Why Adoptees Need Their Birth Certificates

I take my birth certificate for granted. I don’t give it a second thought, even though it was less than two years ago that I got my hands on this document, the original birth certificate with my birth mother’s name in black and white.

my BC and thumb #4

But as an adoptee, I shouldn’t take this piece of paper for granted. The only reason I have it is because I come from Illinois, one of the states that has unsealed birth certificates for adopted people. Many adoptees are not so fortunate. They can’t get their original birth documents because of old-fashioned state laws that keep those papers locked up like cold hard cash in a bank vault. (At least the money hoarders have keys to their safe deposit boxes. No such luck for adoptees who come from the wrong states.)

If you are adopted, the original birth certificate is a key to your origins. It reveals the name or names of your original parents, their hometowns, their ages, where they were living at the time of your birth, even whether or not you have a twin brother or sister. These are basic facts that non-adopted people know from day one. Why should adoptees in the 21st century be kept in the dark? It’s just wrong.

Without my original birth certificate, I never would have been able to find out anything about my mother, Lillian, her children, her husbands or other details about her life and death. My quest to learn about my original family and medical history never would have gone anywhere without that piece of paper. My birth certificate unlocked doors.

Adopted people are not the only ones who want these vital documents unsealed. Lorraine Dusky, a birth mother, makes a compelling case for opening the record vault. “Adopted people are not children all their lives,” she writes. “They grow up and need not only updated family medical information, but they need and desire to be whole and integrated individuals.”

I am glad to see a number of states are starting to recognize the rights of adoptees to their history. In Ohio, adult adoptees will be able to get their original birth certificates under a recent change in state law. Lawmakers in New York and Georgia are considering similar actions. (Here’s an overview of birth certificate access state by state, courtesy of the American Adoption Congress.)

Writing about this has brought back a memory. In 2012, it came in the mail, many weeks after I had requested my birth certificate from the state of Illinois. Until that day, I didn’t have a single document related to my adoption. It was a private affair that occurred soon after my birth in the 1960s in suburban Chicago.

My hands shook a bit as I ripped open the envelope. Inside was a non-certified birth certificate containing an honest answer to that basic question I had wondered about for years: Who is my birth mother?

me and the BC best

The birth certificate dispelled a couple of myths I had entertained. Contrary to what I had suspected, my birth mother was not a member of my adoptive family, nor was she a teenager who got in trouble. Lillian was a married woman of 28 when she had me. Of course, my birth certificate did not fill in all the blanks, especially the one for my father. He was listed as “not legally known.”

Still, it was thrilling to see the facts for the first time. I was no longer the “undocumented” adoptee. Those kernels of truth got me going on a mission to dig up more truths about my family history.

No adoptee should be denied this experience.

18 thoughts on “Why Adoptees Need Their Birth Certificates

  1. Thank you for sharing your story and for advocating for the civil rights of all adoptees.

    I too am one of the lucky ones with tons of pictures of my original birth certificate and pictures of me with my OBC. I wasn’t born in an open state but I jumped through all the hoops and in a couple circumstances, was just plain lucky in order to get my OBC.

    Thank you for mentioning the legislation in Georgia. If anyone would like to sign up for email updates, here is the Georgians for Equal Access to Records (GEAR) website: http://www.obcforga.org/GEAR/Welcome_To_GEAR.html

    Thanks!

    1. We are lucky to have our original birth certificates, Kat. I can’t believe what adoptees go through to get that piece of paper. Thanks for writing.

  2. I am one of the adoptees who CAN’T get a hold of my original birth certificate. Indiana is as backwards as they get. They block me at every step. I would do anything to see that one piece of paper with my origins on it. I am currently searching but not having any success.
    However, I do hold out hope to one day know the truth about myself and my birth family.

    1. I hope you find the answers you’re looking for, Hilary. Let’s hope Indiana lawmakers wake up and change the law so adoptees can get their birth certificates.

    2. I’m not entirely sure how much it would help, or even cost for that matter, but Ancestry.com has just started doing a DNA thing that can help you research your family tree so why use it to discover who you really are? Just a thought

  3. Thanks for sharing, Lynne. From the perspective of a birthmother, I can add that in all likelihood, none of us knew the birth certificates would be altered or you wouldn’t have access to it or our identity when you turned age 18. So many of us were told that our relinquished children would be given their identifying information at age 18 if they wanted it. When we didn’t get that knock on the door by the time our birth kids turned 19 or 20, many of us presumed they never asked for it and had no interest in meeting us. You are so right. The original birth certificate contains such helpful information, including the number of live births prior to your birth, which can help lead the searching adoptee to siblings. Keep up your writing! Great info and heartwarming story.

    1. Julie, your comments remind me of the movie, “Philomena.” Have you seen it? I am glad closed adoptions are falling out of favor. Thanks for writing. :-)

    1. Chelsey Daniels, Iowa is a closed state. We are currently working on getting things changed. Check it out at Iowa Adoptee & Family Coalition on facebook!!!! Big things are happening! JOIN US!

  4. Does anyone have any info about adoptions in Los Angeles, CA? I would like to obtain my original birth certificate. Not sure how to go bout this. Requested it in 1990 and had no luck.

  5. I completely agree. I think once you turn 18 or 21 every adoptee should have a right to obtain the document. It’s not even the fact that I want to find my birth parents it’s just the fact of figuring out your identity. I struggle with it every single day of my life. I am thankful for my adopted family and no one can replace them but you can’t replace genes. My dad’s side of the family is huge on genealogy…sure I care but at the same time I don’t, because I am not genetically related. They might be from English, Scottish, Irish, Italian decent but for me genetically I honestly can’t say what the hell I am. I believe everyone has a right to know where they came from. At least for me it’s more about filling up that emptiness, that identity that you been searching for. I want biological kids someday, and I do want do adopt someday. What do I tell my kids where they came from genetically, If I can’t even define myself genetically. I don’t want them struggling with that because I know the feeling.

  6. I read through all the replies and I can sure see myself. At 47, doesn’t the Legislature think I am old enough to know where I come from? It crazy! I was born in ND, getting information from them is worse than “pulling teeth”. Over the 30 years (yes 30) I’ve been searching I have learned I have a sister a year older than me also given up. You’d think maybe they would offer up a little info about her, but no such luck. I wasn’t even given a birth month, just a year. ND is as old fashioned as they get. I doubt they will ever give up the info and truly, at my age, medical information is almost a must. Just needed to vent a little.

  7. Thank you this article is great. Unfortunately there are too many of us that can’t get access to our original birth certificates. I have been fighting the state of NY for 24 years to get my medical and original birth certificate. I hope one day all adoptees have the access to their original records including birth certificates without having to fight for it.

  8. I was fortunate enough to stumble across mine in the mid-90’s while doing genealogy research at state archives (WV). I had no idea it was available right there on the microfilm roll. Several years later, those microfilm rolls were no longer available in the public room.
    Though my original birth certificate has no father listed, it did let give me enough information about my birth mother to eventually get in touch with that branch of my family.

    1. Hi Staci. That’s my situation, too. I would love to learn about my dad’s side of the family. Have you done any searching to find your father’s family?

      1. Yes, I’ve been actively trying to learn about my paternal family for a couple of years. When I finally located my mother’s family it was, unfortunately, after her death. No one else can provide any clues as to who my father might have been – I came as a surprise to many of her relatives. I’ve received my non-identifying info from the adoption agency and there was very little on him; it did, however, confirm everything I knew about my mother’s family.
        I’ve done autosomal DNA testing and seem to be inching closer on the paternal side.

  9. Unfortunately not all adoptive parents are good parents. My niece has tried to locate her BC but is blocked. Due to her current illness, her family history would be of great assistance. She will just have to keep trying to get what she can from state of CA., She is 44yrs old and has two children of her own. She was adopted by my cousin, who was the worst Mother anyone child could have. It was a popular thing to do so many years ago; but no love was shared then or now. Don’t adoptive parents need to go thru physiological screening?

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