Until recently, most U.S. adoptees were unable to access their original birth certificates (OBC).
The original laws were created to give the biological parents privacy, as well as protect them from the (at the time) negative stigmas associated with unwed parents. Any information that could be used to identify the biological parents was sealed and unavailable to anyone.
However, the laws are changing, and now many adult adoptees in many states can access their sealed adoption records and OBCs.
Which states allow adoptees to access their birth records?
Since birth records are subject to state regulations, only adoptees in certain states can access their original birth certificates.
Depending on the state you were born and adopted in, you may be allowed to access your birth records, including your original birth certificate.
The following is a current list of states where adoptees have unrestricted access to their birth records:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- Rhode Island
How to get your OBC in states with restricted access
If your access is restricted in your state, then you will only be able to get your original birth certificate if you meet certain qualifications or in specific situations. For example:
- You have a court order
- You are in a mutual consent adoption registry
- Identifying information has been removed from the OBC
- Your birth parents and/or adoptive parents have given consent
- A summary of the information in the OBC is available
- There is pending legislation concerning birth record unlimited access
However, in some areas, the birth parents, or even the adoptive parents, can use a disclosure veto to deny access to the original birth records under any circumstances.
What happens when adoption and birth records are sealed?
After the adoption process is finalized, the adoptive parents will receive a new amended birth certificate with their names, instead of the birth parents’ names. However, the original birth certificate is sealed and stored securely at the state Vital Records Office.
Previously, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to access adoption birth records. Social stigmas against pregnancies outside of marriage made privacy extremely important for birth parents. In addition, there just wasn’t a significant need to access original birth records. Even if you knew your birth parents’ names, it was difficult to locate them, especially if they relocated or you were adopted by parents from a different state or country. Science and medicine were much less advanced, as well, and family health history simply wasn’t that useful or important.
In recent years, however, there is growing need for information on adoptees’ biological parents. The internet has made it much easier for adoptees to contact their birth parents, if they have their names. Medical advancements have also made it more important than ever to know your family’s medical history.
However, it is also important to protect birth parents’ privacy, especially if they do not want any future contact with their child and/or do not want anyone to know that they had a child.
So, all U.S. states, as well as American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico, have established procedures to allow adoptive parents and guardians of adopted minors to access information that cannot be used to identity the birth parents. Most states also allow adult adoptees over 18 and their birth siblings to request access to non-identifying information.
What is considered non-identifying information?
Non-identifying information can allow adoptees to learn more about their family health history, as well as their origins and culture, without giving away the names of their birth parents. This information may include:
- Adoptee’s place and date of birth
- Age and general physical description of their birth parents
- Birth parents’ ethnicity and religion
- Birth parents’ medical history
- Birth parents’ education and occupation (at the time of adoption)
- Potential siblings
What is considered identifying information?
Identifying information can be any data that may allow an individual to identify the adoptee, their birth parents, or other biological relatives. This may include:
- Current and/or past names
- Places of employment
Most states require consent from the birth parents to released identifying information, unless the adoptee or their legal guardians have a court order.
Since birth records regulations vary so much, it’s important to check official sources to learn more about your state’s laws, so you can learn more about how to access your birth records.