Starting the process of searching for your birth relatives if you are adopted or grew up in care could be one of the most life-changing decisions you ever make.

You will have no idea of the outcome when you start and the journey has often been described as an emotional rollercoaster - sometimes exciting, sometimes frustrating.

It is therefore important to start a search at a time that is right for you and to go at your own pace.

Before you start

Before you begin your search, it is important to think about your motivation as your life and those of others may be changed forever as a result. What do you want to achieve by tracing and contacting your family?

Think about the potential impact on you and your present family if you find the person you are tracing. How will you, your partner,children, parent,sister/brother feel? Support from a family member, friend, adoption support worker or adoption support group will be really important during the process.

Consider and prepare yourself for the range of outcomes you may encounter at that point. Your relative may have had very different life experiences to you. You may not have much in common and you may feel disappointed when you finally meet them.

It is helpful to think ahead to what you intend to do if and when you finally discover where your relative is living. Many adopted people find it helpful to use an intermediary to make the initial contact.

Searching and tracing

Tracing members of your birth family can be a complex and lengthy process. You will need to find as much as you can about your origins and family background. This is usually done by accessing your birth certificate and your adoption records.

For help on how to make a start visit:

  • - for information about adoption records and how to access them (in England and Wales)
  • Citizens Advice Scotland - for advice on how to trace your birth parents 
  • NI Direct - for information on how to trace and contact birth relatives and adopted adults if you were adopted in Northern Ireland

For detailed guidelines on the processes, what to consider before you start, where to get support and how to access records, read this practical guide about searching.

Even if you are not interested in tracing your birth family right now, you may want to access support or counselling. Find out which organisations provide these services.