Why Having an Address for Your Birth Family May Not Be as Important as You Think

When selecting someone to search for your child’s Guatemalan birth mother there are a lot of things to consider and you will want to make sure you choose the searcher that is right for your family.  Recently I have seen advice being circulated that focuses on making sure your searcher will provide the birth family’s address.  It appears there may be some searchers who do not provide this information in their search reports or who charge extra for it.

While it makes sense to have the family’s current address and you should certainly verify with searchers that you will receive this information as part of the search fee, there are several reasons why the address isn't as important as you may think in being able to maintain contact with your family. Here are some that come to mind:

  1. Most Guatemalan addresses are not exact street addresses.  Unless your family lives in the central part of a well populated city or town they will not have a street address such as we are used to seeing.  This is true of the vast majority of birth families and one of the many reasons searching can be difficult.  Even in official government records, addresses are vague and rarely list a street name and number. It is common to see addresses such as “ the village of Montañita, the Community of Agraria, Malacatan, San Marcos” -- not terribly helpful if several hundred people families live in Agraria and there is no clear, official boundary of where the village of Monañita begins and ends. 

  2. Many birth mothers are illiterate so addresses are not remembered as street names and numbers but rather as logistical markers.  It is common when asking someone where they live to be told something like, “I live in the house that is down the hill past the church and three houses after the red door.”

  3. Most towns do not use street signs.  While streets generally have names in most towns it is not common to see those streets well labeled.  

  4. Mail delivery in Guatemala is extremely unreliable.  When I lived in Antigua (which does have street addresses but unreliable street signage) it once took six months for a letter to reach me from the U.S.  In more rural areas the mailman usually does not have a street address and needs to either happen to know the family he is delivering the mail to or be willing to walk around a particular neighborhood asking where the family lives. The mail system is not widely used and many companies such as the electric company hire private couriers who deliver bills on bicycle rather than use the mail system.

  5. Families who live in poverty often do not own property and therefore move frequently.  So even if you have an address for your birth family when they are found it may not be where they will be living in a few  months.

  6. With mail delivery being unreliable, addresses being inexact and families moving often it would be easy for a letter to fall into the hands of someone other than the birth mother. If the letter contains sensitive information or photos of a Guatemalan child who has obviously been adopted it could be dangerous for the birth mother in her community.

For these reasons not only sending letters is difficult and unreliable, even having someone other than your original searcher visit the family can be difficult.  Fortunately there are other options to maintain contact such as phone, Facebook, email and an on-the-ground contact, although each of those has its own challenges.  I’d love to hear what is working for you either, in the comments below or via email.