Bastard Nation, “Open Records: Why It's an Issue,” 1999

Source: Courtesy of Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization

First Secrets and Lies Rally sponsored by Bastard Nation, San Francisco, 1996

Adult adoptees in most of the advanced, industrialized nations of the world have unrestricted access to their original birth records as a matter of right. In contrast, adult adoptees in all but four states in the U.S. are forbidden access to their own original birth certificates. Archaic, Depression-Era laws created “amended” birth certificates, which replace the names of the adoptee's biological parents with those of the adoptive parents, and frequently falsify other birth information as well. The original records are permanently sealed in most states by laws largely passed after World War II, a legacy of the culture of shame which stigmatized infertility, out-of-wedlock birth, and adoption.

In Scotland, adoptee records have been open since 1930, and in England since 1975. Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela are only a few of the many nations which do not prevent adult adoptees from accessing their own birth records.

Why are they still sealed in most of the U.S.?

Well-funded lobbies representing certain adoption agencies and lawyers have a vested interest in keeping adoptee records closed. They are working in several states to pass a Uniform Adoption Act that would keep adoptees' birth records sealed for ninety-nine years and in some instances criminalize searching for one's biological relatives. These special interest groups would continue to deprive adult adoptees of their rights, presumably to prevent the disclosure of controversial past practices (baby-selling, coercion, fraud), which are now hidden by state-sanctioned secrecy.

While many adoptees search for their biological relatives to discover the answers to questions regarding medical history and family heritage, all adoptees should be able to exercise their right to obtain the original government documents of their births and adoptions whether they choose to search or not. At stake are the civil and human rights of millions of American citizens. To continue to abrogate these rights is to perpetuate the stigmatization of illegitimacy and adoption, and the relegation of an entire class of citizens to second-class status.

For everyone else, it's “Vital Statistics”—for adoptees, it's “None of your business.”

All Americans, adopted or not, have a right to access government records about their own lives.

Please join us in our fight to restore adoptee dignity and equality!


Source: The Basic Bastard,

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
Site designed by:

To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3118
About the Project and the Author
© Ellen Herman