If you’re wondering how to find your birth parents in the UK (for free) then you’ll know it isn’t easy. Especially in lockdown.
This year I managed to find my birth family online. I found my mother first and after that, I found two sisters on one side of the family. Very quickly I tracked down my birth father and his three daughters. I’m currently pulling together details of my two uncles, to share with my sisters.
Along the way I’ve picked up some tips on how to find your birth parents online for free, or certainly spending less than £20.
Finding your birth family can be traumatic
Searching for your birth parents after an adoption can be tough emotionally. You need to be clear about what you want from the search, and how you’ll feel if things don’t go to plan. You might not be able to find your birth parents; they might not want to hear from you. They might be dead. Think carefully before starting a search – are you prepared for what you’ll find?
For me, I’d had a difficult disagreement with a relative, and was struggling to feel like I had solid roots. I took some time before I felt ready to get in touch with my my birth mother only to realise she’d passed away the year before. Finding and speaking with my sisters has been a blessing, but I wish I’d started the search earlier.
If you’re ready to get started, here’s how to find your birth parents in the UK:
Step 1: Get your original birth certificate
Anyone can pay to receive a copy of their full birth certificate, but if you’re adopted, it’s free. You need to complete the form at this link to request your birth information before adoption and send it, along with proof of your identify.
The form will ask for your date of birth, adopted name and (if you know it) the date of your adoption and your pre-adoption name. If you were adopted before 1975, you must see an adoption advisor before the certificate is sent to you. If you were adopted later, the meeting is optional.
A couple of weeks later you should get your original birth certificate, which means you’ll know your full name, your parents’ names, the date and place of birth and (if you were born after 1969) the place of birth of your parents.
Step 2: The subject access request (free)
If you don’t know much about your adoption or have questions about your childhood, you can submit a subject access request to your local authority children’s services team. This means you should receive a copy of your social services file within 40 days, which will give you background on your life before and during your adoption. It might tell you about any siblings, your birth family’s situation and location, and any other significant events in your early life.
Having this information helped me understand a lot more about the background to my adoption and certain timelines that had become confused over the years. There’s a great step by step guide to this process here. Filing an SAR should be free unless you ask for extra copies of printed information.
Step 3: How to find birth parents on Facebook (free)
The good thing about being 40+ is that my birth parents are of a generation that tends not to pay close attention to privacy settings on Facebook. Very few older people seem to hide things like profiles, photos and friend lists.
If you want to know how to find your birth parents in the UK my first tip is to start on social media. Armed with a birth parent’s name, age and their place of birth, there’s a decent chance you’ll be able to find one or more people on Facebook, who *could* be your birth parent.
But a word of caution: there are a lot of people who might have the same name, your birth mother may have changed her name if she married after you were born, and lots of people don’t stay in the same place they were born. So just because you find Janet James, doesn’t mean it’s THE Janet James.
Step 4: Check marriage records (free)
In many cases, women change names during their lives and that can make finding your birth mother online a real challenge. Luckily, you can search UK marriage (and birth and death) records online for free. Using the details from my birth certificate, I could find that my parents were married to each other, AND my father married twice more, and my mother once. I could see that my father had stayed living in the same area he was in when I was born, while my mother had moved to Kent.
All of this information can be found for free on BDM online, which is a fabulous project where thousands of volunteers have manually put information from paper records into an online record of births, deaths and marriages. It doesn’t cover every area or every year, but it’s a really usable and substantial resource. Just pop in a region, your parent’s surname and a period of time, and you can see all matching records.
Step 5: Check birth records (free)
If you’re searching for your birth parents, it can be useful to find ANY extended family because the chances are that if you find an uncle or aunt, that’s a route to finding your birth parent. Or finding out more about a birth parent before getting in touch.
Using the information on my birth certificate, I found my mother’s birth certificate and discovered she was born in Liverpool and I could see her father’s surname and her mother’s maiden name. From there, it was just a case of looking for any children born in the 15 years before/after my mother in the same district, and with the same mother/father details.
This helped me to identify two of my mother’s brothers. Since my mother has passed away, I hope they are going to be able to tell me more about her history, and her early life.
Step 6: Search the Electoral Roll (paid)
By this point in time, I think you should have a good idea of who your birth parents are – their names, where they live/d, who they’re married to. Once you have this information, if you still can’t find your birth parents on social media, it’s time to spend just a little bit of money.
Once I knew my parents’ names, spouses and likely locations, I signed up for an account on 192.com. This site will let you search the electoral roll and Companies House records over the past 20 years. Some tips on using 192.com:
- You can search by name and location, and the more specific you can be, the fewer results you’ll find. With a free search you’ll see a list of matching profiles with the first part of the individual’s postcode. If you register for the site then you can look up the phone number for each entry using the free directory enquiries service. If you’re feeling brave, you might want to call people.
- If you’re not up for a phone call (and I definitely wasn’t) then you’ll need to pay to see the addresses associated with the search results. You’ll need one credit for each address record you look at, and credits start at £18 for six, or £35 for 30. Using a credit will give you an electoral record in most cases, along with the full address and names of all adults living at that address in a given time period.
- Be careful to screenshot records on 192 because every time you view a record, the site bills you for another record, meaning it’s easy to use up lots of money without noticing.
Back to social media (free)
My advice is to use 192.com to identify one or two people who you are pretty sure could be your birth parents. Make a note of people living at the same address – check social media for THEIR profiles. Often you’ll find adult kids who are active on social media even if their parents aren’t.
Doing this meant I could discount lots of people who looked likely on 192.com but were clearly too young, too old or entirely the wrong race once I looked them up on social media. I also found my father’s wife, and his children and ultimately was able to feel pretty confident that one of the 192.com results was my actual birth parent. So I went back and used one credit to see his home address and phone number.
Top Tips: how to find birth parents in the UK for free:
- If you find that a birth parent isn’t on the most recent electoral roll, there is a chance they may have passed away. You can check death records on the BDM site already mentioned, or you can look up local newspaper obituaries online. I emailed the local council’s cemetery department and they were able to confirm that someone of her name and age had indeed been cremated, and they gave me her date of passing.
- Ancestry.com has a more complete set of records than you’ll find at the free directory, and it offers a free, two-week trial. Just make a note in your diary to cancel if you don’t want to end up paying for access to the site when the trial runs out.
- Google isn’t always a big help finding birth parents and first families because you’ll turn up too many results. But once you’ve done the first set of searches and come up with a few likely names for your birth parents, searching local newspapers via Google can be handy. I managed to identify two of my sisters through local newspaper stories by Googling their names and the county they grew up in. It helped me understand what their situation was BEFORE I got in touch.
- When contacting someone who you think might be related to you, be careful and remember you might not be correct, or you might be contacting someone who has no idea you exist! I stuck with mentioning I was looking for a person called Sarah Smith who lived in Winchester in the early 1980s as part of a family history project, and did I have the right person? Chances are that if the person you’re contacting IS one of your birth parents, they will know exactly who you are.
I hope that these tips are helpful if you want to know how to find your birth parents in the UK, for free. Let me know if you have any questions or tips you want to share, in the comments!