Being a search angel takes a special kind of heart. Most search angels do this as a way of giving back—not to make money or to gain fame or fortune. They typically have substantial experience and passionate interest in researching family trees, family history, and genealogy through resources such as Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilySearch, state government records, records retained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church), and so forth. They also tend to be (surprise, surprise) research-oriented in general—not wavering at the first sign of a delay or difficulty obtaining information.
Doing the research required of a search angel takes tremendous patience, diligence in pursuing various avenues that may lead to answers for the person you’re assisting, and, most of all, a singular focus on finding someone’s family members based on the information you’re given—and a quest to uncover data, mysteries, and information long buried in the past and often shielded from public access via outdated laws and restricted access to information that should rightfully be given to the families seeking information. Often, you are not going to know, personally, the people you are assisting. Should that stop you, or make you any less motivated to find the answers sought by those who you’ve agreed to help? No. If anything, it might make you even more motivated. It’s a mystery to solve, a puzzle to piece together with a combination of existing known facts and missing information. As a search angel, the last thing you want to do is let someone down by not doing everything in your power to unearth the secrets, unlock the access, open the door, and bring long-awaited closure to the lives of those you serve.
And as you work to get the answers that people seek, you just might change a life or two in the process.
Author Carrie Craft explains: “An adoption search angel volunteers his time and talents to help families who have been touched by adoption. He hunts for answers and information for birth mothers and adoptees who want to reach out to their birth parents. Adoption search angels might help a birth mom locate a high school yearbook so she can see the child she placed for adoption for the first time. Search angels explore registries to help adoptees find relatives who are open to contact and for answers about their roots. They’re people who want to give a little peace to families with questions.” Here’s her full article if you’re interested in reading it.
What Search Angels Do and Don’t Do
Typically, search angels charge no upfront fee for their services. (If they do, clients should definitely be suspicious.) In time (usually after the research has concluded), you as a search angel may ask clients to reimburse you for various fees incurred during the search process. This is standard and should come as no surprise to your clients.
As a search angel, you cannot and should not search for children who are under age 18. Children for whom you are searching must be legal adults—not minors. This is the law, so, be sure to abide by it.
You can provide your clients with the contact information that you’ve found, but as far as reaching out to that person’s birth parents or birth children, that is up to the client themselves. This is a strict rule in the search angel community! Search angels do not initiate contact on behalf of clients. One of the most important qualities of a stellar search angel is his or her desire to respect and preserve the client’s privacy.
Keep in mind that search angels don’t always find the answers. That can be frustrating for both parties. Search angels and clients alike absolutely need to be prepared for that unfortunate reality.
Search angels do not have to be members of the adoption triad. Even if adoption has not directly touched your life, you can still serve as a search angel for the sheer experience of helping someone, doing some good in a volunteer role, and unlocking the mysteries of the past.
Search angels need to be familiar with the local geographic area of the client(s) they are serving. This important fact cannot be overstated. So, make sure that it’s a good match—not just in terms of personality, level of comfort, and passion, but also in terms of geographical familiarity.
Volunteers tend to be individuals who work from home to help a search angel organization, typically for at least a few hours each week. Volunteers should be problem-solvers and go-getters who aren’t willing to give up easily at the first sign of a roadblock or an impasse.
Becoming a Search Angel
So, if this appeals to you, how do you get started?
It’s pretty simple: Reach out to various search angel organizations. Yes—there are companies dedicated specifically to the science and art of search angelhood! Here are a few organizations that you can reach out to in order to take the first step in becoming a search angel. Remember: These are just a sampling of the organizations that are out there, and our listing them here does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of services.
To sign up to become a search angel with this nonprofit organization, go to the site’s “Our Volunteers” section. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the Our Volunteers web page for the Volunteer Form. Fill it out, and they’ll get back to you regarding next steps.
WikiTree’s Adoption Angels Project
This free site brings together search angels, adoptees, birth families, and genealogical researchers. See the section of this website titled “Becoming an Adoption Angel.” One prerequisite to volunteering is signing WikiTree’s Honor Code. The organization’s Mission Statement very clearly explains what adoption angels will and will not do.
You can also search Facebook, Yahoo Groups, and Google Groups for dedicated search angel groups. These groups are too numerous to mention here, and many are geographically specific (e.g., Adoption Search Angels of St. Louis, on Facebook), so it’s best for you to do some web searching to find the right group as a volunteer genealogist.
For more information on search angels, read Ashley Foster’s article on Adoption.org, titled “What Is a Search Angel?”
For some guidelines and resources on how to get started in finding your birth parents or adopted child, visit AdoptionInformation.com.
Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry.