Starting the Search: My Advice to Salvadoran Adoptees

Starting the Search: My Advice to Salvadoran Adoptees

Dear Salvadoran Adoptee,

I often get asked for advice on searching for your birth family, so I created this page to share all of the information I have on the subject.

The first thing you should know is that I did not actually search for my family, they found me. As a result I don’t know much about how to search, other than to contact the two organizations mentioned below.

I can however give you some advise on the experience of reuniting with your birth family, should you be fortunate to find them. Be prepared for the experience to throw your life way out of balance. Finding your birth family opens Pandora's box and can bring up some very difficult feelings. Almost all adoptee that I have met have struggled with the aftermath their reunion. I'm not telling you this to scare you, just to let you know that the road ahead will not be easy.

You might be wondering why even look for your birth family? I can give you two reasons.

  1. The pain of not knowing is worse than whatever difficult situations might come up. One of the hardest emotions I ever had to deal with was not know. I just wanted an answer about who I was and were I came from. You might be scared to search but not doing so might make you feel something even worse, regret.
  2. Your birth family wants to know you’re alive. As hard as it is for you to not know about your family, it is even harder for them. What makes Salvadoran adoptions different from regular adoptions is that many times parents did not willingly up their children. More than anything they just want to know what happened to you.

To be clear I am not suggesting you have to have a relationship with your biological family, that is totally up to you. I just think you should know that if you were adopted from El Salvador in the 1980s there is a good chance you were not willingly giving up. If all you do is let your birth family know you are a live and well, that will bring them much peace of mind.

Searching for and reuniting with your birth family is nothing like the movies. El Salvador and it's people have suffered a lot and this can be really hard to deal with. However, I don't think that should stop you. While you may not find exactly what you want, you get exactly what you need.

Good Luck,
Nelson/Roberto


There are two primary organizations that you can contact to help with your search, Pro-Búsqueda and the National Search Commission.

Pro-Búsqueda

The primary organization is [Pro-Búsqueda], or Pro-b for short. They are based in El Salvador and have helped reunite over 250 families, inducing mine in 1997. When you contact you they will want you to take a DNA test. Pro-Búsqueda has a DNA database which allows then to quickly match family members. They have been in operation since 1994 and do important work.

The only downside to working with Pro-b is that they are a small organization with a large caseload. Also thy are not great at providing support for non Spanish speaking people, or those who live outside El Savlador. It will be up to you to push your case forward and keep in contact with them. If a period of time has gone by and you haven't heard anything, don't be affriad to ask for an update. Just keep in mind that searches can take several years and you will have to be patient.

Below is an interview I did with Pro-b in 2013. It will give you an idea what kind of work they do.

The National Commission

Another option is the National search commission which was established around 2011. It has helped reunite a handful of families but struggles with funding. I personally do not have a lot of experience with them but I have heard good things.

Update May 2020: Their website appears to be down, but they appear to have active Facbook and Twitter pages.

Website: http://www.cnbelsalvador.org.sv
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/comisionnacionalbusquedaelsalvador/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CNBelsalvador


1) Inside the Journey Podcast. As part of our work on my upcoming documentary film we have been recording a podcast "Inside The Journey." We have interviewed several adoptees about their experiences. Here is a playlist of those interviews for you to listen to.

2) Physicians for Human Rights Testimonials. In 2007 my friends Imelda and Suzane shared their stories at a press conference hosted by the human rights organization P.H.R.

3) Missing Mila, Finding Family: An International Adoption in the Shadow of the Salvadoran Civil War. This memoir, written by my adoptive mother Margret Ward, goes into detail about my adoption and reunion. The book also covers the experiences of my biological family and a few stories from other disappeared children.

Missing Mila, Finding Family
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4) Ana’s Miracle: Nelson/Roberto’s personal reunion blog In 2007 I started this blog as a project to help my adoptive mother write her book, Missing Mila Finding Family. I no longer write on the site but it contains some of my earliest writing about the adoption and reunion.

https://www.anasmiracle.com

5) We Never Stopped Looking for You: The Disappeared Children of the Canoas Massacre, El Salvador. This is a mini documentary film that was created by the organization Unfinished Sentences and tells “the stories of the survivors and their search for their loved ones”

6) New York times article about Peter Cassidy-Siberian (1999)

What Did You Do in the War, Mama?
Tina Rosenberg article on the thousands of children who ‘disappeared’ during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war and who are now growing up to face the truth about their past and reclaim their families, if possible; says reunions can be happy occasions but also wrenching and disruptive ones for the chil…

7) 60 minutes interview with Gina Craig (1996)

War Orphan
During El Salvador’s 1980s civil war, its government punished rebels by kidnapping their children and putting them up for adoption by foreigners. Steve Kroft travels to El Salvador with adoptee Gina Craig, a teenager living in Ohio, to reunite with her Salvadoran family.

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Nelson/Roberto

Separated from my family during El Salvador's civil war, by death and adoption, I am a writer, photographer, and storyteller.

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