The first time Therese saw her birth name (on a microfilm machine in a Chicago law library) she blurted out: "Dawn Wertepny? What kind of name is THAT?" It was, in fact, the name Therese's birth mother had given her on the day she was born. While most adoptees are unlikely to be quite as vocal about their surprise as Therese was, many will have similar feelings upon discovering this piece of their adoption puzzle. Some birth mothers have trouble getting used to the idea that the child they named "Norman" or "Lisa Marie" has become "John, Jr." or "Christina"...others are overjoyed to be finally able to put a name on the face that has haunted their memories for so long.

But having the name of the person you're hoping to reconnect with is only half the battle. Finding the person behind the name can be as simple as finding them listed on Switchboard or as complicated as the plot of a four-part mini-series. It all depends on the luck of the draw.

Once you have a name and (if available) background information on the birth or adoptive family, the first thing you should do is register with both the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange (the Illinois state registry, which is free to anyone who completes the IARMIE medical questionnaire) and the International Soundex Reunion Registry (a free national registry). While some suggest registering with the ISRR and state registries before doing anything else, it makes more sense to wait until you have all available information to take this step--that way you'll be sure that the information you provide to the registries is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

There are also, as you may have noticed, literally hundreds of online adoption registries on the Web. The majority accept registrations from all over the U.S. Unless there is a fee for using the registry, there is certainly no harm in signing up with these Internet entities. However, even if it might be tempting to sign up with 20 or 30 registries, keeping track of that many Web sites can be a full-time job...and a virtual nightmare should you decide to change your e-mail address.

If there is no match on any of the registries to which you apply, you will probably want to begin actively searching for your lost family member. You'll find most of the resources which are publicly available to searching triad members listed elsewhere on this site. Basically, the object of the game is to discover the current location of the person behind the name using the non-identifying information and other specifics available to you regarding the unknown birth relative...

Here, in no particular order, are a few searching basics:

It is considerably easier to find males (who rarely change their surnames) than it is to find females.

It is easier to find females under the age of 40 than it is to find women in their 60s and 70s (who, by that age, may have changed their middle initial as well as their surname at least three or four times). For additional help locating a female adoptee or a birth mother or sister, please also check out "Ten Things Women Do To Make Locating Them Extra-Difficult"...

It's more difficult to pinpoint the exact location of someone in their early 20s (particularly college students whose driver's licenses usually list their parents' address) than someone in their 30s or 40s.

For adoptees and birth relatives born before the mid-70s, the social security number will probably have been issued in the state where he or she was living at the time they got their first job (the year they turned 18 or so). Even if a birth mother was not born in Illinois and is not currently living in Illinois, it is likely that her social security number was issued in Illinois (about 90% of Illinois birth mothers located during a 2-year study had Illinois social security numbers, but only half of them were still living in Illinois).

For birth relatives born after the mid-70s, the social security number is probably a good indication of the person's place of birth.

Common names (such as Brown, Curtis, Mitchell, Martin, Smith and Jones) can make searching difficult or nearly impossible..Unusual names (like Wertepny) are the equivalent of winning the Lotto for searching triad members.

Marriage and death records are usually available, for a small fee, through county records departments. In some counties, you can search old marriage and divorce records on microfiche.

If you have a first name, middle initial and approximate date of birth for a woman who is unlikely to still be using her maiden name, Ameridex Information Systems can provide you with a complete list of all persons in the U.S. who correspond to your particular profile for $2 per batch of 50 names.

If you do not have the birth mother's middle name (and her first name isn't particularly unique), you may need to access her date of birth before you can complete your search.

Medical records from the hospital where the adoptee was born (click here for advice on obtaining hospital records) can be very useful to searching adoptees (particularly those who cannot complete their search without locating their birth mother's date of birth). This is not an easy route, though.  You need to find out the name of the hospital (it's usually not listed on the adoptee's obc), find out where the hospital's archives are actually stored, request a search for your records under your birth surname and, hardest of all, convince hospital personnel to share your birth records with you...Like many aspects of searching, accessing hospital records is reserved for those blessed with huge doses of patience and luck.

Hitting a brick wall is not unusual for searching triad members. And, understandably, when that happens, many adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents start thinking about hiring "a professional." (Click here to pull up a comparative recap of the various search options available to Illinois triad members.)

The White Oak Foundation has an at-cost Search Assistance Program available to anyone who was born or adopted in Illinois, or who is currently residing in the "Prairie" state, and their birth and adoptive family members. The fee for this program (from $50 to $150) covers the out-of-pocket expenses for the search (essentially, the database access charges). There is no charge for non-database search assistance or any of White Oak's other programs and services.  DCFS wards and former DCFS wards have access to all of White Oak's programs and services free of charge.

Unfortunately, not all adoption searches can be resolved purely by accessing publicly available information...and we are not able to assist every triad member who applies for help under our Search Assistance Program.

For some, for-hire adoption searchers are a good option, but they often charge between $450 and $3000 or more for their services. However, many of these professional searchers have access to some unique resources that make their higher fees worth every penny in more difficult cases. This said, unless the person assisting you with your search limits their charges to out-of-pocket expenses, you should make sure they have a "no find, no fee" policy (whereby they only charge for their services if they are able to successfully resolve the search). There are a lot of scammers and amateurs out there, too.  Buyer beware!

If the adoption was handled by a private or public agency and you are unable to complete the search on your own or with outside assistance, you may want to consider asking the agency that handled the adoption to conduct the search on your behalf. With few exceptions, agencies generally charge between $250 and $500 for search assistance; programs offered by a few southern Illinois agencies and the DCFS are free. Please see our "Adoption Agencies" section for a complete list of Illinois agencies currently offering post-adoption services.

Agency searches have the advantage of being based on the agency file and notes taken by social workers at the time of the adoption...and the disadvantage of being notoriously long in some cases and occasionally conducted using some extremely passive search techniques (like sending postcards through the Social Security Administration). For many of the adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents we have assisted, searching through an agency program is considered a last resort. The loss of control of the search--and the inability to  have any input in how initial contact is made with the birth relative once he or she has been located--are often cited as the primary reasons for not using an agency post-adoption program.

If all else fails (or if none of the above are viable solutions in your particular case), adoptees and birth parents also have the option of petitioning the court to appoint a confidential intermediary. The cost of this program is $495 for adoptees (as of 1/1/2005) and $350 for birth family members. For full details on Illinois' new confidential intermediary law, click here. Under Illinois law, the confidential intermediary cannot arrange contact between adoptive relative and birth family members; identifying information can only be exchanged through the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange. Illinois' confidential intermediaries must attend quarterly training programs and, for the most part, do their utmost to resolve the cases which are assigned to them. For additional information on this program, please consult the Midwest Adoption Center listing under "Illinois Resources" or click here.

If you have any search questions not answered in this section, please check out our FAQ...and, if you don't find the answer to your question there, please call us for assistance...

And, if you've located the object of your search and are ready to proceed to the final phase of this amazing journey, please check out our Reconnecting section....