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Adoptee’s Search for Birth Family both Rewarding and Frustrating

Olivia Wolf visits Tianzifang
Olivia Wolf visits Tianzifang in search for her birth parents

By Olivia Wolf
AsAmNews Staff Writer

Since returning from China over a month ago, I have talked to dozens of adoptees through Facebook, WeChat, and Skype. I truly am grateful for the online community of adoptees and adoptive families that have supported me throughout my search for my birth family.

Although the number of Chinese people reaching out to me has slowed, I am still receiving new messages every once in while from searching birth families and others who would like to help me or just wish me luck.

About a week ago, a man I have nicknamed Tea Man Fred who was very helpful to me during my trip to China, made his way to Longhui County to collect DNA from a possible match.

In addition to continuing my own search, I have also been searching for the birth children of a few Chinese families. One is a girl who was adopted from the Ma’anshan Social Welfare Institute in Anhui province. She was born in June 1996, and her Chinese name is Ma Zi Ying (马姿英).

After posting about Ma Zi Ying on Facebook, a woman who thought she might have a connection to the adoptee messaged me. Within a short time I was messaging both the potential match and her adoptive mother. I was so excited for this girl that might be able to meet her birth family. I waited about a week for her reply. Then I finally received a short message from her, “Not interested.”

I was devastated.

After all the work I had done to find my own birth family, and after meeting all the adoptees and birth families who were putting in the effort to find theirs, it was a huge disappointment when I essentially handed this girl a very likely match, and she was “not interested.”

It seemed rude that she wasn’t at all considerate about the work that had been put into making this connection or what the birth father had gone through these last 20 years in his search to find his daughter.

I don’t know what to say to the father now. “Sorry, she doesn’t want to talk to you?”

This experience discouraged me from putting in the time and emotional effort to continue to help other families. What was the point if there wasn’t an interest on both sides?

Then a man on WeChat sent me a news clip of a Shaoyang family looking for their daughter Shao You Fu who was born in early 1999 and snatched by family planning.

I posted the video on Facebook, and many are now searching for this Shao You Fu, who more than likely goes by another name now. The rapid response of the adoptee community gave me hope that this family might be able to find their girl.

In addition to finding adoptees for birth families, I have also been contacted by adoptees who are seeking advice on how to begin searching for their birth families.

It was odd to find myself in a position where I was giving advice about this, since only a month ago I would have had no idea what to say.

My first suggestion to adoptees, though, would be to submit your DNA on 23andMe. Even if you do not feel committed to finding your birth family, I would encourage you to at least do this.

If you have a birth family that is making great strides to find you, there is a chance that they have or will submit their DNA here, since DNAConnect is sending kits to searching Chinese families for free. For adoptees, doing 23andMe requires minimal effort and is significantly less costly than travelling to China or hiring a birth searcher.

In terms of traveling to China yourself, I would recommend making flyers to hand out in public spaces, such as in parks. Include a baby photograph as well as a current photograph. Include essential information, such as estimated birth date, adoption date, finding location, Chinese name, and a way to contact you (don’t use gmail. It is blocked in China). Leave some details out, so that possible matches can verify the facts.

By far, the most helpful method for spreading my story was through the media. Personally, I just walked into the newspaper building and asked them to write a story for me. This seemed to be an acceptable way of doing things. You can also call ahead of time.

I didn’t always have a translator, but I would recommend hiring one. Learn Chinese if you can. At least know your birth name and how to write it.

I would also say that going back to your orphanage and the spot where you were abandoned (the finding spot) may or may not be helpful. There may be documents at the orphanage that your adoptive family does not have. Take photographs of these and record the translations. Talk to anyone that may have been involved in your case.

Make friends, make connections. Be aware that for various reasons, people may not give you the whole truth. However, you never know who or what may be helpful, and even the lies can help you discover something new.  

Having my dad in China was helpful. He was the only White American that we saw in Shaoyang, and that drew quite a bit of attention to us. He is also 70-years-old, and there is a certain amount of respect granted to elders there.

Olivia Wolf with her dad at Mao Statue at Hunan University in Changsha
Olivia Wolf with her dad at Mao Statue at Hunan University in Changsha

Traveling with another person also lessened my stress, since the burden of searching wasn’t just on me. I am lucky to have parents who are supportive of me; I have since learned of other adoptees whose parents are not at all receptive to their children’s desires to search.

When in China, be open and honest about your story, but be careful too. Be persistent. Many people will be interested, but also know that some people might not be. Be prepared to be turned down.

Make social media accounts on WeChat, QQ, and Weibo to post your flyer and any media stories that have been written about you. Post your information on Baobeihuijia, a website for missing children, and Dengzhewo, a website for missing people.

If you are unable to go to China, look into hiring a Chinese birth searcher, such as Xixi. Join adoptee Facebook groups such as Family Ties: Chinese Adoptee Birth Family Search or China’s Children International. The people in these groups are a great resource and many are enthusiastic about helping other adoptees.

Lastly, don’t give up hope. The journey to finding birth family may be long and difficult–for a lucky few it was short and easy–but you are sure to learn more about yourself and meet amazing people along the way.


China and Chinese Adoption











Birth Family Searchers


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Documentaries/Films and News Articles






Thank you to all the adoptees and adoptive families who have helped me compile these resources.

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  1. RE: Adoptee’s Search for Birth Family Both Rewarding and Frustrating: My two adopted children both found their birth parents. They were both born in America however and adopted thru the Social Services Department. Both times this org was not allowed to give out information so they did searches in other very creative ways. My oldest has not been happy with his birth family and is bitter, and my second is very glad to have found them and now has a very extended family connection. In fact she flew with an aunty and full blooded brother to visit the grave of her paternal grandparents and meet some cousins. They have welcomed her completely. So keep looking. But do not expect a certain outcome. Still it provides something missing and that in itself is good.

  2. RE: Adoptee’s Search for Birth Family both Rewarding and Frustrating: Great story!

    I encourage more along this theme. I am a Vietnamese adoptee who came to the US aboard Operation Babylift in April 1975. I would be interested in an article about Asian adoptees who have not had any connections to biological relatives since their surrender but who now have a biological child.

    In my situation, that was a profound moment: to realize how much biological connections matter after growing up knowing how much love can accomplish. And yet I also gained a greater appreciation for the family who decided to adopt as well as the family who have to give me up.

    Adoption is crazy-confusing for every stake-holder and yet there’s so much to be gained even through the losses. I enjoy reading stories like Olivia has posted because everyone has a different journey through their adoptive lense and yet each one unites us with a common theme that makes us a uniquely supportive family in this world.

  3. Hi Olivia: Just to let you know that “Shao You Fu” was matched to the Shaoyang birth family this week, and they will be in contact with each other soon. Of course, we also very much understand the frustration you experienced trying to reunite adoptees with their birth parents. You do wonder if the project is worth it at times. But reunions such as this one do make it worthwhile.



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