Many adoptees and birth parents are in favor of restoring original birth certificates access to adopted citizens. Despite this, an old adoption practice of sealing birth certificates from adoptees remains in place in most states.

Some Background

While common today, sealed birth certificates were not always a part of adoption. The practice of sealing adoption records became common in the early 20th century. Both infertility out of wedlock births carried much greater social stigma at this time than they do now. But, the birth records themselves typically remained available to the adopted persons. Barring adoptees from their own birth certificates came in later decades.

The reasons cited for sealing adoption records included protecting adoptive families from the stigma of raising another’s illegitimate child, the ability to keep the adoption a secret from the adoptee, and mitigating adoptive families’ fear of the biological parents locating and returning for their children.

Another driving force was the influence of agencies who engaged in unethical or illegal adoption practices. Open records risked uncovering their actions.

The reason we often hear for sealing birth certificates from adoptees is to protect the anonymity of birth parents. This, however, was never a consideration in sealing these records. And, adoption law itself does not provide for such anonymity.

Newspaper clipping, The Sacramento Bee, 22 January 1935.  Bill to Keep Adoptions Secret is Introduced.
The Sacramento Bee, 22 January 1935, Page 6
“Bill To Keep Adoptions Secret Is Introduced Assemblyman Charles W Fisher of Alameda County Introduced two bills yesterday which would require all adoption records be filed with the state department of vital statistics and would place the records on a secret file Fisher said there have been cases In Southern California where unscrupulous persons have obtained access to the adoption records and blackmailed the adopted parents by threatening to tell the child it was adopted.”

The Current Status

Currently, only a handful of U.S. states (Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawai’i, Kansas, Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island) have equal access rights for adopted persons to access their own original birth certificates. In all other states, adoptees are the only citizens who do not have unfettered access to their original birth certificates. All others, including those given up for adoption but never legally adopted, enjoy the right to their own unaltered birth records.

Everyone should have the same right to the record that holds the facts of his or her birth.