Imagine that upon opening a white envelope and reading its contents your life would change forever. No, it is not the results of a medical test or acceptance to college, this document tells you who you are. For over 2,000 adoptees born in Pennsylvania, this was indeed what happened when they received a copy of their original birth certificate. Under a new law that took effect in late 2017 adoptees who are over age 18 can apply for their birth records for the first time in 33 years.
Revising an old law
Since 1984, adoption records in Pennsylvania have been sealed. The state banned access for adoptees seeking a copy of their original birth certificate without a court order. Legislation passed over a year ago includes an amendment directed at the birth parents of adoptees. The biological parents can choose to redact their names from birth certificates before adoptees see the document. Additionally, birth parents have the option to decide whether they want their child to contact them or not. The Department of Health has received and granted 13 such requests thus far.
Knowing the exact time, date and place of your birth is something you take for granted if you are not adopted. Finding out your ethnic background and where your family came from opens a new world to adults looking for clues as to their identity.
Most importantly, in some cases, people get to learn their birth mother’s name. Unfortunately, birth father’s names were often omitted or replaced with the letters “O.W.” meaning out-of-wedlock.
Eleven states, including Pennsylvania, have put some restrictions on getting original birth records. Twenty-two out of 50, including New York, California and Texas, still have the files sealed.