Birth Family Search

Effective November 2016, Korean regulations now require an adoptee to be age 19 to request copies of the Korean file, an assessment of the file, or a search for birth family.

In most cases, what is in our file here at Holt International is the same information that your parents received at the time of the adoption, and comprises everything we are able to release. Because documents can be lost or destroyed over the decades, we are happy to provide you with copies whenever possible. Please see File Copies for additional information.

Due to new adoption regulations in South Korea, effective August 2012, birth parents are no longer allowed to request a search through their adoption agency for the adult child they relinquished, regardless of the country where the adult adoptee now lives.  Adoptees may request a search for birth parents only; they will not conduct searches for other relatives or foster parents.  Prior to 2012 it was permissible for the agencies to search for relatives, foster parents or even the person who found the child.  Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.  However, like all new regulations, this may change over time.

Requesting an assessment is the first step in the process. Holt International and Holt Korea will review your file to determine if there is enough information on which to base a search.  Holt will not begin a search until the assessment process has been completed.



Most frequent questions and answers
  • Confirm that Holt facilitated your adoption.
  • Email you the link to forms noted above or information about Holt Korea’s other partner agencies (as mentioned above).
  • Wait for your request forms to arrive by standard mail.
  • Retrieve your file from our off-site file storage, usually within 2-3 weeks of receipt of completed request forms.
  • Request your assessment from Holt Korea. While we work cooperatively with our overseas partners, we cannot guarantee a specific response time frame. This process can last a few weeks to several months, depending on the time of year, volume of requests and complexity of cases. We appreciate your understanding.
  • Forward your assessment within 2-3 weeks of receipt from Holt Korea.
  • If a search is possible, we will forward a link to the assisted search forms and other requirements (see ‘What you do next’ below).
  • Complete the following forms:
    • Affidavit for Identifying Information (must be notarized).
    • Assisted Search Application (must be notarized).
    • Petition for Disclosure form (a new form is required with each service request)
  • Return the forms above by mail only to Holt along with:
    • An introductory letter to be forwarded to birth family.
    • A current photo of yourself.
    • 3-5 photos of you growing up or with family (optional).
  • Upon receipt of the letter and photos via email, Holt Korea will submit the request for a “People Search” to Korea Adoption Services (KAS), a department of the Korean government. They will then check their registry and provide the current contact information of the birth parent to Holt Korea. This information cannot be released to Holt International or the adoptee.
  • If KAS is unable to locate the correct person in the registry, or the address on file is no longer valid, Holt Korea will notify us and the search will be closed.
    • A closed search does not mean that it cannot be re-opened at some point. The post adoption staff will discuss with you if or when to approach this again.
  • In the case of a married couple who relinquished their child, or an unwed woman who is currently living alone, they will attempt the initial contact by phone only if they feel it is safe to call. They must proceed very cautiously as this contact could endanger the birth parent’s current relationships with family or others.
  • In the case of an unwed birth parent who may now be married, or if they are unsure of his/her marital status, they will send one to three telegrams to the birth parent asking them to contact Holt Korea. Telegrams in Korea are very efficient, and the telegram service will attempt to verify who actually received the delivery, and if the addressee resides at that location.
  • Holt Korea will notify Holt should birth family be found, or when the case is closed because they have received no response. Holt will then notify you of the outcome.

Note: If a search for birth family is not possible based on the information in your files, we can provide a list of other resources should you wish to pursue the search on your own.

We do recommend that adoptees gather a complete set of their documents from their adoptive parents and/or from Holt before beginning a search. If you are unsure if you have a complete copy of your child materials, or your documents have been lost or destroyed over time, we are very happy to provide you with another copy. Korean files, especially for our younger adoptees, may contain exactly the same documents as the U.S. file. Some files may have a few pages more or less, but in general are the same. Files in Korea may also contain intake documents, counseling notes or identifying information for birth family or foster family, depending on how you came into care. Please see File Copies for more information.

In order to determine if a search is possible, your file is reviewed first by Holt International, then by Holt Children’s Services of Korea (Holt Korea). This is referred to as the “assessment.” An assessment of your file is needed to determine if a search for birth family is possible. Holt Korea will review all of the documents in your file, including any intake notes in their possession, and determine if they have enough information to conduct a search. This will depend on how you came into care, how much information was provided to Holt and Holt Korea at that time, and several other factors. Please see File Copies for more information. You are welcome to request the assessment only, without any file copies, at no charge.

If Holt and Holt Korea determine there is enough information on which to base a search, Holt will request you complete some legal forms, and provide an introductory letter and a couple of photos of you growing up and a current photo. Experience has shown that when birth family are contacted, the first thing they ask for is a current photo, and to know how they are, what their life has been like. Only the letter and photos will be forwarded to Holt Korea, via email. The legal documents are for our records, and are required by law.

Here are a few things to think about before and during your search (click here).  Search can be an emotional process for some adoptees; having a good support system of friends and family, as well as Holt, is very important.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most frequent questions and answers

Why can't my birth mother/father be found by name only?

It is nearly impossible to locate someone in Korea by name or name and date of birth only. Because Korean names are only 3 syllables, they have a limited number of names, which are re-used so often. Also, without someone’s identification number, there is no way to locate their family register with the government unless you know the current family chief (head of the family line), who is the eldest living male of that particular family. The identification number is very much like our social security number, and is used to identify that person through the government.

Effective August 2012, Korean law now requires the agency to submit all search requests to Korea Adoption Services (KAS) directly. The agency must provide the birth parent’s full name and identification number, or most recent address in some cases, or a search cannot be conducted.

In Korea, when someone moves, they are required to update their family register with their current contact information. However, sometimes this isn’t done, either because the person doesn’t want to be found, or simply through neglect. In Korea, you can still receive mail, hold a job, etc, without updating your family register. This can happen when a person is trying to avoid bad debts, an abusive ex-spouse, or a desire to “start over.”

Why isn't there an original birth certificate with my birth parents on it?

In Korea, like many countries, a birth certificate is not automatically issued when a child is born. In the U.S. when a baby is born, the hospital or clinic contact the state vital records department and the birth is registered and a birth certificate issued — basically all done automatically. Birth parents simply provide all of the information such as their names and the baby’s name, and the rest is handled by the government. In Korea, babies born in a hospital are often sent home with a “certificate” that is more of a keepsake than a legal document. The government isn’t notified, the child isn’t added to anything automatically, and most hospital/clinic records were destroyed after a certain period of time. Many clinics destroyed their records after 10 years, some sooner. Although most records are now kept electronically, this is a relatively recent practice.

The Korean government requires children be added to their parents’ family register, which is more like a family tree, and contains everyone in that particular family line. However, many children aren’t added until they need to present their family register to enroll in school or something similar. Children born out of wedlock, historically, were never added to the family register as this would inform and expose everyone in that family. Women remain on their father’s family register until they are married, then they are transferred to their husband’s register. In 1991, Korean law changed to allow a woman to be the family chief and have the family registry under her own name. Please see Background and Historical Information for a description of the family register.

When can I have my birth parents' full names?

According to current Korean regulations, the agencies are not allowed to release the birth parents names or contact information without that person’s express permission. Even if the birth parent can’t be found or has passed away, Holt Korea is not allowed to provide us or the adoptee with any identifying information. Regulations are established by Korea Adoption Services, and may change at some point in the future.

When my birth parent is found will I receive his/her contact information?

Birth parent contact information isn’t released without that person’s permission, just like Holt wouldn’t release your identifying information without your permission. In the case of search and reunion, it’s important that both parties are comfortable with the contact and that the new relationship starts out on the right foot.  Holt and Holt Korea can help with that, and will be very happy to exchange information when you’re both comfortable and the appropriate forms have been completed.  By utilizing the agencies, translations will be handled for you, but you are certainly welcome to be in touch directly when you both agree.[/expand]

How long does a search take?

International searches can happen in a short time, but most are a very lengthy process. There is no set time frame. It truly depends on the amount of information provided at the time of relinquishment, and KAS’s response time to Holt Korea.  Time of year, information available, current workloads all impact the time frames.  Holt and Holt Korea are very committed to helping adoptees in any way they can.

How often will I be updated?

Depending on their current work load, Holt International may or may not receive search udpates from the staff at Holt Korea. Although they are committed to reuniting adoptees with their birth families, resources are limited. They will update us if/when the birth parent is contacted, or when the search is closed. Holt will notify you when we receive the update. Again, this can be a long process.