Find Your Birth Parents in the State of California ****Follow These Tips for Ancestry DNA

Find Your Birth Parents in the State of California ****Follow These Tips for Ancestry DNA

by Alan Tomasi

“It’s not what you find, it’s that you find.”

by Jeanette Yoffe

So you know you are adopted and want to find your bio-parents. Here are the steps I took to find my wife’s bio-parents. While there are a lot of DNA testing companies, I did all of my research using AncestryDNA even though I had 23andMe and had exported her DNA results to Family Tree DNA (FtDNA) and GEDmatch. To find your bio-parents using Ancestry you will eventually need a subscription. This runs about $200 per year but you can drop it once you locate your bio-parents. If you have the money you can also do 23andMe, but it isn’t necessary.

I’m in California and each state has different laws regarding accessing adoption records, so you will find discrepancies in what I’m writing based on which state you live in. Also, depending on your competency on the Ancestry site, you may find this too confusing and may need to involve someone to help you.

Step 1 – Purchase an Ancestry DNA Kit here

Don’t delay as the kit takes about a week to get to you, then the results don’t come in for around 8 weeks after you mail it in. It is just a simple saliva test, just follow their directions. For elderly, have them scrape their tongue with their teeth before spitting as there isn’t a lot of DNA in saliva and there is less in the elderly. The kit cost around $100. There are adoption groups which donate kits if you can’t afford one. If you can’t afford one, then you may not be able to afford the Ancestry subscription, which is required to be able to do research. DNA testing of deceased people for Ancestry is not possible.

Step 2 – Send away for your non-identifying adoption paperwork from you birth state

In California it takes a long time to get the results, so you need to get this going. In California, it is CDSS Form AD904 from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) Don’t forget to check the box on the back stating that you want this information. I found my wife’s bio-parents before the adoption information came in, but you may need it in order to narrow the results down based on the age of the potential bio-parents.

In California, if a licensed California adoption agency maintains your adoption file, the CDSS will return your notarized form along with the address of the agency, so that you may mail the notarized form directly to them (and wait again).

Step 3 – Join the Closed Facebook Group DNA Detectives

Here are the links to this group:

To join the group you will need to fill out a short questionnaire. Also, closed means that any communication you have within this group won’t be visible to your Facebook friends. This group is run by a group of people who volunteer their time and they do not take donations, so be nice to them. If you need help they will assign you a free ‘search angel’ (one of their members) based on your birth state. For us in California, this was Heather MacPherson ( She has access to the microfiche birth files and can look up the last name of your bio-mom against your sealed birth records.

On birth certificates, there is the original sealed birth certificate, which can’t be obtained without legal intervention (in most states) and your amended birth certificate, which you should have. At the top of your amended birth certificate are some numbers, a State File Number and a Certificate Number. With these numbers Heather can look at her files and find the last name of your bio-mom.

We made the bio-mom match based on finding a family name on the California Birth Index of someone in my tree. I just looked up on the California Birth Index for girls born on my wife’s birthday in our county. There were about 260 of them, but only 7 had the mother’s last name and no first name for the child. Assuming that these were adoptees, I just happened to recognize one of them based on the tree I had already started (which was based on an earlier 23andMe DNA test). Here is the link to the California Birth Index:

Here are some other notes and adoption sites on the internet and Facebook:

NPE stands for a non-paternity event, meaning an individual is not the child of the father shown in the family’s “paper” genealogy. An adoption which was kept secret is considered a NPE.

There are some secret groups on Facebook that you have to be added by administrator for NPEone being Lost and Found (

Search Squad

Search Squad works for free and helps you determine who on your ancestry tree you are related to. DNA Detectives recommends them all of the time.

Step 4 – After Getting AncestryDNA Results

At this point you will need to get a subscription to Ancestry if you haven’t done so already. You should link your DNA to yourself.

So now let’s go over what you see on your AncestryDNA results. Under ‘DNA Matches’ you will see three classifications:

  1. Shared Ancestor Hints
  2. Starred matches
  3. 4th cousins or closer

In order to see any ‘Shared Ancestor Hints’ you will need a tree which is the main purpose of this paper. The Ancestry program will mine (extract from) your tree and the trees of other members, make connections and then show you how you are connected. This is what you are looking for. Without ‘Shared Ancestor Hints’ you won’t find your bio-parents.

‘Starred matches’ just lets you mark people. I used this to separate the paternal from the maternal sides as that became apparent, by consistently marking one or the other. You can also add notes to everyone. My notes are “Name. Relationship.” So for example “Jane A Smith. Maternal 2nd cousin 1x removed.”

The last segment doesn’t do you much good. So you are related, unless you know how it doesn’t do you any good. I never used this group for research except for getting your first ‘Mirror Trees’ going which we will discuss later.

Below ‘DNA Matches’ you will see ‘DNA Circles’. It will say that you currently don’t have any. There is nothing you can do to get them aside from building your tree. This is an automated feature of Ancestry and divides your relatives up between paternal and maternal. These results rely on your ‘Shared Ancestor Hints’, so it probably won’t come in until after you have found your bio-parents.

There are two main ways to work on your tree, one is on a computer using the internet and the other is via your smart phone using an app. For the app us the Ancestry one and not the AncestryDNA one. The app image should be the brown background with the green leaves. Both the computer and the app have advantages. On the hint leaves only the computer lets you see Ancestry Hints of other people’s trees.

Step 5 – Export your DNA

These are all free sites and it doesn’t hurt getting your DNA out there. Family Tree DNA (FtDNA) will say you need to pay but look hard and you will see that you don’t. FtDNA has some good trees which you can use for building yours.



Step 6 – Start Building Mirror Trees

Ok, here is where it starts getting a bit more complex. If you get confused there are a lot of articles on DNA Detectives and the internet in general, here are two:

Start a tree. Pick a simple name for your tree such as YourLastName Family Tree. Make it private and non-searchable. You want to do this while you are doing research so you don’t confuse others. Once you have found your bio-parents then you should make your tree public and searchable. As a security feature of Ancestry, even though your tree is public no one from the outside can see living people unless you share your tree and give them permission.

By mirror tree, that means just copying (actually re-building) other people’s trees that you are related to. Most people say to have separate research mirror trees, but I don’t agree. The reason being is that you can’t combine them later. So only have one tree and build separate mirror trees on your single tree, what I call floating trees. To do this I created a relative then broke that relationship so that person was floating (in my tree but not tied to me) then build a tree off of that person. The only way to break a person off of a tree is to establish a fake relative off of you, such as a sibling, then go to “Family” then click “Edit” then click the red “X” then “Delete Relationship Only”. Then that person you just created won’t be tied to you and will be “floating” in space so to speak. You have to remember the name of a key person in each floating tree because the only way to find the floating trees is through the search function. I had a few of these floating trees going and as you figure things out you start connecting them.

So how do you find other people’s trees? Use your ‘4th cousins or closer’ and/or FtDNA. Relatives with no family tree or a locked tree (there is an image of a lock after the tree) don’t do you any good. Try to find a close relative with a big tree, but try to not go above a 3rd cousin. If you find someone with a big locked tree you can try writing them, asking them to share it with you, preferable with the setting so you can see living people. I did a lot of work on my small iPhone but for building a tree I used multiple devices so I could have someone else’s tree up on one and inputting to my tree on another. There is no easy way to cut and paste, I found manually input the easiest.

What you are looking for is common ancestry that you share with others. The more floating trees you have (each one being based off of another relative’s tree) the more changes you will have of accomplishing this. You are looking for two different people (dad and mom) and when you start you won’t know which one is in which floating tree. You could potentially have a bunch of floating trees and have them all be for the same parent, you just don’t know when you start. When you get into it you can go to the DNA tab, select a person, go to ‘Matches’ and see who else they are related to in order to start determining which side they are related to, paternal or maternal.

One you get a floating tree established you can plug your DNA into relatives as this sometimes helps Ancestry make connections. You need to leave your DNA plugging into someone else for a few days for Ancestry to do its thing, but I would never leave it plugged into someone else for more than a week. If you find this confusing I don’t feel that it is necessary so you can skip this. If you elect to try this, go to the DNA tab, then ‘Settings’, then under ‘Family Tree Linking’ and select a relative.

As connections start becoming apparent, you can figure out your great great (Ancestry calls it 2nd great) grandparents. I connected my wife to her 2nd great grandparent by making dummy relatives, “Father”, “Grandparent”, etc. As I got closer to finding her father, I would eliminate the dummy relatives and when I got down to grandparent then I just started connecting her to prospective fathers looking for a connection on the mother’s side.

Remember that when you build trees you have to develop the spouse’s side too so you can triangulate on the current “target” whether it be a parent or grandparent. Bigger families obviously slow you down, specifically once you have the grandparent because then you have nothing left to triangulate on. I built my tree with help from other relatives (one actually gave me handwritten trees), obituaries (just from searching the internet), Find A Grave, Facebook & Quanki and I didn’t use any paid services other than Ancestry and 23andMe. Obituaries are wonderful as you not only get to learn about the person but they also usually list the family members.


So to sum up, you can do it, it just takes a lot of effort. It took me 4 months of hard work every evening to find my wife’s bio-dad. During this process I added around 4,000 people to my tree.

After you find your bio-parents you can set up two sets of parents on Ancestry (once you start getting closer), biological and adopted, but you have to make one primary, which for research purposes, is your bio-parents. You can only do this on your computer, not on your smart phone app. To do this open up your profile and click on ‘Edit’ on the upper right then ‘Edit Relationships’, then click on ‘Add Alternate Father’ and ‘Add Alternate Mother’.

Hope this helps, Alan.

National Foster Care Awareness Month May 2021

National Foster Care Awareness Month May 2021

Foster Care Bringing awareness
Showcase on May 15th, 2021
for National Foster Care Awareness Month

We are Seeking Creative Artists Ages 13+

We are looking for paintings, sketches, photographs, sculpture, film, poetry, jewelry, any piece of art created by foster youth “showing the experience”.

Artists’ pieces will be on display in the VIRTUAL exhibit at our LIVE EVENT on Saturday, May 15th.

Along with the application below, please provide jpegs, mp3, mp4, and/or a website and/or photos of the piece(s) of art being submitted.
DEADLINE: MAY 10th, 2021.

No PHYSICAL ART will be received. We are accepting digital submissions only.

***You may submit anonymously.
Please write Anonymous for your last name.

Ready to apply


Open Adoption Through A Father’s Eyes By Phil Weglarz

Open Adoption Through A Father’s Eyes By Phil Weglarz

For me, becoming and being a parent in an open adoption is like a kaleidoscope:

  • Intricate and multifaceted
  • Dynamic and ever-changing

It can be beautiful, perplexing, or revealing, and, sometimes, allude to things just outside of view or bring my attention to the empty spaces.

The construction of a kaleidoscope reflects the evolving discourse in the adoption community. For example, most toy kaleidoscopes use a three-sided reflective surface inside, which reminds me of how adoptive family systems used to be rendered as a triangle or triad, interrelating three core positions of birth/first parents, child, and adoptive parents. But today, we speak of adoption constellations to better evoke the complex, dynamic, intergenerational relationships created through adoption, like the infinite facets and unique, intricate patterns seen through a kaleidoscope. Openness in adoption is like trying to see and appreciate the multiplicity of perspectives and experiences. 

If you look into my kaleidoscope of open adoption experience, you might get a sense of the relationships between myself, my wife, our daughter, her birth mother, and other family members. You might catch glimpses of the times I informed people that I’m a parent by adoption when they said, “Oh, she looks just like you!,” or notice the photo of my daughter with her birth mother on the family photo wall in the living room. You could see my daughter and I role-playing and narrating the imagined reunions between Disney princesses with their birth parents who’ve been left out of the story. You might see me text my daughter’s birth mother each Father’s Day to thank her for choosing me to parent her baby or notice the cards we exchange on other holidays and birthdays. You might hear my daughter and birth mother talking during their annual face-to-face visits. You’ll be dazzled by flashes of joyful laughter and also moved by moments of sorrow, grieving, and tears. In the corner of your eye, you might also sense the doubt or anxiety I harbor about the responsibility of being an adoptive parent, committed to fostering a life-long connection between my daughter and her birth mother, as well as other members of her birth family. 

My daughter is now almost seven-and-a-half, a first-grader who’s been mostly at home with myself or my wife for more than a year now due to the pandemic. Often, I wish I had a telescope, crystal ball, or magic wand to help me see what’s ahead and how to navigate it all. In lieu of such magical tools, I rely on the community, especially folks with adoption experience. 

Bryan Post’s unique model of trauma-informed, adoptee-focused parenting has been crucial for helping ground me and stay in a relationship with my daughter through the tensest moments this year – and there have been many! This paradigm also helped me appreciate the increased intimacy of this unexpected time together at home. 

Over the past year, to continue learning and to grow my peer support network, I’ve also been meeting and interviewing fathers of adopted children, both birth/first fathers and adoptive fathers, which, combined with an abundance of adoption-related books, articles, webinars, blogs, and podcasts, has dramatically broadened and deepened my awareness and appreciation of the diversity of family systems created by adoption, especially the wide-ranging experiences of openness in public and private domestic adoptions. 

Peering inside this larger kaleidoscope of fathers’ experiences of open adoption reveals many facets. Some reflect my own experience. Mostly, these conversations have widened my perspective. One dimension that really catches my eye is transgenerational influences.

While each adoption story centers upon each man’s relationship with a particular child, I’ve been equally curious about how men navigate relationships with other family members in open adoptions. The narratives I’ve heard usually span three or four generations. Men begin by reflecting upon their own experiences being parented. Fathers have shared stories of their own birth or adoptive parents, single parents, step-parents, in-laws, and grandparents. Based on my own experience, I feel a special camaraderie and compassion with the many men whose fathers, for various reasons, were absent for all or part of their childhoods. Some men have parents who were adopted themselves, typically in the era of closed adoptions, and they’ve participated in searches and reunions with newly discovered grandparents. The men I’ve met with have also shared how they navigate relationships with their child’s other parents over the years, and most have spoken about building relationships with those folks’ other children, and relatives, such as cousins, aunts/uncles, grandparents, etc. Visits, holidays, weddings, as well as the use of texts, phone/video calls, social media, and ancestry websites, all offer opportunities to interrelate, practice naming and narrating their relationships, and to ‘do family.’  

About the author:

Phil Weglarz is an adoptive father in an open adoption, a marriage and family therapist, an associate professor of counseling psychology, and a Ph.D. candidate at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. In 2021, Phil is completing narrative research with birth/first fathers and adoptive fathers about their experiences of open adoption.


Hints For Building Relationships With Birth Parents by Carole Lieber-Wilkins L.M.F.T.

Hints For Building Relationships With Birth Parents by Carole Lieber-Wilkins L.M.F.T.


Establishing and maintaining a relationship with birth parents during the process of adopting can be an intimidating, sometimes frustrating experience.  It can also become one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences you will ever have.  These hints may help you keep perspective and stay less anxious as you meet and get to know your future child’s birth parents.  While many of these suggestions seem impossible to you now, they are quite feasible, albeit challenging.  And while we rarely achieve any ideal relationship with anyone, keeping in mind some of these thoughts may help shift your thinking to allow you to create a mutually respectful, gratifying adoption experience.

  1. Be yourself.  Really yourself.  There is a birth family and a child out there for everyone.  No matter what your age, religion, ability, economic status, or profession,  birth parents will choose you for a variety of reasons.  If you pretend now to be other than who you are, your adoption will be based on a falsehood and can eventually have negative ramifications for you and the family you are trying to create.

  2. Birth parents are at least as frightened as you are.  They are afraid of being rejected, afraid they will end up giving birth to a child who has no parents to care for it, afraid they will have to choose to parent when they are unable to.  Birth mothers have often been abandoned by their child’s father and have little emotional support from family and friends. Even if they do have partners and family support, this is a very frightening and extremely emotionally demanding time in their lives.  In this way, there are many parallels between the adopting and birth parents’ experiences. 

  3. Find the birth parents’ strengths and focus on them.  These are the attributes you will eventually share with your child about their origins.  Children usually care less about eye and hair color than “am I like my birth family?”  Reframe potentially negative attributes in the positive.  Most birth parents are quite resourceful, even if they have not made great decisions in the past.  Who among us hasn’t made mistakes?  Adoption is a great decision and so was following through with action that eventually led them to you.

  4. Resist the temptation to convince a birth parent what a great parent you will be.  Birth parents see adopting parents as having everything they don’t have.  These usually include maturity, stability, often a good marriage, financial stability (not wealth), and of course the desire, willingness, and ability to parent.  The aspects of your life that you would like to improve are probably invisible to a woman who sees you as someone who can and will provide for her child everything she cannot provide at this time in her life.

  5. You probably have major issues of control after infertility. Adoption, like infertility, can make us feel “out of control.”  Someone else is carrying your child. Be aware of these issues in yourself and try not to exert control where it is inappropriate.

  6. Get support anywhere and everywhere except from birth parents.

  7. Keep in mind that adoption is a lifelong process.  It began with your infertility and never ends.  It continues through to your child’s children and on….  We are leaving something behind, just as genetic parents do. The seeds you plant now will grow throughout the life cycle of the family you create.
  8. Enjoy this time as much as you can.  You’ve earned it.

Carole Lieber-Wilkins is Carole is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles (CA 18998), also licensed in Idaho (ID 5979), providing individual and couples counseling, as well as psychoeducational consultations for those moving in to alternative paths to parenthood. A specialist in the field of reproductive medicine, adoption, and family building options since 1986, she became a founding member of Resolve of Greater Los Angeles in 1987 and served on the Board of Directors in various positions for many years. In addition, her own experience creating a family through adoption and egg donation deepens her understanding of the challenges others face when exploring these complex family-building options. Please visit her website here:


The Magical Realism of Colombian Adoptees By Leslie Whitaker and Craig Askinazi

The Magical Realism of Colombian Adoptees By Leslie Whitaker and Craig Askinazi

What is it like to have been adopted from Colombia in the late 1970s and raised in the US? The answer of course will vary for everyone, but there are some things most of us have in common…

Extra-complicated search and reunions. The geographical and cultural divide of continents, corruption, language, governments, laws, DNA tests, and often inter-married families collude to make the search and reunion of adoptees with their Colombian families quite challenging. Often, when trying to put together a family tree, it becomes apparent that due to the above complexities, this task is not easy and may come with more questions than answers.

Growing up with a stigma. Although the height of infamous Colombian cartel wars and kidnappings have long since passed their peak, from the late-70s to mid-90s corruption was at its height. During this era, many babies and young children were kidnapped and trafficked for adoption revenue, adding layers of stigma and further complicating searches for some adoptees. The notorious reputation of such lives on in the assumptions and impressions that many outsiders have of modern Colombian life. This is not to say that danger or violence no longer exists there, but those statistics are now far below that of many American cities. Unfortunately, these stereotypes are often still thrust upon Colombian adoptees in the media and tend to arise in casual conversation when discussing our backgrounds.

Forming connections. Despite the obstacles, many of us have found ways to connect with one another and our inner selves to hone a stronger sense of identity. We have formed Meetup, Facebook, Clubhouse, and support groups to connect with one another and share encouragement, tips, and advice. Many of us relate to our adoptions via our professions including authoring books, hosting podcasts, and creating visual art. Others are often therapists or legal advocates. Naturally, our interests and occupations run the gamut, but unifying us at the core is our exceptional resilience.

It can be so uplifting to seek the support of other people like ourselves to stand in as cultural mirrors, help support the process of searching for biological family, or simply to help us feel more at peace with ourselves.

There is power in numbers, and connecting with other Colombian adoptees (or any group one identifies with) can be invaluable to satisfying the human quest to feel heard and understood.

PSA: It’s Colombia, not Columbia!

Learn more information about  Colombian Adoptee Support and Discussion Groups.

National Adoption Conference – Virtual – November 2020 Organized During a Pandemic!!!

National Adoption Conference – Virtual – November 2020 Organized During a Pandemic!!!

National Adoption Conference was held virtually on WHOVA in 2020

This conference took place on Friday, November 14-15, 2020. Celia Center sponsored this conference and 250 people attended virtually. 

The National Adoption Conference is a groundbreaking two days of education, training, networking and invaluable resources for all members of the adoption and foster care ‘constellation’. Taking full advantage of an entirely ‘virtual’ conference, we will bring you face to face with some of the Nation’s leading experts and visionaries in the field as well as live music, entertainment, coffee talk, Q&A’s, diverse exhibitors and even an art gallery to explore. 

Web access available for all sessions, films, and music for 6 months AFTER the conference through May 13, 2021. PURCHASE ACCESS HERE

This event is for First Birth Mothers and Fathers, Adoptees, Foster Youth Alumni, Foster Parents, Adoptive Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family Members, Social Workers, Psychotherapists, Teachers, and Doctors. 

Full Conference details HERE 

The goals of the conference were threefold:

  • To provide insight, education and resources for people involved in any aspect of the adoption | foster care constellation so that they may find trustworthy and immediate mental, physical or emotional assistance.
  • To begin an on-going and transparent conversation around how this Nation approaches, administers and discusses issues regarding foster care and adoption.
  • To challenge the old and largely inaccurate negative stigmas surrounding foster care and adoption and create a new shared language that champions openness, challenges labels and prejudice and creates an atmosphere of love and normalcy around non-traditional families.

Sessions Presented were as follows: