moment I saw the manila envelope she had a project for me, never guessing what the project actually was. 

I was surprised.  Why would she want to find her birth parents when she had such a marvelous cousin such as myself as the prime example of her family?  It only took a minute for me to understand, particularly when she showed me all the documentation she’d gotten from the adoption agency. It included so much real data, that anyone would be curious.

She’d made copies of all her documents for me to use in my search.  There was so much information, but how could I use it?

I didn’t start my search immediately simply because I didn’t think it could be done, but not a day went by when I didn’t think of any and all options.  I am so glad I didn’t give up.

One day, searching for someone else, I was using Ancestry.com.  I suddenly asked myself if I could sift through people of the same ages and places of birth and come up with possibilities in my search for Susan’s parents.  I was stunned at my successes.

Until then I’d assumed the search needed a name, but for the first time I entered birth states and years of birth in a census search.  The grandfather was born in Iowa and the grandmother was born in Oklahoma, both being married and living in Idaho at the time of Susan’s birth.  I was elated to come up with one (!) possible couple that matched.  Searching the census I learned the persons listed had the same occupations as listed on Susan’s documents. (Please see below for how Joe did this step by step.)

There was a problem of verification of her birth parent’s history because they were both born after the 1930 census and the 1940 census won’t be available until 2012. But after much reflection and pondering I found other documents that matched perfectly with those in Susan’s possession. I performed this same search for both sets of grandparents, in each case only one result made sense.

I’m sure anyone who has ever done research on a stranger from an earlier time would react as I did.  The more I learned about the person the more I felt familiar with him. Not just data, but the real person.  I had very little trouble determining a scenario beyond what was written in the documents. Why was Susan put up for adoption? The social equation: the scandal that had to be avoided.

I then found that both of Susan’s birth parents are still living.  I located them both, but of course never contacted them.  With all the information at hand, I contacted Susan and told her my results.  Now the reality of it all created hesitation and doubt on her part.  This I understand.  To date Susan has not contacted either parent.  She may never do so, but now she knows she can if she wants to.  She has apologized to me for not having the nerve to contact them “now that the ball is in [her] court”.

I have no idea how many people out there may have the same need as Susan, but I can recommend Ancestry.com as a back door method of determining data.  Of course the first step is to obtain a report from the adoption agency.  I hope my brief narrative can assist anyone and keep them from going down dead ends in their searches. 

(Note: Joe’s cousins’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.)




If a person has obtained documents from the state or adoption agency that lists all information except names of the birth parents, then this is a method of determining the names in question.  The information I’d received from the adoption agency listed the relative ages of parents and grandparents and their places of birth.  From this it was easy enough to determine years of birth for the grandparents; They were born prior to the 1930 census which means they’d be listed.  (The 1940 census will become available on line in 2012)  Both birth parents in this case were born in the 1930s.  There would not be any census data on them until the 1940 census.

            First determine the names of the grandparents, then investigate further for the birth parents via different sources.


  1. Enter Ancestry.com web site
  2. Key “Search”
  3. On the right select “U.S. Federal Census Collection”.  The identical search form appears, but the actual search will only pertain to Federal Census, no other sources.
  4. In my case I knew the approximate age of the mother’s father so I entered that year in the “Birth Year” box.  I then entered the birth state, which I knew from my data.
  5. Under “Lived in” I inserted the state where the father was living at the time I suspected
  6. Under “Any Event” put the census year I suspected.


In my case this search resulted in 162 possibilities, people who had been born in the same state yet resided in the state of my subject.  This at first seemed overwhelming, but actually the sifting went quickly once I started.  By holding the cursor over the “Federal Census” on the left, it highlighted and listed each member of that particular family, with ages.

In my case I was lucky the wife of the subject I was searching for was four years older than he, very rare, particularly in that day and age.  After less than an hour I had discovered only one possibility that matched ages and birth states of both individuals, all listed on the same census sheet.

I performed the identical search for both the maternal and paternal grandparents, both husband and wife of each.  All my conclusions matched to only one family on either side.  Other searches may not be so certain at first.

I apologize for not listing actual states and dates of my subjects as a clearer example.  If I listed those I would be divulging information that is confidential.

Through other sources I’ve determined both birth parents are still living.  The real trial is getting enough nerve to contact them.  What to say?