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Searching Legal Notices To Find Your Birth Parents

Searching Legal Notices

Warning:  The following material on searching legal notices to find birth parents is lengthy and pretty dry.  You may want to print this post and read a little bit at a time.  However, learning how to research legal notices can be a valuable tool to find identifying and background information on your birth parents.  If you do not have the time or inclination to learn about this, please email us at: info@omnitrace.com and we can do this work on your behalf.

Legal Notices

If you are an adoptee searching for your birth parents, a very good but little known source to obtain identifying / background information to resolve a birth parent search can be a notice of adoption

relinquishment placed in what is known as a legal newspaper.

The notice of adoption relinquishment is similar to a small ad placed in the legal notice section of a regular daily newspaper but instead is usually placed in a special commercial or legal newspaper.  This ad is typically placed within one year after the adoption process is initiated.  A notice of adoption relinquishment generally serves two purposes (a) it notifies the public of an adoption (b) it notifies the birth parents of an adoption.   A notice of adoption relinquishment may contain the complete names of the birth parents, the names of adoption attorneys / law firms for the birth parents, the parents of the adoptee, case and file numbers, adoption agencies, maternity homes, Social Services case workers, and other significant information.  As a rule of thumb, the adoption attorney places the notice of adoption relinquishment in the legal newspaper.  But in some cases, it may be done by the adoption agency involved or by the county.  Many times adoption agencies and Social Services use adoption attorneys to handle the legal work and these attorneys may keep separate files.  However, there is never a guarantee that a notice of adoption relinquishment has been placed.  The law up through the 1970s was not always strictly enforced.

Legal newspapers are usually privately owned and published once or twice a week.  In large cities these papers may be published daily.   Searching legal notices often takes considerable time and effort.  A notice of adoption relinquishment is usually placed in the county where the adoptee is born and, once again, is usually placed within one year of when an adoption was initiated.   However, if the adoption took place in another county or state, you may have to also investigate that county as well.

Your first step should be to determine what legal newspaper was used in the county of your birth around the time of your birth date and/or adoption.   Some counties (that are sometimes less populated) do not have legal newspapers or commercial newspapers and the notice of adoption relinquishment may be published in the legal notices section of the regular city daily newspaper.  You need to find out if there is a legal newspaper for the county, as the notice of adoption relinquishment will be published here first rather than the regular newspaper.  Keep in mind that the legal newspaper is almost always privately published and not operated by the county.

Perhaps the best source to learn the name of the legal newspaper is the county courthouse. Most courthouses have libraries either in the courthouse or in an adjacent building.  Call telephone directory assistance and ask for the courthouse library phone number.  If the operator cannot find it listed, call the general information number for the courthouse and they can provide it or connect you.  Once you have the library, ask for a reference librarian if there is one.  Be friendly, as law libraries are typically stuffy and you want to personalize things as much as possible, so give your first name to the clerk or librarian and ask them if you can get his or her first name as you need their help.  You may get a volunteer law clerk who is young and somewhat inexperienced and not that familiar with a legal newspaper.  Ask the clerk “Does the county have what is sometimes known as a legal newspaper whereby attorneys place notices for foreclosures, liens, adoptions, and other legal matters?”  Remember the county does not publish the paper; a privately owned newspaper publishes it.

The clerk may already know the name of the paper or have to look it up or tell you there isn’t one.  In most instances the law library has issues on hand for the past year but you want either microfilm or hardbound copies that have been combined into large books that pertain to your adoption date.   In the event the county law library has microfilm or hardbound copies ask for the year(s) of your concern (your adoption finalization date or birth date) and the clerk will check his computer screen.  If they have microfilm on hand, tell the clerk that you are searching for adoption notices and you hope to find your birth mother.  Most law librarians find adoptions intriguing and different from the usual tedious research and are glad to help in any way they can.  If the law library does not have the legal newspaper they can usually tell you the name of a college law library, state law library, or state archives that has the legal newspaper and their phone number to call.

County law libraries are open to the public so you can go in to research microfilm.   However, most do not have someone you can pay a low hourly rate to do research for you.  If you cannot go there yourself, the public library reference department or the county historical society library can often provide the name of someone who can search for you.

State law libraries and state library archives located in the state capital often have microfilm of legal and regular newspapers along with searchers who will search for a low or modest hourly rate or you can go there yourself.

Many law schools in counties and cities have the legal newspaper on microfilm but some are not open to the public so you need to call to find out.  Most phone numbers can be obtained through a search engine on the Internet or from phone directory assistance.

If you do not find out the name of the legal newspaper from the county law library, the clerk of courts (county clerk’s office) often knows it.  If not, try the county bar association, the public library reference department, or a nearby law school library.

Once you obtain the name of the legal newspaper, you can call them and ask for their archives department or if they do not have one, ask if you can speak with an editor for one minute.  An archivist or editor can likely tell you if their publication published adoption notices around the time of your birth / adoption and if so who has microfilm or hardbound copies.  Legal newspapers are usually privately owned and have small facilities and typically keep on hand issues dating back only ten years.

If at this juncture you have learned that the county of your birth does not have a legal newspaper or did not have one at the time of your birth, the next step to investigate is the regular daily city or town newspaper where you were born or adopted. Call the public library and ask to speak with a reference librarian or better yet a librarian from the Genealogical Room if they have one.  Be friendly and briefly tell the librarian that you are trying to determine if the city newspaper placed notices of adoption relinquishment in the legal notices section of the newspaper around the year of your adoption.  The librarian may already know or have a name of someone who does know that you can contact.   Public libraries usually have microfilm of the local newspaper dating back many years.

If you do not find the information you need from the public library, call the county historical society library and ask for help or call a nearby college reference librarian or call the state archives library in the state capital.  Once again, feel free to briefly tell these people you are trying to locate your birth mother or birth parents and possible birth brothers and birth sisters for health reasons and because you have always longed to know about them.  Most employees in libraries nowadays are sympathetic.

One thing to keep in mind is the term “notice of adoption relinquishment” is not always used in every county and state whether in legal newspapers or regular daily newspapers.  The word adoption will always be used at the top of the small ad in larger letters.  It may simply say notice of adoption or the word adoption along with another legal term.  Just scan the page for any ad with the word adoption at the top in larger font.  Depending on the newspaper, the notice may be mixed in with various types of other legal ads so you have to look carefully and patiently.  But after a little practice, the process becomes easier and smoother.

If you know your adoption finalization date start searching the newspaper in the month before the date and then go two months and three months.  If you have not found it yet, try the month after your finalization date as the attorney could be either lackadaisical or is possibly playing games.  Then repeat this process once more with earlier months.  If you have not found your adoption notice by this time you likely will not.  Either the attorney did not follow law as he should have or he has written it in such a concealing way that it is extremely difficult to find.  Many attorneys who handle adoptions do so “pro bono” or without charge because they want to perform a public service.  But like any profession, there are those who are not always a credit to their craft.  Attorneys who place the ads or notices in a legal newspaper are usually just following the law and not necessarily trying to find the birth parents to give them a second chance.  Some attorneys provide little or vague information in the notice.

Legal newspapers often differ in length.  A large city legal newspaper may consist of many pages per each day, where as a small town paper may be much smaller and easier to search. Good luck!

Please Comment If You Have Any Questions.

Find Your Birth Family

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  1. Janet Johnson Landeros says:

    I am searching for a sibling born to a Geraldine Hadsall on or before April 10, 1952 in Illinois. My birth mother gave me up for adoption and am also searching for her. I do not know if my birth mother was married or single. Do not know the birth father. My birth name was Carmeline Hadsall.

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