Letter to a Birth Parent

So, you’ve identified a potential birth parent and you’re ready to reach out. But how? What’s the best medium? Phone? Email? Snail mail? And what do you say?

There’s no magic bullet here, but if you’ve made it this far in your search, you know that already. Some birth parents have been praying you would find them, some never knew you existed, and some hope to take their secret to the grave. Worse, you have no way of knowing which of those describes the person you’re contacting.

Plus, you might have the wrong person.

For these reasons, I advocate reaching out in a way that gives the other person room to maneuver, emotionally speaking. A phone call is risky, because you’ll almost certainly take them by surprise, and they might feel cornered. Email is quick but impersonal, and it might not be seen. A letter is better, if you have a mailing address. Hand address the envelope, and pay for delivery confirmation if want to know when it was delivered.

I’ve had success with an approach that lays out the evidence for the relationship but doesn’t take the final logical step of saying outright “You’re my parent.” Even if you know with absolute certainty that you’re writing to your birth father, for example, don’t say so.  Say, instead, the equivalent of “Hmm, this is interesting. Do you have any information that might shed light?” Then, let him come to you.

Sometimes, you may want to leave out evidence from your letter. If you have DNA proof of who your grandparents were, and they only had one daughter (your birth mother), you may instead want to describe your connection to your great grandparents (her grandparents), so she has wiggle room.

DNA is complicated, but keep your letter simple. No need to mention centimorgan values and segment sizes and X chromosomes. You don’t want to scare the recipient off.

Responses to the letter have been varied. One birth mother was thrilled to be found. Another said ‘Sorry, I can’t help, good luck with your search.’ (Yes, she was the birth mother.) One birth father pointed us to his cousin and agreed to take a DNA test to help. (Heh.) Another not only acknowledged the relationship but also thanked his daughter for reaching out in such a considerate way.

Which is to say, no promises. My fingers are crossed for you, though, very, very tightly.

Final comments before I share the template. I’m a scientist.  I think like a scientist and write like one, which is to say: bone dry. Feel free to modify the letter however you like to make it reflect your personality. The template below is for an adoptee. It can be easily modified for an unknown father situation or even a break in your lineage further back in time.

Bracketed text in blue is meant to be replaced with your own details. Bracketed text in red is commentary to guide you in modifying the letter for yourself. Please proofread your final version and make sure all of the bracketed text has been edited or removed, otherwise the recipient may think it’s a poorly executed scam.

If you have suggestions to improve the letter, or if you try it and it works for you, please let me know in the comments.

 

Template Letter

Dear {potential birthparent’s name},

I recently took a genealogical DNA test through {name of testing company} and learned that I am descended from your {relationship of shared ancestors to potential birthparent, e.g., grandparents}, {name and dates of the husband ancestor} and {name and dates of the wife ancestor}. I have close cousins through both the {husband’s surname} and {wife’s surname} families. {Modify as fits your scenario; for example, you may only have cousins through one of the lines.}

I have also taken a yDNA test, which tracks a man’s surname lineage, and it connects me to several other people from the {surname} surname. {Women cannot do the yDNA test, so you will want to delete this paragraph.}

I was born {name at birth} on {birthdate} in {birth city and state} and adopted {time of adoption, e.g., shortly after my birth}. I am searching for my biological family to learn my heritage and especially my medical family history. I have a copy of non-identifying adoption information that states that my birth mother was {description from nonID: age, ethnicity, occupation, etc.} and my birth father was {description from nonID: age, ethnicity, occupation, etc.}. (My DNA shows evidence of both ethnicities.) Both of my biological parents were born in {location where they were born}. I {do not} believe that my birth father knew that I was placed for adoption. {If your case is one of unknown paternity, you can change this to describe your mother and the time and place of your conception.}

Of the {#} children of {husband ancestor} and {wife ancestor}, I have been able to rule out {names of their children who have been ruled out}, meaning that either {name of candidate} or {name of candidate} was my {relationship to you, e.g., grandmother}. {Modify this paragraph to fit the details of your search. Remember to give your target an “out”, so that the evidence doesn’t point only to them.}

I hope that you have information that can help me to identify my birth parents and are open to contact with me. I don’t wish to upset anyone’s life; my purpose in searching for my birth family is to learn my medical history and perhaps see photos or maybe meet biological relatives, as I have never met anyone who looks like me. I was adopted by a loving family in {city and state} and am now married with {number} children and {number} grandchildren.

I am enclosing a photo of myself so you can see what I look like. I now live in {city and state}, and all my contact information is listed below. Please reach out to me if you might be willing to assist in my search.

I look forward to hearing from you, and will follow up with a phone call on {day and date a week or so after you expect them to receive the letter}. {Many searchers are uncomfortable with this paragraph and omit it.}

Sincerely,

{name, address, phone number, and email address} {Give the recipient multiple ways to contact you.}

48 thoughts on “Letter to a Birth Parent”

  1. The letter above is a really good template to use.

    I also agree that you have to leave room for the other party to manoeuvre, and not to jump straight to the end point by making some form of definitive statement about the potential relationship in the first communication.

    I’ve found that being open and honest in the first instance, about why your searching can go a long way in these matters, and that for the most part people will try to help you. Always give the other person enough information for them to be able to make a reasoned judgement about contacting you back.

    If they do contact you back, then all subsequent communication becomes much easier, free flowing and can be very revealing. Plus you have started to build trust with the other party.

    Trust, is an extremely important part in this process. It’s an intangible asset that takes a long time to build, but can be lost in seconds. The moment the other party lose trust in you, your relationship can be in jeopardy and your chances of success can go with it.

    Recently I was contacted by someone who sent me half coded messages and smiley face emoticon’s,over 4 different emails, before finally suggesting that a close relative of mine was probably their G Grandfather.

    The message was “telegraphed” and I knew their real intention for contacting me, but the fact that they weren’t direct with me made them look deceitful. I’m sure that they didn’t mean to be deceitful, and probably thought that they were protecting my feelings, however it didn’t endear me to them, or their plight, at all.

    Being honest in these matters has nearly always paid back for me.

      1. Hello, Thank you so much for sharing this template! I recently found out that the man I thought was my father wasn’t through ancestry.com and my bio mother doesn’t know who my bio dad is. After tracing my relatives that would be on my bio dads side I narrowed it down to my bio dad but here’s the catch he has a twin brother and after weeks of research I know I’m correct and connected all the dots! Your letter made me feel so comfortable with reaching out to them and I followed your instructions and mailed it restricted so that only the recipient could sign for it. It has been 2 weeks now and I haven’t heard back from them and was hoping for some advice on what to do next. I am grown with my own family now and want nothing from my bio dad other to hopefully get to know him and my siblings. I don’t know how much time to give this and if I should try to call them if they don’t respond?
        Thank you again

        1. My heart goes out to you. This is the most nerve-wracking part of a search, because we can’t control the outcome. My best advice is to wait another couple of weeks to let him work through what you’ve told him, then try again. Please let me know of any updates. I’m pulling for you!

  2. I cannot thank you enough for this! I was truly lost for words and this is precisely what I needed to deliver the news to my bio-father. He was very impressed by the way I chose to deliver the news and I have no one to thank but you. Thank you ? . It was eloquent, to the point and very giving. Well done!

    Good luck and most of all peace in the hearts of everyone that needs these resources. ❤️

  3. If I only have my bio-dad’s name from ancestry dna (closest other relative is a second cousin) and all the non-identifying info I have I now question (including whether he knows about me) how would you recommend proceeding? Many many thanks!

  4. I took a DNA test and I have 3 close results one first cousin, one-second cousin, and one-third cousin. I am going to have to guess which is on my mother’s side and which is on my father’s side. I also am really unsure how to proceed from here. I don’t want to upset anyone but am truly curious as to who my parents were and some of my medical history. I don’t think I want to meet anyone at this point. Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.

  5. I was adopted as a baby so I took a 23andMe and Ancestry DNA test to help me find my birth parents. I found my birth mother but I haven’t contacted her, yet. On Ancestry DNA, I found a first cousin on my father’s side so I contacted him. He was very open with me and gave me the names of his uncles and father; he wants to meet me. After doing more research, I think that he might be a half-uncle. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to hurt anyone. What if he doesn’t know that his father has another son. How should I approach this matter? What should I say to him? I would greatly appreciate any advice on how to proceed with this matter. Thanks so much.

    1. I wouldn’t say anything unless I was absolutely sure, and then I would take my time breaking the news. For example, “It really looks like we’re first cousins, but there are some other options, like half uncle. Could that be possible? I don’t want to disrupt the lives of your uncles unless I’m sure.” And then seeing how he reacts. He might be willing to get his uncles on board to find out.

      You’re in a tough spot, but I can tell from your concern about them and their families that you’ll approach what could be a difficult conversation in a respectful and caring way. Good luck.

      If you’re not sure, we could set up a consultation to review your matches to get a better feel for whether he’s a cousin or a half uncle.

  6. I tried your letter approach, but was soundly rejected. It seems my most likely BF was a member of 10 siblings. So far children of 5 of those have tested as first cousins. Of the 2 male siblings’ children remaining, one sibling’s child will not respond at all and the other sibling’s child has threatened to bring charges of harassment for me even bringing up the matter. The latter is also within just a few days of my birthday and his father bears a very strong resemblance to me. I tried asking for help on DNA Detectives – no one stepped up. Anyone like to kelp me resolve this long standing dilemma?

    1. Unfortunately, if you’ve approached all of the adult descendants of the last two candidates, and they won’t test, there’s not much you can do except wait and hope they change their minds. I’m so sorry. Are the cousins receptive? Forging relationships with them may be gratifying, and could also have the side benefit of bridging acceptance by your remaining cousin and half sibling. I wish you the very best.

  7. I’m in a tough spot. I’ve located my two potential birth fathers ( brothers)
    One is alive – one is not.
    Which family do I approach first?
    I have a gut feeling it’s the one who is alive.
    He has two daughters. I have all the addresses, phone numbers and emails.

    Email or Letter? What’s most effective?

    My concern is his wife may open it and I don’t want to cause any stress in their lives.

    Any advice is appreciated.

    Jaime

    1. I would contact both families: the brother who is alive and the children of the one who isn’t. If you craft the letter according to the template, the family can ease into an acceptance of what you’re telling them. One or both families may decide “it’s the other brother” at first. Let them think that, and simply ask them to test. They’ll have several weeks to adjust before the results come back. Good luck!

  8. Thank you for your template. I’m sure it has helped many people write a letter of contact. I wish it was something that would help me. You see, I found my birth mother many years ago. She had already passed. Last May (2018) I did Ancestry dna and got results. There was a match that took until this past (2019) January to figure out who she is. No relatives (matches) had ever heard of her or knew who she is, search angel couldn’t figure it out, it was a dead end. She however did have the name of her paternal grandfather and her maternal grandmother on her ‘tree’. Her paternal grandfather was married to my birth mother. Believe me, it took many hours with lots of fits and starts to confirm the name I recognized was who I thought when I saw it. She is my half niece and she’s listed as 1st cousin on ancestry. Folks have messaged her on ancestry (using the “Hi, I see that we are [1st, 3rd, etc.] cousins with no response. We have no idea if she’s even gotten the messages. (She’s young and in the military). She has logged on twice – March 2018 and December 2018. Because I was digging, I found the half brother I suspected I have. Knowing my “mother’s” history, I am reasonably/almost positive she never told her fourth and last] husband that she had given two daughters up for adoption, 14 years before they were married. I know where my niece lives and I know where my half brother lives (he is 15 years younger than I). So, where might I find a template for contacting my niece and one for contacting my half brother? I’ve looked and just can’t seem to find one. Especially one to someone who hasn’t tested (half brother). Thanks in advance for any help.

  9. I am looking to write to someone who i believe may be my bio-father. I want to contact him to find out whether they are and wanted to know the best way to write to them to confirm this.

  10. Hello,
    I love the draft of your letter! I am an adoptee and had attempted to write one and it was not nearly as eloquent. Question: My 23andme said “father.” Does that mean he definitely is my father? How accurate are these kits? I saw the comment in here about brothers and they were not sure which one it was. I do not want to make any assumptions.

    1. Oh my goodness! Yes, if 23andMe says “father”, there’s not much wiggle room. Technically, there are two possible relationships there: father or son. You can tell the difference using your ages.

  11. Hi
    I thought this was a genius letter. I used it to send a letter to my birth mom. And plan on sending one to my birth uncle or dad which ever one he is . One is deceased and because of the close age I’m not real sure. What complicates this is they both gave a child up for adoption with in a few months of each other. My main question is how long to expect a response back from my birth mom. I’m worried the letter didn’t express an interest in personal contact. Which could possibly be hurtful. What is the normal response time to expect? And is there a possible follow up letter we can use if there isn’t a response?

    1. I’m so glad you found the letter helpful. There isn’t a standard response time, unfortunately. Each person is different. I’d give it at least a month or two.

  12. I sent this letter to my bmom and bdad. My bdad replied within 48 hours of receiving it – he denied I was his, a week later he contacted me again and apologized as I didn’t deserve that, I was his kid (he had no idea I existed). My bmom took a little while to contact me, about 6 weeks, she called on my birthday. It has taken about a year but we are building a relationship now.

  13. Thank you so much for your template! I would like to use it to send letters to my half sister and potential BF. I found their home addresses via google searching and Facebook. I’m planning on sending certified letters to their physical home addresses but leave out how I found their addresses. My other options are to send a message to my BF’s wife’s Facebook page…not good, or send a second message via Ancestry to my half sister (but she hasn’t yet checked her inbox for my first message). What do you think?

    1. I would send a letter to your BF first. Give him a chance to respond before trying to contact your half sister outside of Ancestry. Since she’s tested there, reaching out to her via their messaging system is fair game. I would absolutely not contact his wife except as a last resort. It’s not likely to have a positive outcome. Best of luck to you!

  14. Thank you so much for posting this template! In such a sensitive moment of my life you gave me the words I needed to express myself. I used this template and received a response from my bio father within 2 weeks, who responded with kindness and understanding. Thank you for helping me and all the others who have posted here! I only hope that everyone else who is in a similar situation finds the answers they are looking for, and would recommend this letter to do it! Wishing you all the best 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your success story. I’m so glad to hear that the letter helped. Best wishes moving forward with your new-found biological father.

  15. Can you give me some advice on how to write a follow up? It has been 3.5 months since the birth mom received the letter (which was sent certified). I have not heard anything in response. So, of course I wonder if it was her who really signed for it, etc…. But do you recommend something saying “I understand the complications of this, but just want you to know that I simply would like to confirm I have the correct person, or I should move on in my search” something to that effect?
    Thanks for any help you can provide. 3.5 months feels like forever!

    1. I’m sorry she hasn’t responded. Your approach sounds fine, but if she doesn’t respond a second time, I’m afraid you should let it be. I’m hoping all the best for you.

  16. Thank you for this template. I hope to be able to use it someday for my husband’s maternal grandfather. So far we have a supposed name and place in Germany but haven’t had luck with response from descendants in Germany. There is only one decent match that appears to be from that branch but that person also doesn’t know her paternal grandfather. I am having a hard time building out trees and genetic networks because everyone else is a distant match and there doesn’t seem to be many German records online. At this point, is it just a waiting game for more usable matches? I have my husband’s DNA on Ancestry, MyHeritage, FTDNA and Gedmatch.

    1. For records, you might try consulting a German genealogist who specializes in the region of Germany you think your husband’s grandfather was from. They will have access to records that are not online. As far as DNA matches go, you’ve discovered the hard way that not many Germans have tested at this point. You’ll probably have the best luck at MyHeritage.

  17. Thank you so much for this great template.

    The only thing that I have found that makes this less awkward for everyone is to have a cousin write the letters.

    I have found 20+ birth parents for my extended adopted cousins. Since I match one side of their family; representing that side is a huge help. I identify how I am related to them and then how the adopted person is related to their lineage.

    All of the contact information in the letter is through me. That way if the birth mother or father want to decline contact they don’t have to say no to their birth child. It gives them a way out and wiggle room so to speak.

    I have to say in the 20+ cases I have solved, I only had one birth mom who didn’t want contact. I found this case the most usual since her grown children today had no children of their own. Only her adopted daughter has children. So these would be her only grandkids.

    1. Having an intermediary make contact is also a good option if someone is willing. Your new-found cousins are fortunate to have you on their side.

  18. I like the idea of having a cousin reach out and that actually happened with my paternal half brothers (without my asking the cousin for help). Our father never knew I existed. Sadly he passed before he could be told.
    Also, sadly, there are no cousins to help with reaching out to my maternal half brother who may or may not know about me. His daughter tested and is my half niece, but I have no idea whether she told her father or even if she has figured out the relationship she and I have.
    So, I’m stuck in the “nobody to reach out for me” and “what to say” when reaching out on my own.

    1. The template can give you some ideas about how to reach out on your own. The trick is to strike the right balance between telling them the whole truth and keeping enough back that you don’t scare them off right away. I find they’re more accepting if you give them time to think about it.

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