Genealogy Research

Where Did I Come From?

What do you do when your family tree has no branches?

We usually learn about our genealogical history from our parents and grandparents because families pass down oral traditions.  These oral histories can include information ranging from ethnicity to habits (think of Uncle Bob’s predilection to chewing on toothpicks).

But what are we to do when an adoption in the family tree creates a gap in the dissemination of information? This is the situation I find myself in.  Both of my parents were adopted and as a result, my sister and I grew up without any connection to our genetic past.  Enter my lifelong fascination with identifying the parentage of my father and mother and finally learning the answer to “Where Did I Come From?”

Where to Start

Start with the people closest to the adoptee who may have information relating to the adoption.  If you are the adoptee, that would mean asking questions of your adoptive parents and perhaps grandparent, aunts, uncles and close family friends who may have knowledge of the adoption.  If the adoptee is further up your family tree and you are searching a period of history before the institution of adoption laws, you should be able to find appropriate documentation as long as you know

  1. When the adoption occurred
  2. Where the adoption occurred
  3. The names of the adoptive parents

Once you have gathered some basic information, you can begin looking for the various types of documents that can provide clues.  

I have gathered information regarding my state, Kansas, as well as how to start looking for the laws in your state concerning adoptions and have listed it below.  Additionally, some of the following information appeared on and provides an excellent starting point for finding information on the adoptee in your family tree.

Access to Original Birth Certificate in the state of Kansas is governed by Article 24. – Uniform Vital Statistics Act

65-2417.Certified copies or abstracts. (a) Subject to the requirements of K.S.A. 65-2421, 65-2422d and 65-2423 and amendments thereto, the state registrar shall, upon request, furnish to any applicant a certified copy or a certified abstract of any certificate, or any part thereof.

(b) Copies or abstracts of the contents of any certificate on file or any part thereof, certified by the state registrar shall be considered for all purposes the same as the original subject to the requirements of K.S.A. 65-2421, 65-2422d and 65-2423.

History: L. 1951, ch. 355, § 17; L. 1974, ch. 352, § 125; L. 2002, ch. 160, § 2; May 23.

To access the information about the laws and policies of all the States and territories visit the “State Statutes” search page on “Child Welfare Information Gateway” 

When searching for information, we may need to be particularly persistent and think well outside the box — we have to ask a very broad question about what kinds of records we’re going to look for in a case where we think there was an adoption or a child placed in an orphanage. The fact is, there are a lot of possibilities:

  • Adoption petitions and orders
  • Agency records
  • Bastardy bonds
  • Birth (or amended birth) certificate
  • Birth indexes
  • Census records enumerating institutions
  • Church records including baptisms
  • Filiation orders
  • Guardianships
  • Hospital and medical records
  • Legislative records
  • Name changes
  • Non-identifying information
  • Newspapers
  • Orphanage surrenders
  • Overseers of the Poor records
  • Probate records

And remember: whenever a child was or may have been illegitimate, we want to be sure to search for records in the surname of the mother, not just the surname of the man who was thought to be the father, this is especially true for birth and church records, such as baptisms. Additionally, look for records with the surname of any subsequent marriages of the mother, perhaps the child took the step-father’s name.