An Irish mum and U.S. original birth certificates

In the months since Philomena debuted and went on to receive four Oscar nominations, Philomena (both the real person and the movie version) has brought international attention to Ireland’s adoption history and helped drum up support for legal changes that would allow Irish adoptees to access records that could help them trace their origins.  

What I hadn’t realized until last year, and many of our friends who had been adopted hadn’t either, is that there are 39 U.S. States with years, if not decades, worth of sealed records—even now in 2014. This means millions of American adoptees have restricted access to their origins, ancestry, and in some cases—to medical history that could help an adoptee and his or her children with genetic-related illnesses, as Darlene Coyne’s story on this site shows.

Shining a light on that fact—and putting a human face on those numbers—was what inspired us to create Secret Sons & Daughters and begin collecting stories. With that said, it’s important to clarify that advocating for a right to one’s original birth certificate is often confused with advocating reunions. To us they are separate issues.

Having unrestricted access to your original birth certificate means having the right to the truth about your origins, your ancestry, your medical history—the nonfiction version of your life’s first chapter if you will. It’s a right every non-adopted adult enjoys, as well as adult adoptees in almost a dozen U.S. states. What you do with that truth, whether or not you initiate a relationship, and at what level of contact (if available), is something very personal, something to be worked out within families, and something beyond the realm of legislation.

It’s also something incredibly complicated, as we know from our own experiences. In order to get information beyond what an original birth certificate offers, you have to make contact. For some adoptees, connecting with biological families is meaningful well beyond an exchange of information, for others it’s not, and for others still, any sort of contact is not worth the potential complications. As you’ll see, we honor all perspectives on this site.        

To find out where your birth state stands on records access, visit our Discover Your Rights page.

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