Laws regarding an original birth certificate (OBC) are changing all the time. Some states have completely opened sealed adoption records for any individual or family member of the adoption triad. Other states have only unsealed them for certain time frames or only for adoptees. Some states only opened them after giving birth parents ample time to have their names removed. Unfortunately, most states still have all records sealed except by order of the court under special circumstances. There are many organizations working diligently to have laws changed. To learn what you can do to support adoptee rights, visit here and here.
In California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming OBCs are available by court order. You can petition the court to open your records for any reason, and it never hurts to try. The worst thing they can do is say no. The most successful petitions are for the following reasons:
- If there is a medical circumstance in which contact between the adoptee and birth family would be beneficial.
- If an adoptee has already reunited with the birth parents and they have given consent for release of the document.
- If you are all or part Native American the Indian Child Welfare Act allows release of the original birth certificate under such circumstances to assist in the enrollment of a tribe. If you have taken DNA testing for ethnicity, you should include documentation.
In most closed states you can still obtain your non-identifying information, which will aid you in a search and reunion. Also check for a mutual consent adoption registry in your birth state. Registries may give you medical, identifying, and/or contact information. Idaho, Utah, and Vermont may allow you access to your original birth certificate through the state registry.
In Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin you can order a non-certified copy of your OBC from the Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics if you meet the necessary criteria. In most of the states those documents are not kept on site, so you must mail in your request with payment clearly marked “SEEKING PRE-ADOPTION BIRTH RECORD” and wait for it to be mailed to you. Please check the government website for your birth state for address and fee amount.
In Oregon you must request your OBC from the circuit court where the adoption took place.
In Hawaii, a request will result in unrestricted access to the entire adoption file. The OBC will be in the file.
Adoptees are continuing the fight for equal rights until all the birth documents are unsealed.
Ashley Foster is a freelance writer. She is a wife and a mother of two, currently residing in Florida. She loves taking trips to the beach with her husband and sons. As an infant, she was placed with a couple in a closed adoption. Ashley was raised with two sisters who were also adopted. In 2016, she was reunited with her biological family. She advocates for adoptees’ rights and DNA testing for those who are searching for family. Above all, she is thankful that she was given life.