How to Find a Parent You Never Met

Finding a parent you’ve never met could be easier than you think. It can be intimidating for so many reasons to start this search. It could be that you don’t know very much about them, or that the parent(s) in your life are ambivalent about whether it is a good idea at all.

In my professional life before I became a full-time mom, I tracked down people for a living. The internet now gives us tons of resources to utilize to locate an absent parent. In many cases, an individual can put in some work and do the job of a private investigator.

Gathering information is the first step to finding your absent mom or dad

The first step in your search is to gather as much information as possible. If you have NOTHING to go on, it is going to be really hard to find your absent mom or dad. Set up a word doc or use a notebook, and keep track of what you know (and what you don’t).

First, write down everything you know about your missing parent. Legal name, nickname, age, birth date, appearance, color of hair, eyes, race/ethnicity, towns or cities lived in, occupations, education. All of these details can be used to locate him. These details can also be used to narrow down a large field of possible results, especially if your search turns up a lot of people with the same name as your missing mom or dad.

Next, once you’ve done a brain dump of everything you know, and you identify everything you don’t, you need to approach the individuals who do know more. You might not want your other family members to know that you are looking for your dad. If you feel comfortable telling them, pump them for all the information they have. There is no detail that is too specific or useless. You just never know when you might need the detail.

How to Find a Parent You Never Met When You Are Adopted

If you were adopted, much of what you’ll find in this article still applies to you. In additional you should also find out as much as you can about the adoption before you move forward with your search. Get whatever records you can access from the people who raised you, or from the courts/social services if they’re available. Courts don’t keep files indefinitely, and you may find that older records have been destroyed before it was common to digitize/scan them pre-destruction.

You can also register for the online databases (reunion registry) that help connect adopted children to their biological parents.

In the case of an adoption where your biological parents specifically stated that they did not want to have any contact with you in the future….well, you’ll have to consider whether you want to honor those wishes or not as you move forward. Regardless of what you decide, it is good to know what he/she/they selected.

Begin Your Search with Free Resources

If you are savvy with search engines and the internet, doing an online search is the obvious next step.

First, do a search for the name you have, without quotes or ( ). See what comes up. Scan the results and see if anything pops up that looks relevant. When you search someone’s first and last name generally, you’ll pull tons of search results for the first name, and then the last name.

Next, assuming that there wasn’t thinking exciting in the first round of search results, try searching the names you have for your missing parent with quotation marks around it. This will tell Google that you want results that have the first and last name right next to each other. That will dramatically reduce the number of irrelevant results.

When you do this, you might see Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts. Feel free to click on these, and copy the URLs of any that look relevant. You will also want to check business pages results to see if your absent parent is or was involved in the company. Even if the involvement is old, you can sometimes make connections to them through former co-workers. Save the URLs, and take screen shot of any pertinent information so that you don’t have to actually go back to the website to remind yourself of important details.

The Amount of Information on the Internet is Frightening

If nothing obviously pops up, scroll down to the spammy/scammy looking links. You’ll see results from, and other sites that purport to help you track down people. In most cases, you aren’t going to use these sites to find your mom. When you click on the link, they try and entice you to pay them money for more information but giving you a little taste. Sometimes they will confirm the age of the person you’ve searched, or give you the year of birth along with a recent city of residence.

These pay-for-info sites are great places to confirm details about your subject. If you know how old they are, you can confirm recent cities of residence. Sometimes you can get a phone number, or even a recent address. When you know what city or state you are working with, you can then zip back to your social media results and narrow down profiles to review more closely.

Most of us don’t look at what information is available online. I recently did a search for my full name, and discovered that my full birth date, full name (including middle name), multiple addresses, and more was posted. I was shocked, actually.

But you can use these privacy violations to your advantage. You might be able to confirm a specific birth date, if all you had before was the year or his age, for example.

The Internet Is Not the Only Option

If you do an internet search and you don’t find your mom right away, don’t give up just yet. Unfortunately, the older you are, the older your dad is. The older his is, the less likely he is to have a large footprint online. Young people tend to have a large footprint, even if they’ve decided to dump their social media accounts. People pop up in race results, news articles, arrest records, property tax records, and more, if the record is one that is digitized. Older records are often scanned without being made “searchable” by search engines.

If you have managed to build a profile of your mom, and the internet was a bust, it is time to start pounding the pavement. I start with the phone. I call all the individuals who I think may either know or used to know the person I am looking for. This can be intimidating, but if you are friendly and make yourself sound a little bit lost, people tend to want to try to help you.

In particularly difficult searches, I used to try and build a timeline for the individual, to see if I could track where they were from the last time I saw them to present. If you can pinpoint where they WERE, it makes it easier to figure out where they ARE.

In many instances, I didn’t actually find the person I was looking for. news of my phone calls, letters, emails, or other attempted contacts generally found their way to the person I was looking for, which then inspired that individual to contact ME directly, if just to get me to stop.

Turn Your Contacts Into Your Investigative Force

If you handle your contacts right, you can actually tickle their curiosity. Most people like to be involved in interesting events, and they feel good about helping. If you can let people know a bit about why you are looking for your mom or dad, and your story sounds authentic and real, they may be motivated to do some of your work for you, by calling other people that you don’t know about, or have contact information for. They might not feel comfortable giving you phone numbers or email addresses, but they often feel comfortable making those calls themselves.

When All Else Fails, Hire a Professional Investigator

When the internet fails you, and your feet on the ground also fail you, hire a pro. I worked with professional investigators for years. They often pay for access to databases that you and I do not have access to. I have been a subscriber myself to these databases. These databases gather information when you sign up for utilities, credit cards, cell phones, transfer titles, and more.

In most cases, even if someone goes off the grid with social media, they can’t go off the grid for their homes/utilities/accounts. Some people have zero electronic profile; they are truly living in the woods somewhere using cash and growing their own vegetables. But just about everyone else has a cell phone and a place to live.

Armed with this information, a professional investigator can locate the most likely individuals who match the data you provide to them. You can take that information and make further contacts yourself.

Or, you can send the investigator to the location to vet the potential individuals, to see if they are who you think that they are. Your investigator can also do additional searches for documentation confirming your timeline, or fill in the holes. They can help you obtain documents that aren’t available online, such as marriage certificates confirming name changes or offline reports.

Organization Can Make or Break Your Search

Being systematic and thorough are key. But keeping track of your work and what you have learned can also be the difference between success or failure. When you are meticulous about your research and details, you can often find connections among the information you’ve gathered.

For example, I once noticed learned through a client that the person we were looking for was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Unfortunately, this individual had a really common name in the US, the equivalent of John Smith. There were hundreds of individuals across the country with this name. I turned to social media, and began to scour the profiles of all the individuals that had public information for anything useful.

In many instances, people keep their photos, friends, about info, employment and education private. But they fail to make their interests, check-ins, music, hobbies, videos, etc private. After some work (maybe a lot of work), I came across a man who didn’t have a public profile pic, but his interests were public. And I’ll be darned if he wasn’t a Steelers fan. It was a small connection, but we were able to get enough off his interests to build out his profile further and later get in touch with him.

If I had not kept track of the small details, I would not have been able to make use of them in that particular search.

Once You’ve Found Your Missing Parent….Now What?

It is hard to know what to expect when you contact a parent who you’ve never met. You might feel excited, scared, nervous. Remember, your parent might be feeling the same way. They might also be feeling some things that might not make you feel that great. A parent who has been absent for a long time (your whole life) may have had a reason to be, especially if they knew of your existence and chose not to be a part of your life.

You can contact them, or not. It’s up to you. Finding them, even if it was a lot of work, is sometimes still easier than actually taking that first step to reach out.

Before you go, check out one of these great articles from our Mom Advice Line contributors: