International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR)

by Anthony S. Vilardi

     It wasn’t until Emma May Vilardi pursued answers to why she had been afflicted by so many illnesses that she was to learn that ancestors and genetics were the key to the answers. Daring a Probate Judge to unseal an adoption record, she quickly learned that her ancestors had succumbed to the same diseases.
     Isn’t it true that all adoptees have wondered at sometime in their lives about their birth family and their health? Where would an adoptee go to learn their birth family’s medical history? Most adoptees do not know a name or a place where adopted from to make such an inquiry. Would any medical history recorded be current? I doubt it, since most birth parents do not know where to update vital medical history, especially when the placement was a private one or the agency is gone. Private placements offer no access to the adoptee upon reaching age of adulthood when the attorney records are the only placement records and the attorney had retired or died. Not all illnesses or diseases were known at time of placement and many had surfaced after the fact of the adoptee’s birth. Now what?
     The answer was obvious to Emma May, and with an endorsement from the Academy of Pediatrics and the support of pioneer adoption movement leaders, she launched the International Soundex Reunion Registry. For the first time, all who had a need or a desire for contact with their kin, had a place to make themselves available to each other. It was strictly mutual, no intrusion, and it was a free service. Announcements were sent to all social services to affiliate with ISRR and to refer inquiries from searchers to this new registry. In 1975, the State of Montana was first to affiliate with ISRR. Today many states provide some forms of post-adoption services resulting from the demands of our growing adoption community. Most of these agencies impose some restrictions, fees and many must wait long periods of time for processing applications. This is unacceptable where time is of the essence. Post-adoption services are not a priority when there are funding constraints.
     Is any registry the sole solution to resolve adoption social issues? Absolutely not! Reunion registries are only one of a searcher’s tool. A greater understanding and support is essential if society is to provide for the unique needs of the American adoption community.
     Let’s not deny a birth mother’s inquiry to learn the actual date and sex of the child she bore. How absurd to comment, we are sorry that is identifying information, “You should of remembered!” Or when an adoptee asks, “Can you please tell me where I was born?” “Sorry, that’s identifying info.” Is something wrong with this picture? You bet! Some people are incapable to understand the meaning of their responses to those inquiring. When a birth occurs in one state and the adoption in another state neither state seems capable or willing to provide some post adoption service. This, too, is sad. The lack of information or misinformation are obstacles the registry must works through to determine if there is a match. A crystal ball would help.
     A registry service is not intrusive. Reunions go well for most. Registrants choose their means of communication, although most want to meet as soon as possible. Many observations were noted from the many thousands of matches. Most notable are birth mother’s comments that, “at last there’s closure.” Yes, it’s true there was closure in one chapter of their book of life, however it opened up a new chapter, title: “relationships.” What did the adoptee get from their reunion? They call it “connection.” They all sought answers about their ancestors. So many, many questions to ask about health, looks, characteristics, traits, conception and placement. They love to find siblings. Adoptees love siblings. These are normal needs for anyone to know answers to. Adoptees do not seek a replacement for adoptive parents. They dearly love their adoptive parents whom have nurtured and loved them most of their lives. They only wish that their parents would be understanding of their need for answers. Where the adoptive parents have been supportive in their child’s quest, these reunions have faired very well.
     Do registrants to a registry match need advice? Absolutely! Expectations of what each will experience differ vastly. The ISRR staff is quick to provide counseling to registrants. Adoption support organizations can certainly help and publications are now available to address the issues of feelings and expectations of a reunion. Good readings for anyone.
     What would ISRR support? That’s easy. First, total access to an original certificate of birth for the adoptee. Second, an amendment to all state vital statistics act to provide birth parents a non-certified copy of their child birth certificate. Its use is informational and it does confirm sex, date and place of their child’s birth and name of attending physician. It may be the only document a birth mother would ever receive about her relinquished child.
     Will that help us? You bet it would. Accurate information helps make many more reunions.
     At this writing, ISRR maintains registrations for more than 174,000 registrants. The ratio of adoptees to birth parents and family has remained constant through the years. Five adoptees register for every three birth families. Obviously, the supposition that birth mothers do not want to be found has no validity. Also, the cause of the pregnancy is not a deterrent to a reunion. Births resulting from incest and rape are included. Some have admitted abandonment of their child. Although rare, ISRR has reunited a once abandoned child with her birth mother and two full siblings. Very few will admit to such a deed.
     For the many families this registry had reunited, it was for most, probably their only opportunity for connection to each other. Yet for many, ISRR remains perhaps their only source of hope that someday they too will be reunited.
     It was a remarkable woman with a vision and courage who undertook such an important humane task.
     This registry is Emma May Vilardi’s legacy to the adoption community.
     Emma May Vilardi, nee Sutton, was born in Kansas City, Missouri on June 23, 1922; she died on July 9, 1990.
     The ISRR Executive Board of Trustees has been entrusted to ensure for the future generations the continuing operation of the registry. United today for the reunions of tomorrow. Call ISRR at (775) 882-7755, or visit our website at for information and forms.

Excerpted from the October 2001 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2001 ISRR