first contact in the search for a lost relative

simply stephen / November 1, 2011

Once you have discovered a lost relative, the question of contact becomes a primary concern.

Many people will take their time and hold on to the information. It is overwhelming.

There is no right or wrong time to initiate contact. It takes time to adjust. Just don’t wait too long in case the contact information gets stale. Time is precious. My initial contact was with a birth sister in late fall of 1994. The process took a few months but I needed to pursue fairly quickly since I was leaving for Europe for 6 months to get married.

If I had not acted fast it would have taken us over a year before we met. Our reunion became a tearful and anxious Boxing Day of that year. What a Christmas present. We are still in contact on a regular basis and have an exceptionally strong bond.

adoption registry will coordinate

Most countries have an adoption registry and if a birth relative has registered, you will be put in contact with each other through the adoption organization that initiated your adoption. Initially the registrar will contact each of you in writing, informing you of the discovery. They will offer guidance and act as an intermediary until you wish to make contact.

It is common to send the registrar a letter and have them forward it to your relative. If you put contact details in the first letter you may get that telephone call or surprise visit.

I would strongly urge against offering personal information right away, in case you get rejected or disappointed.
It is usually in the second or third correspondence that you will try to arrange a meeting. Email makes contact and discussion a little more easy. When I had my reunion the Internet was not an option. Now you can use chat, social media, web cams and various methods to ease into the process.

In between most people will talk on the phone…quite a daunting and tearful experience as I recall.

Sometimes it is better to choose a third party to make the contact. They can discuss things at a more objective level and keep emotion out of the equation. This will also help determine if the contact is a good thing or if the timing is right. It may also protect the person who is being contacted in case they need to tie up loose ends first.

Some people are so excited that they are comfortable with a direct approach in person or with a phone call. This is not recommended but can produce wonderful results. Be sure to have sensitivity when acting this way and be prepared for any outcome. Remember there are husbands, wives children, parents, adopted parents, siblings and family members you grew up with that need to be considered. They may not show it but they will have strong feelings too.

choose a neutral reunion location

With exception of the direct approach, once the contact has been made you are now in the position of deciding on a reunion. Most people start their search with this goal in mind, so they really only have to choose how, when and where to meet at this point. I remember driving 50 km to another city to visit my sister in her house (okay, so we didn’t go neutral but she had small kids, I had my fiance and it was holiday time).

Reunions are different for everyone. Reunions with a birth mother or child will be very different than a reunion with a birth sibling, grandparent or other relative. Birth father’s are often not involved and the emotional connection could be a surprise or intimidation.

Be prepared and realistic for your reunion. Don’t build extremely high expectations.

Do what you can ahead of time to understand and evaluate all potential outcomes. There will be a cooling off period after the initial burst of emotion but if it offers encouragement, I have no regrets in my connections to my birth family. I consider it a success and love them all equally.

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