Before you can embark on this journey of the heart and soul, you'll need to "pack your bags"....Initiating an adoption search with only your amended birth certificate (for adoptees) or "sometime around Christmas" as the adoptee's date of birth (for birth relatives) is like leaving for Tahiti with nothing but a fur coat.

The very first step in any search should be the purchase of a 3-ring notebook with half a dozen plastic sleeves (or a simple folder). You'll use your notebook or folder to chronicle your progress and store important documents. Keeping careful track of everything you've done and every avenue you've explored will help you avoid duplicating efforts and wasting energy and resources.

Gathering the information you'll need to embark on your search is a process which can take as little as several days or weeks to complete...or as long as several years.  A lot depends on where, when and through which agency or attorney the adoption took place and, ultimately, how lucky you are as your search progresses...

If you are an adoptee (or an adoptive parent), you will need to access (if possible and if available) the following information before beginning your search:

1. Your amended birth certificate (order a copy from Vital Statistics if you don't have a recent version). If you have the copy of your amended birth certificate provided to your adoptive parents at the time of your adoption, this can be helpful, too (it often includes the date your amended birth certificate was first issued, which, in most cases, will be about one week after the adoption was finalized).

2. Any correspondence exchanged by the adoptive parents and the attorney or agency at the time of the adoption.

3. A copy of your adoption decree (which, if the adoption was finalized in Illinois, will probably list the adoptee's birth surname and, more often than not, the birth mother's first and last name as well). This document, available to the adoptive parents for 30 days after the adoption and upon written request to the clerk of the court thereafter (click here for additional info on obtaining the Final Decree of Adoption), and to the adoptee only upon order of the court, is normally forwarded to the adoptive parents by the attorney who handled the adoption. In a few cases, the adoptive parents told their attorney that they did not wish to receive a copy of the adoption decree or the attorney simply "forgot" to share the decree with the adoptive parents, but, in most cases, adoptive parents do have a copy of the adoption decree stored in a safe deposit box somewhere.

If you do not have (or cannot access) a copy of your adoption decree, but the adoption was finalized in Cook County prior to December 31, 1962, you may be able to access the adoptee's birth surname as well as the birth mother's name by obtaining a "Gold Seal Certificate" and using the information from that document to track down the notice of adoption in the archives of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. For additional info on this option, please click here.

For those adopted in Cook County after 1962, your best bet is to petition the court for a copy of your adoption decree (see Cook County Court notes in the Illinois Resources section, under "Legal Resources").

4. A copy of your original birth certificate (obc) (unfortunately, most Illinois adoptees won't be able to access their obc, but in a few cases the adoptive parents were given copies of the obc and, if so, the info it contains could be invaluable in your search).

5. Any available non-identifying information about the birth family. (See our Guide to Accessing Non-Identifying Information for specific instructions on obtaining non-identifying information).

Once you have found all these documents (or all of the above-listed documents which you're able to access), you're ready to ask the big question: What Do You Do When You Have a Name?

If you are a birth parent, birth sibling or other birth relative, you will need to access the following information (if possible and if available) before you can begin your search:

1. The adoptee's exact date of birth. National databases, most of which are based on a person's date of birth, can be very helpful in birth parent searches...but approximate dates or, worse still, incorrect dates, can make searching next to impossible (not to mention frustrating). If you are not certain of the date of birth, have forgotten--or never knew--the date of birth, please consult our "Getting the Date of Your Child's Birth" section).

2. The name of the agency or attorney that facilitated the adoption.

3. Any items the birth parent may have saved from the birth or adoption (hospital bracelet, copy of the original birth certificate, court subpoena, correspondence from the attorney or the agency)

4. The surname or the given name provided to the adoptee at the time of his or her adoption (per the birth parent's recollections or info provided to the birth family at the time of the adoption); otherwise, please call us at 312/666-5721 for specific instructions on locating the adoptive surname in your child's city or town of birth.

5. Any available non-identifying information about the adoptive family (if the adoption was handled through an agency; birth parents who did not place their child with a private or public agency will probably have to skip this step). Please see our Guide to Accessing Non-Identifying Information for specific instructions on obtaining non-identifying info.

Once you have found all these documents (or all the above-listed documents which you're able to access), you're ready to ask the $64 million question: What Do You Do When You Have a Name?