...regaining identities, histories and rights for adopted people...  

Refused your birth certificate by the Adoption Authority?  Click here to learn how to locate it for yourself.



Frequently Asked Questions    


Don't see the answer to your question here?  Contact us and we'll be happy to try to answer your questions, but please note we are overwhelmed with queries and cannot always answer immediately.  

How do I trace my natural family?
We recommend that you visit our Search and Reunion page where you can download Tracing Handbooks which will guide you through the process.  

I’m a natural mother, how do I trace my son/daughter?
Again, we recommend that you visit our Search and Reunion page where you can download Tracing Handbooks which will guide you through the process.  

What if I want to search but I’m not ready to reunite?
Using our Tracing Handbooks you can find your birth certificate and other information, all without having to contact your natural mother/family.  You should take each step in your own time and only move forward when you are ready.  

How do I know what agency dealt with my adoption?
If you do not know what agency handled your adoption, write to the Adoption Authority, providing them with your date of birth, your name and your adoptive parents’ names and any other details you might have, such as your adoptive parents’ address at the time you were adopted.  

How do I contact my agency?
We recommend you only contact your adoption agency and the Adoption Authority by letter or email only and not by phone.  Contact details for agencies (and HSE’s who now hold records for closed agencies) are available

Why do adopted people trace?  Should the past not be left in the past?  
Whether you are dealing with adoption or not, the need to know one’s origins is now widely acknowledged.  We need look no further than the RTÉ programme “Who Do You Think You Are?” or the National Library’s provision of assistance to the descendants of Irish emigrants who come to research their family tree.  For adopted people this need to know one’s roots is even further amplified.  Don’t forget, adoption doesn’t only affect the adopted person’s sense of history and heritage; it also affects the children of adopted people and each subsequent generation.  

I’m afraid my trace will mean I am betraying my adoptive parents…
The desire to trace your natural family is perfectly normal and acceptable and should not be viewed as a negative reflection on your relationship with your adoptive parents.  Wanting contact with your natural family does not mean your adoptive family is lacking in any way. 

What is a de-facto adoption?  
A de-facto adoption is a pre-1952 adoption, i.e. the adopted person was technically fostered as the adoption occurred before the 1952 Adoption Act came into law. 

Is an illegal adoption a de-facto adoption?  
No.  An illegal adoption is not a de-facto adoption, though the Adoption Authority and adoption agencies often refer to illegal adoptions in this manner.  An illegal adoption is where the child was registered as the natural child of the adoptive parents.  This is a serious offence and should not be watered down by using misleading language like “de-facto”.  For a more detailed definition of illegal adoptions click here.  

Weren’t times were different back then?  Should we not make allowances?  
Separating mother and child is never a natural thing to do, no matter what social or economic pressures are involved.  Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and usually these problems can be addressed.  In a rare number of occasions, usually for the child’s safety, it is necessary and appropriate to remove a child from his/her mother’s care.  However this shouldn’t justify permanently cutting the child off from other members of his/her natural family.  Shockingly, the unnecessary separation of mothers and children is still happening today, except the separation is occurring in developing countries. History is repeating itself and sadly, far too few people recognise this.  The faceless natural mother of the developing world has no voice and her child has no say in whether he/she is adopted or not.  Times may have changed in Ireland, but we are happy enough to inflict the same cruelty on vulnerable women and children of the developing world today.

What about a natural mother’s right to privacy?  
In our experience most natural mothers are happy to have contact with their son/daughter lost to adoption.  It is also important that privacy and secrecy are not confused.  There are of course some instances where natural mothers decide they cannot bring themselves to have contact.  The difficulty involved in revisiting the pain of losing a child cannot be underestimated however, the child and adult adopted person’s need to know their origins and sometimes more urgent medical needs must come first.  The adopted person is the only one who had absolutely no choice in their adoption and this can never be forgotten.  If a natural mother feels she cannot bring herself to meet her son or daughter, regardless of that there is a moral obligation to provide as much information as possible to the adopted person, both medical and otherwise.  In our experience, in the majority of cases where the natural mother does not want contact, the adopted person will usually go on to have a very positive relationship with other members of the natural family. For a more detailed analysis click here.

Weren’t natural mothers given a guarantee of anonymity? 
Natural mothers were never guaranteed anonymity and despite many requests to church-run adoption agencies, no signed confidentiality agreement or guarantee of anonymity has ever been produced.  In fact, in reality, natural mothers were forced to sign documents in which they swore (sometimes in front of a priest) to never seek out their children.

Technically speaking, anonymity could never have been guaranteed as all births are a matter of public record.  Whatever assumption there may have been of anonymity, in reality this assertion is completely unfounded.  

What if the natural mother is afraid of her son or daughter knocking on her door?
It is very rare for an adopted person to knock on the door of their natural mother.  The adopted person will have meticulously conducted a search, in the hope of connecting with their natural mother and common sense would tell most people that knocking on the door with this sort of news would give anyone a shock.  So, most opt to write a discreet letter that only the natural mother will understand, so that even if someone else opens the letter it just looks like an old friend getting in touch.  

People who have no experience of adoption will mostly form their opinions based on what they see in television and film.  Because most portrayals of adoption reunions and searches are either exaggerated or inaccurate in order to “make good television”, it is often assumed that adopted people will knock on a door or sit outside a house in a car.  The reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth and as we have said, adopted people want to pave the way for the best possible outcome in a reunion and common sense would tell anyone that a careful considered approach.  

Are you anti-adoption?  
Adoption Rights Alliance is anti-unethical adoption, in other words, adoptions that have been conducted without the child’s best interests at heart.  We also strongly oppose closed secret adoption, as it is not child centred and has proven to be very unhealthy for the adopted child and for adult adopted people.  There is no argument that children who genuinely need a home outside their own family and community should be offered the stability they deserve.  However, this stability should not come at the heavy price of losing your name, family, culture and community.

Don’t babies adapt quickly and forget they are adopted?   
It is often widely assumed that babies are a “clean slate” and if a person didn’t know they were adopted, they’d never know any different.  The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, people who discover they are adopted late in life often say that they always knew something wasn’t quite right.  That is not to say that these people can’t or don’t have good relationships with their adoptive families – not at all.  No matter how happy an adopted person is within their adoptive family, it won’t mean that they don’t feel the gap left by being removed from their natural family.  

We are living in an era that increasingly recognises the intelligence and sentience of foetuses and infants.  For example, we recently came across research demonstrating that infants cry in the accent of their mother tongue.  Other research shows how unborn children enjoy music and mothers are encouraged to read to the baby in their womb and speak to them.  For some reason, research such as this seems to be thrown out the window when it comes to adoption and it is assumed that the adopted infant is deaf, dumb, mute and devoid of emotion.  

But my adopted son/daughter has no interest in reunion….
Not all gay people want to join the army, however that doesn't mean that the option shouldn't be there for those who do.  In the same way, while not all adopted people are ready to trace at 18 years old, that does not mean that they should not be afforded this right.  We should add that if adoptions (assuming the adoption is absolutely necessary in the first place) were open, there would be no need for such speculation about whether adopted people should or shouldn't trace.  

While some adopted people don’t express an interest in seeking their natural families, we often find that this changes when the adopted person gets older (usually in their late 20’s).  Also, when an adopted person becomes a parent, they soon realise that their adoption does not just affect them but their children and grandchildren and all future generations. 


If a small number of adopted people choose not to trace, it is not a good enough reason to withhold records.  It is also worth noting that we have often been approached by the adult children of living and deceased adopted people, who want to trace their natural family.  We have also been contacted by the spouses of adopted people who are concerned about the lack of medical information and family history for their children.  

My adopted son/daughter has no interest in reunion – how can I convince him/her it is a good idea?
Each adopted person is different and there isn’t any set of rules to determine when or how interest in their natural family will occur.  Remember, just because the adopted person says nothing or says they have no interest, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.  Many adopted people feel a big sense of loyalty towards their adoptive parents and are afraid to tell them they want to trace for fear of hurting them.   

If you are an adoptive parent and you believe that your adopted son/daughter is not tracing out of loyalty to you, we recommend that you reassure your son/daughter and ensure that you leave whatever paperwork they might need lying around the house so it’s easy for them to find without having to ask you.  This is especially important for intercountry adoptions because the tracing process is quite difficult from that side.  It is not unusual for adopted people to want to keep their adoptive and natural families completely separate as the thought of bringing the two together is too difficult, so you should bear this in mind.

How do you know how adopted children are feeling?  
We know how adopted children are feeling because we grew up as adopted children ourselves and know the full range of feelings involved.  When we were children there was nobody there to speak up for us, however this does not have to be the case today.  We are the adult voice of the adopted child today and this is why we speak up.  

My partner and I cannot have our own children and we are planning to adopt from overseas.  Is this a good idea?  
While we sympathise with couples that are unable to conceive, we would urge you to think again before adopting from overseas.  Intercountry adoption is rife with corruption because of the supply and demand situation that has developed over the years.  Many of the children who are supposedly available for adoption have actually been stolen.  By removing children from the developing world, you remove the country’s lifeblood, its future, its hope.  Vietnam for example does not even have a domestic adoption department.  These children do not even stand a chance of being raised in their own country under the present system.  We know from the now adult Irish children sent to the US, from the now adult Korean children and others sent to the US that they deeply feel the loss of heritage, culture and family.  

Remember, adoption is supposed to be about finding homes for children, not children for homes.  As hard as it may be for you to hear, it is not the job of a vulnerable child to fulfil your needs.  Moreover, adoptive parenting is not the same as ordinary parenting.  Children who have been taken from their natural mothers are grieving and this grief can manifest itself in many different ways.  For insights into the world of the adopted child we recommend that you read Betty Jean Lifton’s Journey of the Adopted Self or The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier, who is an adoptive mother herself.  

There are thousands of children in the Irish foster care system who are crying out for loving homes.  If you want to offer a child a home, we would strongly urge you to consider long term fostering as an alternative to adoption.       

Myths and Facts...

The "Illegal" Myth
If you have been told it is illegal for adopted people and natural parents to trace for themselves, this is completely untrue.  The records used in tracing are on public record and are the same records used by genealogists.  Quite simply, you are doing nothing wrong.

The Birth Certificate Myth
The Adoption Board states that natural mothers must first be contacted before it will release a birth certificate to an adopted person.  This is completely unnecessary and by using this Tracing Handbook you can obtain your birth certificate without having to contact your natural mother first.

The "Original Birth Certificate" Myth
Every person who is born has his or her birth entered in the Register of Births, from which birth certificates are generated.  Adopted people’s births are registered in their original identity, however when they were adopted, they were entered into the Adopted Children’s Register in their new adoptive identity.  The document used by adopted people as a birth certificate in everyday life is in fact an “Extract from the Adopted Children’s Register”.  The term “original birth certificate” is incorrect, because each person has only one birth certificate.


“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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