Investigator’s Notebook: How adopting a baby boy led a crime analyst to a career in private investigations—and fueled her passion for adoption searches
My Son’s Adoption Story
I’m a private investigator who locates and researches people through social-media and open-source investigations. I chose adoption searches as a specialty before I even considered private investigations as a career. Or rather, adoption searches chose me.
My husband and I adopted our son as a newborn. We were in the hospital the night he was born. We fed him his first bottle and became his official parents when his birth mom placed him into our arms.
Before our son was born, we agreed to an open adoption: We now send frequent letters and photos to our son’s birth mother. It makes her happy to see that her son is happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and loved. And it’s good for our son to have the option to know his birth mother, her history, and why she chose adoption.
Under the right circumstances, open adoptions can be immensely healing and empowering for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees. And open adoption plans forestall the need for searches later in life.
However, open adoptions are not always the right answer.
As stated, we have a great relationship with our son’s birth mother, but we have zero contact with his birth father. Because of the lifestyle he has chosen, we legally fought to sever all ties with him, for the sake of our son’s safety and well-being. It was the right move for our son, and also for us.
My First Adoption Investigation
As part of the legal process of cutting contact with our son’s birth father, we first had to find him. For that, we turned to a private investigator. As events unfolded and the legal fight turned into a custody battle, I found myself on the Internet, determined to find evidence that would help my attorney build a stronger case.
At the time, I was a crime analyst for a local police department, so I was no stranger to researching people. But this time, the work was much more personal.
I found a few additional witnesses and unearthed an article written by the birth father’s adult son from prison. The article detailed a childhood of physical and emotional abuse and neglect by his father.
Our attorney used that information for our case—which of course, we won. That’s when everything fell into place for me. Soon thereafter, I quit my job as a crime analyst and became a licensed private investigator. I wanted to do for others what I had done for my own family.
Adoptees Deserve Choices
Some adoptees never seek their biological parents. Others spend years struggling to uncover their roots. Some feel lost, empty, or simply curious. Others never feel the pull to know their biological history until a health issue arises, and necessity drives them to find answers.
I believe everyone deserves to know certain facts about their biological history. I plan to offer my son the choice to hear what I’ve learned about where he came from. Unfortunately, many adoptees don’t have this luxury and must take up the search themselves. It’s my job to help them, using the tools I have as a private investigator.
Diligent Adoption Searches
I offer two different adoption-search services: One is a due diligence investigation, usually conducted in conjunction with an attorney, to prove that a diligent effort was made to find a birth father. (This is usually required before an adoption can proceed.) This is the kind of search our private investigator did for us when we were adopting our son.
Reuniting Birth Families and Adoptees
The second service I offer is searching for birth parents (or other family members) on behalf of adoptees or, conversely, searching for an adoptee on behalf of a birth parent, sibling, or grandparent.
These are my favorite cases because they often give adoptees a clearer picture of themselves. They gain insight and understanding, and some even find forgiveness. The lucky ones gain new relationships with birth families that last for the rest of their lives.
Many birth parents begin a search hoping for closure and healing. I hope that some find those things. But for others, nothing can soothe their guilt or right the wrongs of the past.
For all my clients, I follow a fairly standard procedure, which is as follows:
Before I agree to an adoption search, I ask my client a series of questions about their motivations, expectations, and history. I want to know if they’ve ever attempted a search on their own or with another private investigator, and what that entailed.
If their expectations are unrealistic, we talk about that. I try to offer them a more realistic view of possible outcomes, likely cost, time frame, obstacles, and potential for success.
After this initial “vetting” process, the official search begins.
I start by obtaining every detail I can about the adoption and the parties involved. I ask clients to tell me everything they know about the adoption and get their written permission to interview other family members who might have additional information.
The more limited the initial information is, the harder the search is going to be. Ideally, I’d begin with one or more of the following pieces of data: location of birth, original birth name, name and details of birth mother, name and details of birth father, if an agency or home was involved, hospital name, date of birth, name of doctor, information on adoptive parents, possible siblings, and circumstances surrounding the adoption.
If I have one lead to work with, I work all angles of that lead until there is no more I can do or until it takes me to another lead.
If I have several leads to work with, I choose the most likely for success and work my way through them all until I get a break.
These cases are incredibly varied. But sometimes, in order to uncover a name, my client must designate me as their limited power of attorney in order to gain access to their medical or vital records. I might find myself tracking down a nurse or doctor to interview. It could involve a phone call with a social worker or conducting a neighborhood canvass.
Most of the time, uncovering a name is the most difficult part of an adoption search. Once I know a name, I can start tracking down documents and details.
This aspect of an adoption search might take me to the basement of a courthouse or the living room of an 87-year-old woman; I might sift through online social media profiles, check state reunion registries, or send off for public records for a marriage, divorce, death, or military service.
Because of the varied adoption and privacy laws state-to-state, I often have more luck citing a “medical need to know” or “inheritance purpose” or even a “genealogy search” rather than using the word “adoption.” A state might release adoption records containing only non-identifying information per state law, but it is often left up to each clerk’s interpretation of “non-identifying information” as to what they will release to you.
As an adoption searcher, it’s important to research the applicable laws in the state or states where your search is going to lead you. It is equally important to be firm and persistent, but polite and creative at every turn.
Wrap It Up
Once I’ve found the adoptee, birth parent, or other family member, I require that my clients allow me to contact the found party and explain who I am, who my client is, and that my client is either just seeking their information or wishes to contact them directly.
Because of the sensitivity of adoption cases, I do not release any information to my client without the found party’s approval.
Sometimes, the found party is reluctant to open this box from the past. They might initially refuse to allow their information to be disclosed to my client. They might never change their mind, but most of them do after they’ve had more time to digest this new information.
Regardless, it’s useful to have a neutral third person to make contact and facilitate initial communication between parties.
Thankfully, adoption laws are changing all the time, giving adoptees more access and better chances to uncover their biological histories.
In my own home state of Missouri, our governor signed a bill in 2016 that allows adult adoptees to request an uncertified copy of their original birth certificate. This law has already allowed adoptees born before 1941 access to their original birth certificates. On January 1, 2018, it will open up the option for adoptees born after 1941.
As this process evolves, I will continue to offer my services to adoptees and birth families. New Hope Investigations was born from a single adoption search. My mission now is to bring new hope to clients who previously felt their hope was lost.
About the author:
Rachele’ Davis became a licensed private investigator in Missouri and Kansas in 2016, then launched her one-woman agency, New Hope Investigations. She specializes in locating and researching people through social media and open source investigations and has a personal interest in adoption searches.