Why is an original birth certificate such a big deal?

Feb 24, 2013 by

Original Birth Certificate

My Original Birth Certificate

Do you have a copy of your birth certificate?

If you are not adopted, you probably take for granted your ability to walk in to the Vital Statistics office and request a copy of the document that proves you were born.   Adoptees have two birth certificates, the original document and an amended document issued when an adoption is finalized.  In many states, adopted adults do not have the right to a copy of the original birth certificate.

Ohio congress is currently considering bills that would give all Ohio adopted adults the right to access their original birth certificates (I’m just going to call it an OBC).  Writing letters in support of this legislation has pushed me to be very clear about why I feel so strongly about an adopted person’s right to access this document.   I wrote more about adoption in this post.

Why is an original birth certificate important to an adoptee?

The answer to this question is simple and uncomplicated: because it is my right as an adult citizen to have unconditional access to a document that proves my birth.  At the core, an adoptee’s access to their original birth certificate is a civil rights issue.  Adopted adults are discriminated against when this original document is sealed.

Adoptees had an identity and a history before adoption.  If an adoptee’s OBC is sealed, they are denied a record containing an important piece of personal history that is available to every non-adopted person in the United States.

What is open records NOT about?

Access to the OBC is often assumed to be for one of two reasons:  to search for birth family and to obtain a family health history.  This is simply not accurate.   Successful searches can and do happen without access to the original birth certificate.  In my case, open records made my search easier, but I  had enough information to search without my OBC.  I also discovered the identity of my birth father, who was not even named on my OBC.

I chose to search for birth family.  Other adoptees choose not to initiate search.  But even those who do not actively search want to obtain copies of their OBC.  Adoptees who choose not to search have questions about who they were before they were adopted; the OBC answers some of those questions.

OBC access is also not about replacing an adoptive family with birth family.  Most adoptees who choose to search have strong bonds and loving relationships with their adoptive families.  I did choose to search, but never with the intent to replace the family I grew up with.

Access to my OBC isn’t about learning my health history either.  I’ve yet to see a birth certificate that lists a family health history.  Is a health history important?  Absolutely.  But a method to obtain health history can be provided without access to the OBC.

A piece of the identity puzzle

Adoptee access to original records is about having a complete picture of one’s identity.   I believe we are all a product of both nature and nurture.  I like to describe it as pieces to a puzzle.  Every single human being has an identity that is made up of many pieces.  For adoptees, it means that the puzzle has a few more pieces.  When adoption records are sealed, that means that some of the pieces of an adoptee’s puzzle are missing.  With the OBC, pieces of the puzzle related to nature can begin to be put into place.  The legal and emotional bonds to our adoptive families are important, but understanding the biological identity we were born with is just as important for an adoptee to complete the identity puzzle.

Simple, yet complex

Adoption is a complex and emotional issue.  All members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees) will tell you that dealing with adoption is a lifetime process.  Access to an original birth certificate should be a simple issue for an adoptee, it should not add to the complexities of adoption.


This post only begins to touch the surface of the complexities of adoption.  Many other adoptees write regularly about a variety of adoption issues.   For more adoptee points of view, visit:

The Declassified Adoptee

Family Ties

No Apologies For Being Me

Lost Daughters

1 Comment

  1. Von

    Complex and little understood.Hopefully my fellow bloggers will keep blogging to correct that.

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