The Identifying Vs. Non-Identifying Debacle in Adoption Searches

One of the first conundrums you might run across in an adoption search are the two different kinds of information that can be requested - identifying and non-identifying.

Some states will gladly pass along non-identifying information to a searcher while others are more liberal and will give up identifying information.

Before you start your search, you should have a good grasp on what exactly makes up identifying information versus non-identifying information.

For every adoption search, the searcher is seeking to discern the identity of a person. The searcher could be an adoptee searching for a biological family member or the searcher could be a biological family member searching for an adoptee. Regardless, the searcher is on a quest for basic information with which to identify the person they are seeking.

Herein lies the identifying vs. non-identifying debacle. If it were only so simple to clearly demarcate these two terms.

Unfortunately, what one state might clearly define as identifying information, another defines as non-identifying. The lines are blurred.

I know. It’s muddled madness.

But here, I am giving the clearest definitions of the two, along with examples so you can be a better researcher, more clearly define your own search criteria, and optimize your communications with the persons who hold clues to the identity for whom you are searching.

Identifying Information

Identifying information is any piece of information that can independently be used to potentially uncover the identity of a person.

Some typical examples of identifying information are first, middle and last name or just first and last name; address; phone number; social security number; and driver’s license number.

Non-Identifying Information

Non-identifying information is any piece of information that cannot be independently used to potentially uncover the identity of a person.

Some typical examples of non-identifying information are name initials; age; height; weight; race; religious preference; job description; social history; physical description; birth date; birth place; marital status; educational history; hobbies and interests; family history; and medical history.

My Advice

Although pieces of non-identifying information can’t independently be used to identify a person, the right combination of non-identifying information can certainly give some pretty outstanding clues. It can also be quite handy for a searcher in verifying the identity of the person you are searching for. So definitely don’t discount whatever non-identifying information you might be able to get your hands on.

The most valuable piece of advice I can give you is to be overly polite and kind to whoever holds information you are seeking. Don’t be shy in asking for the information you need or even asking for more than they originally give you. If the person you are speaking with seems especially unhelpful or hard-nosed, find someone else to speak to. Get creative in how you ask for information. Ask more than one person if you don’t get what you want the first time.

Happy searching!