4 Ways to Access Your Adoption Records

Regardless of the reasons, finding ways to access your adoption records can be extremely helpful in answering your questions.

Jennifer Mellon March 13, 2018
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At some point, many adults who were adopted as children seek to have their questions answered about their origin story, their birth family, or adoption. They may have a desire for medical information or to better understand where they came. Others would like to be reunited with their birth parents or siblings and seek answers that will lead to a reunion. Regardless of the reasons, finding ways to access your adoption records can be extremely helpful in answering your questions.

Closed and Open Adoptions

Most adoptions from the 1930s through 1975 were closed. This meant that many children were placed shortly after birth and their records were closed. Birth records and certificates were also known to include wrong identifying information to protect both the birth mother and adoptive parents. Due to social stigma at that time, many women kept their pregnancy and birth a secret and even some adoptive parents shared that their adopted child was their birth child.

It was not until the 1990s that a majority of adoption service providers offered open adoption as an option. Societal views towards adoption have continued to evolve until this day. More education on the psychological effects on both the birth child and birth parents from closed adoptions, an adopted person’s “right to know,” and the loss of stigma toward adoption brought a change in tide toward more open adoptions today.

However, these changes still do not change the fact that at least tens of thousands of adopted Americans still do not have access to their adoption records. All 50 states currently have their own regulations regarding adoption records. This list continues to evolve. As individuals who were adopted seek to get answers regarding their birth family, there are a number of ways to access adoption records

1. Hiring a Private Investigator

Hiring a private investigator to help with your search for adoption records can prove to be the most inexpensive and efficient way to find the answers you are seeking. As a licensed professional within the state in which you were adopted, they have access to databases and research tools that unlicensed citizens do not have access. Private Investigators can also be incredibly helpful in using pieces of seemingly unimportant information to complete the puzzle. The best private investigators can take information on your birth, albeit little information many times, and use family rumors, interviews with locals, and various records to get you the information you desire. They also can help you with the process of accessing sealed records and also in establishing contact with your birth family.

2. Petition the Court

There are steps you can take, even if your state keeps adoption records sealed, to obtain your original birth certificate. First, contact the clerk in the county in which you were adopted and ask how you can obtain your original birth certificate. The county clerk can be incredibly helpful educating you on the local rules regarding sealed adoption records and how to access them. You may need to get a petition form to petition the court for such records and the clerk can be helpful in providing these forms.

Once the petition form is complete, the clerk will review and set a court date. Once this date is set, you will meet with the judge to explain why you need access to your adoption record information. It must be stressed that many, if not most, judges will require emergency situations and not personal reasons to open sealed adoption records. Medical reasons are usually the most prevalent reason why a judge would grant your request. Once a request is granted, the judge may give you immediate access or you will be requested to obtain a confidential intermediary to do so.

3. Reunion Registries

Adoption.com has one of the most comprehensive adoption reunion registries on the web. By registering and viewing the compiled data, you can make your information available to potential members of your biological family who are also registered and viewing the registry. The adoption forums on Adoption.com are open and offer incredibly useful information for you as you begin your search.

4. Contact the Adoption Service Provider

Contacting the agency or attorney who completed your adoption can prove incredibly helpful in getting access to your adoption records. If your attorney has since retired or is deceased, see if those records were kept by their respective firm. Most adoption agencies have some record retention policy going back to their founding. Speaking with members of the agency can at least get you in the right direction in finding information on your adoption and the records they may have.

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Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.


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