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I Have My Non-Identifying Information–So Why Reunite?

by Laura on March 20th, 2013

After writing about Dear Stranger Who is Also My Brother, many readers were kicked in the butt inspired to contact lost, secret or estranged relatives. So I’m continuing right on.

Yeah, you heard me, I’ve got more.

Out with secrets and lies! Out OUT damn spot!

Here is a new semi-occasional series called (ta da da da dummmm!) Dear Adopted Girl. And before you get all post-feminist-offended by the word “girl,” read on:

(If you haven’t heard of the Hey Girl Ryan Gosling “meme,” google it and awesomeness will ensue.)

Without further ado, here is …

Dear Adopted Girl,

What’s all this hoopla about reunion? What’s so important about DNA? I prefer to leave well-enough alone.

I’m adopted, the people who raised me are my mom and dad. That’s enough family for me. XYZ Adoption Agency provided me with all the information I need.


–What’s the big deal about search and reunion?

*  *  *  *  *

Dear Big Deal,

A few months ago, I might have let bygones be bygones and agreed with that old adage about adoptees falling into one of two categories: A. Adoptees who want need to search, and B. Adoptees who don’t.

I’ve seen the “Adoptees who don’t” say that they are at peace with their adoptions and adamantly affirm they possess no need to search. I might have even kept quiet about my view that those who don’t search likely have deep-rooted post-adoption issues (oh yes, I went there) so inexorably intertwined with their sense of self and family, that they fear reuniting could unravel their entire lives.

But I can keep quiet no longer! Why are we not surprised, Laura? We get it, you’re “over” secrets and lies.

You believe you know the whole story?

Think again, my friend. Think again.

At the time of adoption, adoptive parents often receive “non-identifying information (NII)”,* a written document, or information provided orally and jotted down by adoptive parents. The NII ostensibly states some biological information about the adoptee’s origins.

Here’s the rub. … There’s no oath required of adoption agencies. There’s no promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Hell, birth families weren’t required to give accurate information, and agencies hardly did any corroborating. In some adoptions, birth parents didn’t even use their real names! That’s shenanigans right there.

Lies Agencies Tell (or) Why you should search

My friend, adoptee Lynn Grubb received the results from Population Finder, which uses information from the Stanford University database (the Human Genome Project) to map DNA and ethnic heritage. These services can also be used to find biological relatives.

In My Ethnicity Revealed (sort of), Lynn stated that she’s Northern European, which she knew was from her mom’s side, because they are in reunion. Lynn also learned she’s Native American (Central American) and Middle Eastern (Jewish), which would therefore be from her father’s side. That’s cool, right?

Her NII letter stated her father was: “A citizen of Peru, thought to be Italian born.”

Well played, adoption agency, well played.

Who cares about height, weight & ethnicity, anyway?

The thing is, agencies often wrote down whatever they thought might sound good. They lied to birth moms, as well. Take Sam’s** story:

Mine was a private attorney adoption.

When I made a visit to his office, he was surprised I had my Original Birth Certificate (OBC) in my possession and said, “I tried to make sure there was no way my adoptions would ever be traced.”

He said that the “non-identifying” information on birth mothers [he worked with] were all the same. 5’5, Caucasian, brown hair, blue eyes. …

[My first mother] died while searching for me, but was told she had given birth to a boy, so she died thinking she was leaving a son.

Then there’s Michelle’s story. Even after reunion with her birth mother, she still doesn’t know the truth.

I was lied to and so was the agency.

I cannot completely fault the agency for this, because they only believed the false information my birth mother gave them. Although, I do believe reform is needed in this area. Not sure what the answer is, but there has to be some way of digging deeper to get correct info, birth father identification, a factual ancestral profile, etc. before a child is relinquished.

My mother wanted to keep my true father’s identity a secret. She lied to the agency and the name on my OBC is also a lie. (Kind of ruins the joy for me of getting my OBC in the future when my state opens up.) All of the NII info I received about my father’s age, hair and eye color, height, occupation, was a lie.

The very reason for your adoption may have been a lie. The agency may have believed they were protecting you from painful truths. Alternately, they may have been “protecting” the bad behavior of the birth family individual who paid the agency fee.

There are so many stories like these. Even the very basic question so many adoptees tell themselves, “Why would I search? She didn’t want me.” … I’m sorry to be blunt, but I believe that’s anger and grief talking. For the majority of birth moms, it wasn’t a matter of “want,” it was a matter of “couldn’t,” or being told (and believing) they “shouldn’t” keep their child.

Even if the truth is painful, it’s better than living a lie.

And, Mr. Big Deal, if you rely solely on the information you were told, you may never know the truth.

*  *  *  *  *

Have a question for Dear Adopted Girl? email me at laura @ (remember to remove the spaces first)

Have a story about adoption agency and NII shenanigans? Comment below, or send me an email. I would love to feature more stories uncovering the secrets and lies told in adoption.

* Read more about Non-identifying information (NII) on the new-and-improved constantly updated Adoption Glossary Page.

** Some names have been changed.

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  1. Hi Laura! Awesome blog post . . .and so true! My closest DNA match is another adoptee (late discovery as she was lied to by her parents) who has her adoption file, her OBC and her mother's medical records. All lies as the addresses are fake and most likely, even the names. I'm really sad for her and I'm hoping my family tree can help her solve her mystery as she is 50 years old and shouldn't have to be in the dark her whole life!

    • Laura permalink

      Thanks! The story about your DNA match is so sad … I'm glad you're there to help, if not actual help, but the emotional support of mutual understanding that can only come from a fellow adoptee :) I'm so happy to know you!

  2. I speak from personal experience that this is true. It was very painful to find out about the lies but more so to be told that I needed to stay in the dark.

    • Laura permalink

      This is such a no-brainer to me, and yet it is somehow so hard for people to come to terms with themselves. Transparency is freeing in the long run, and a little short-term courage can go a long way.

  3. I find it incredulous that adoptees are being "protected" by silence or lies. What do the agencies take them for? What's going to happen if adoptees know the truth? Facts are facts. They're much easier to deal with than all of the uncertainty that comes with non-information or false-information.

    I think the silence is there to protect the biological parents and families. After all, we wouldn't want anyone to know that Sally had an illegitimate pregnancy. Gosh, that might make us seem… human.

    • Laura permalink

      Well, what can I say? You just get. it. I think that sometimes agency workers thought they were doing the right thing. Maybe they were also taking the path of least resistance–like, they didn't want to write in a harsh truth/reality and then have someone come back later and accuse them of telling secrets they weren't supposed to tell… Personally? I truly don't understand the motivation.

  4. Amy permalink

    First-Mom here…sorry to intrude! I gave up my daughter through an agency in 1985. The adoptive parents ended up opening the adoption when our daughter was 9 but one day when we were visiting at their home, they dug out the "NII" that was given to them. First off, the paperwork had my age at the time of relinquishment WRONG (a year older than I actually was), as well as my blood type! So, even if it wasn't to hide something, they were completely careless in the information they provided my daughter! The people at the agency didn't know the adoption would become fully open at some point. Mistake or not, that's important info. and shouldn't be handled so carelessly. How many more "type-o's" did they make on other people's paperwork I wonder??

    • Laura permalink


      I'm so happy to have you here! No intrusion, at all! Some of my best friends are birth moms (including, eh hem, my own).

      That is unbelievable that the made a careless "typo" for your daughter–for her blood type! I'm not a doctor, but that is at least ONE concrete medical historical piece of information that they could use to help your daughter in a god forbid–health scare. I am so mad that they are so careless, I understand being overworked and overwhelmed, but these important matters deserve a little proof-reading.


  5. JackieD permalink

    As a relinquishing natural mother from 1976, I can tell you that I didn't lie about a thing. However, we were encouraged to change our names (I refused). My son had NII and everything was true about me. The biological father, on the other hand, lied through his teeth – about his age, HIS siblings, his heritage and many other things. It is only now, in reunion, that we have uncovered many of these lies. Unfortunately, his father died in 2005 and we have no way to confront him. But it ticks me off that people were so callous as to not check information given. Frankly, I don't know how the agencies and their social workers can even sleep at night.

    • Laura permalink

      You were encouraged to change your names?! Again, I call shenanigans. At least you were able to set *some* of the record straight about your son's paternal side … I agree, I don't know who social workers who do this sleep at night. Oh wait, I do: they believe they are doing what's best.
      That's why more education is needed!

  6. Laura – Great post. As a social worker from the fost-adopt system, my (admittedly limited) experience with domestic infant adoption agencies is that some are more ethical than others – but the worst seem perfectly happy to just get the adoption done and get paid. And it breaks my heart. I'll do my best as a social worker to apply what I'm learning from your blog :)

    • Laura permalink

      Wow, Addison, your comments mean so much. As someone who is working on the front lines, I commend you for wanting to learn best practices that you can apply to the foster care adoption system. Thank you.

  7. Considering permalink

    Was really considering adopting but seems like a lot of adopted people are angry and resentful at adopted parents and somehow long for birth parents – wishing they stayed. This is disheartening considering the years of sacrifices required of adopting parents. It is not just financial. It is extremely difficult legally your moral character is scrutinized home is searched and inspected like that of a criminal- extremely costly and not guaranteed in any way. Hate to say it but adoptees get to second guess everything in ways children born to a family don't (if I weren't adopted my life would be so much better.) You were chosen – but instead of being happy about that- you long for the drama and brokenness that resulted in adoption in the first place. Thanks for the insight. I just finalized my decision not to adopt.

    • Laura permalink

      Dear Considering,
      If you believe that adopting is a sacrifice for which adoptees ought to be grateful, then I agree, yes, it is a good decision for you not to adopt! Thanks so much for commenting.

  8. Lee H. permalink

    just found this post today…I am not sure Considering should even have any biological children…by the tone of her post she would be prone to pull the "why can't you just be grateful for all I have given you" bs on those bio children as well.

    Children are people, not possessions…when will anyone figure that out? We don't bring children into the world to validate us…as parents, it is our job to love them wholeheartedly, to teach them what they need to know to go into the world and want to come home to us, not to feel an obligation. All four of my children, bio and adopted both owe me nothing…raising them is my gift. Good grief, when will anyone get this concept?

    And yes, as an adopted person I DO get to second guess what happened in my OWN life…you get to do that as well, Considering.

    And by they way, I was not chosen. A social worker chose me for my parents because she thought I needed a tall mother, even though my own mother was 5'4" and so am I. That was the criteria on how my parents were selected….adoptive mother's height. So there you go.

    Meanwhile, they told my mother, who wanted to keep me that she had to "pay for what she had done". So am I bitter, Considering…you betcha. Am I going to let it rule my life, no way, but I am ALLOWED to feel bitterness based not only on feelings but also on facts. My adoptionve parents could write the check, so guess who won that one.

    I am not happy about my adoption. Glad you think we are so lucky how we get to second guess everything.

    OK, putting my angry adoptee self back in her box for today.

  9. My NII was grossly falsified by the Catholic Charities agency that handled my adoption. It was only upon reunion with my birthfather that I learned he is NOT "from Newfoundland of English descent". Rather he is full Metis from Labrador.

    Soon after meeting him and learning his truth, which is MY truth, I requested my full file from the agency. They HAD the correct information! They HAD his name, his nationality, his information totally correct. But they literally whitewashed the info.

    It makes me so angry.

  10. Lil lost mink permalink

    Praise to you all. I also have been deceived by adoption agencies and adopted mum. Spent thousands of dollars only to be told I have to get the law changed to get my info. I almost fainted when discription of birth mom matched every one else’s. I grieve for my father that I never knew only to be told he. died an alcoholic maybe it. Was a broken soul as mine is. Never have been good enuff for amum. At age 50 stil trying to dig my way out from her. Pray to God every day I can overcome what she has done. Bastard child ungrateful drug addict that ruined her dream of adopting three perfect children. Lies deceit pain was here game to keep up w her neighbors. Thanks bmom for the embarrassent you worried about having a fifth child and giving it to catholic charities to sell to this evil women.

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