An autoethnography of an adoptee’s search for, and reunion with, her birth family while pursuing higher education


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Adoption has been an important way to create families over the years. While there has been a shift in recent years to encourage open adoptions, where the biological and adoptive families stay in contact after the adoption, many adoptees are coming from closed adoptions, where there is no contact or information shared about the biological family until the adoptees reach the appropriate age to search (Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association [IFAPA], 2014). These adoptees often come of legal age to search while pursuing higher education, and while there is significant research on adopted children, specific research on adopted college students who have searched, or are searching, for their biological families is lacking. In this qualitative study, I investigated my experience of searching for my biological family while pursuing higher education in both undergraduate and graduate school. This research is grounded in several methodological frameworks, including Arnett’s (2000) emerging adulthood theory, Turner’s (1969) concept of liminality, and Schlossberg’s (2011) transition theory. I utilized autoethnography as the methodology for this study. I, the researcher, am also the primary participant in and focus of this study, and I utilized data from my own personal journal entries, documentation, publications, and photographs. Through my research, I found three themes that describe my search and reunion process: adoptee search letdown, adoptee search benefit, and adoptee search identity. This research is pertinent to higher education professionals because there will be adopted college students on every campus who will need to be supported as they might experience adoptee search letdown and adoptee search benefit. Adopted college students are experiencing identity development with an added layer of not knowing their biological family, and when the search for that biological family happens in college, it is important for them to be surrounded by higher educational practitioners who can support that search and their quest for missing pieces of their identity.



Emerging adulthood, Autoethnography, Transracial adoption, Adoptee search and reunion, Adopted college students

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Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Special Education, Counseling and Student Affairs

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Christy D. Craft