March 5, 2014

Why Do Adoptees Need Their Original Birth Certificates?
An Interview With julie j

Today it’s my privilege to introduce my friend, julie j.  We met at Lost Daughters where we are both sisters/bloggers.  I’m relentlessly drawn to kind people. Collecting them as friends is sort of an addiction. So that totally explains why I quickly felt an affinity with julie j. Yes, the small ‘j’s’ are on purpose. No need to correct my grammar.  

Not only is julie j one of the kindest, most helpful people I know --- she's also an absolute treasure trove of information on all things OBC’s, ABC’s and so much more. And... she agreed to do an interview here today on that subject. Read more about the amazingness that is julie j in her bio at the end of this post. 

Here we go: 

Deanna: Most people have no idea that the majority of adoptees do not have their actual birth certificate. Could you please explain to those reading today, what most adoptees have versus the rest of the population?

julie j: Yes, it would be my pleasure to share information on this subject, Deanna. Everyone born in the United States has a birth certificate filled out and placed on file with the state of their birth. This is a historical document that accurately records the details of their birth as it actually happened – the who, what, where, when, etc. Everyone is only born once, so those facts will never, ever change, no matter how many times legal custody of that child may later change. In that respect, everyone in the population is all the same so far.

When someone is adopted at any point in their lives, even in all step-parent adoptions, the court will issue a final adoption decree. This specifies who the adults are who will now be legally responsible for the child. The states don’t stop there though, even though they can and should. They will (unnecessarily) “seal” that individual’s original birth certificate away, in most cases forever, from everybody, including from the individuals themselves. That means in most states, the truth is locked away somewhere and nobody is generally allowed to access it. The state will then create a fake, or “amended” certificate that the individual will be forced to use for all purposes for the rest of their life. 

How is this document different from their real one? Apart from the filing dates, these are designed to resemble real birth certificates. The fake, or “amended” birth certificates, filed months to years after the original ones, claim that the adopting parents gave birth, and they are listed as the mother and father on the amended birth certificate. All of their names, ages, and location details are entered in the places where the natural parents were. The adopting parents have the option of changing any or all parts of the child’s name too, and most (again, unnecessarily) do that. In some cases, places and dates are changed as well. Then the state registrar signs his/her signature at the bottom, “verifying” that the fake one is the exact and true record of the birth and affixes the official state seal to the document. (If anyone else committed that type of felony forgery, they would be facing jail time). Because there can only be one “official” record of birth on file for anyone at any given time, this is what all adopted adults still have today. To sum it up, the original identity and roots are wiped out, and what adoptees have left is a lie, or commonly referred to as “legal fiction.”

Deanna: Why is it so significant that adoptees have their original birth certificate? 

julie j: This is significant for several reasons. First, birth certificates belong to the person who was born and named on it. Birth certificates are not property ownership papers, like car titles, that need to change to reflect each new transfer to a new owner. That’s what the adoption decree was for, to show a change in legal custody. People are not property! Their true identity should be respected and preserved for them by the trustees of that information, not stolen from them when they are too young to remember their own truths. Not knowing the truth does not make the truth cease to exist. It does not change the truth. Honesty is the best policy because it helps adoptees to form an authentic identity and to live an authentic life.

Second, in addition to all the purposes non-adoptees use theirs, originals are useful to adoptees for many important reasons. For instance:

 • for knowledge of self, name, accurate details of birth
 • for tracing family origins, medical, and ethnic information
 • to establish rightful ties to genealogical societies, tribe memberships, scholarship eligibility, etc.
 • to obtain a passport for travel outside of the country because the federal government does not accept the fake birth certificates the states have created after a year, as proof of citizenship. 
• in some states, adoptees have had problems obtaining driver’s or marriage licenses
 • originals can be required to clear some high-level security jobs


Simply put, originals should not ever be tampered with. The reason they were taken and forged in the first place had more to do with a different era when children born to single parents had their certificates stamped in big, red letters “illegitimate.” That reason no longer exists, with half of all children born to unmarried parents, single parenthood is no longer the great social stigma it once was. 

Nobody could have foreseen, nor approved of, the multitude of future problems tampering with certificates would cause for the adoptee and their descendants. Today the reason the practice of sealing and creating amended ones continues, has more to do with adoptive parents who think of it more as an entitlement for themselves, as either proof of their parenthood and/or an assurance of no interference from the adoptee’s natural family. These reasons are fading too, as most adoptions are “open” now, and in theory, it is more widely recognized that adoption is meant to be for the adoptee’s benefit before anyone else’s.

Deanna:  I have actually had people say to me, "Why is it such a big deal that adoptees have their original birth certificate? Is this really that important in the grand scheme of things?" What would your response be to such rationale?

julie j: That brings us to the most significant reason of all - Equality. All adults should be treated equally. Non-adoptees can access their own birth certificates by going through their state office of vital statistics and paying a small fee. Adoptees should not be discriminated against in any respect by being required to petition for and receive court orders, or to get permission slips from any 3rd parties, or to pay huge processing fees plus huge legal costs, or by having either counselors or intermediaries imposed upon them to micromanage the entire unneeded process for them. By the way, having someone else access birth certificates on an adoptee’s behalf or having a third party save them a copy of their original from before it was sealed, is NOT an example of equality! When any subset of society is denied full equal rights, that should be of major concern to ALL of us. Justice denied to one, is justice denied to all.

Deanna:  How is the amending of birth certificates harmful, or at the very least, not best practice?

julie j: Being disrespectful to the adoptee and his/her natural family by deleting their identity and attempting to hide it from them forever is certainly not best practice. Having the government act as an accomplice in discrimination, altering vital documents, and changing someone’s identity without their knowledge or consent is simply unacceptable, and it is not at all necessary in order to provide anything any child needs. Being completely cut off from their roots can be harmful to those affected.

Deanna:  How will adoptees death certificates be affected, and how will this also affect future generations?

julie j: When I was still in the early stages of tracing my own genealogy, before the days of DNA, vital records of birth, marriage, and death certificates proved invaluable in my research. With each new document that arrived, it would offer fresh clues of where to look next to expand upon my growing, authentic family tree. Records would list the names of parents and possibly include their ages and places of birth. It was always thrilling to discover each new, mother’s maiden name. Then I would research their parents, and so on and so forth, as far back as I could go on each branch. No wonder genealogy is one of the biggest hobbies out there! 

While stories of any specific ancestor who may have been raised by someone other than their own parents, may be an interesting side note, it is not that other family’s genealogy I would be interested in tracing back from that point, it would be my own natural family. They may have been very nice people indeed, just not my own roots. (If I had wanted fantasy, I would have just pretended my own adoptive family tree replaced mine and not bothered researching at all). 

Now that we are aware of the inaccuracies reflected on adoptees’ birth certificates, let’s consider that adoptees’ future death certificates will also contain those same inaccuracies. In fact, any document that requires listings of “mother” and “father.” Think about what you may have listed on your last census form or on your own marriage license. How about what you listed as “mother’s maiden name” on your own children’s birth certificates? 

It is estimated that there are between 6 to 7 million adoptees in the U.S. That should begin to give you an idea of the magnitude that adoption, as it’s been practiced, has all but ensured the mangling up our records and authentic roots for many generations to come, across millions of families, and the inaccuracies are deeply embedded in genealogical data bases, most unknowingly. Not only will this create a situation where an adoptee’s entire existence on paper was a lie (or “legal fiction,” if you prefer) from birth to marriage to death, but descendants many generations down the line, will be barking up the wrong trees if they access an adoptee’s certificates and proceed to follow the adoptive branches without realizing that’s what they even are. Vital records do not specify that birth, marriage, and death records are affected by adoption. It is just implied and assumed to be exclusively natural families, so it’s very misleading, all with the government’s blessing. This dilutes the accuracy of all family records everywhere.

How do we begin to correct all the family errors already out there and avoid additional future ones? One way is for all of us to write our stories as best as we know them. Pass them down to our children and grandchildren. Explain the relationships, the known and unknowns, the corrections, and the inconsistencies. Don’t let our stories get lost or distorted any more. Publish them if you can to preserve them. 

As for obituaries, they can always include details of additional family members and their stories, but definitely the official documents should be kept true, so as to reduce future confusion. Another way is to help restore adoptees’ rights to their original documents and even better, work to prevent their alteration in the first place. Raising a child should not require forging of their birth or death records. Society is really going to have to re-think the priorities on that one. Of course we all know DNA is becoming the next gold mine of family truths when documents claim something else. We should make the best use of it we can.

Thank you for asking about adoption and vital certificates.  

Two Links:

For legislative info on the states that have restored equal rights back to adoptees, or are in the process of doing so, see AAC - State Legislation

Through education and advocacy, the American Adoption Congress promotes honesty, openess and respect for family connections in adoption, foster care and assisted reproduction.

For info on how you can get involved in helping this worthy cause, see Adoptee Rights Coalition

 julie j is an adult adoptee who was stolen from her family as a young child. She was in American foster care in the early 1960’s and then later illegally adopted. She has happily been in reunion since ’93, thanks to ISRR. She recently acquired her OBC through a court order.  julie j is a wife, mother, business owner, family preservationist, activist for adoptee rights, child advocate and adoption search angel. Her other interests include reading, theater, genealogy, music, games and working out. One of her future goals is to become a CASA volunteer.  

*All photos besides julie j's avatar courtesy of