I want to share a quick story from R.S., who was born in New York City and adopted. DNA easily pointed us to his birth father, but identifying his birth mother has been a struggle.
The closest maternal matches are to a Texas family whose matriarch was an orphan train rider. Christina was sent as a young girl by rail from a foundling home in New York City to East Texas, where she was adopted by a Czech family sometime around 1905. She spoke nothing but Czech to her grandchildren, so they had no idea she was Irish by birth until I contacted them.
The DNA matches and mitochondrial haplogroups all line up for R.S.’s grandmother to have been Christina’s half sister. Unfortunately, that means R.S.’s grandmother was probably also adopted. All of which explains why we’ve had so much trouble tracing this family line.
The birth certificates of adoptees are typically amended to show the adoptive parents’ names, and the original document is sealed. Yesterday, New York became the 10th US state to allow adult adoptees open access to their original, pre-adoption birth certificates.
R.S. showed up at the New York City Department of Health’s Vital Records office at 9 AM yesterday. He said the process took 2 hours—getting the application packet, having his signature notarized, obtaining a money order, waiting in line—and throughout, the office staff were incredibly helpful and kind.
They actually had a separate semi-private area set up for those like me—with a table in a cordoned off area that had “Congratulations” silver balloons attached—it was actually very touching and welcoming.
There were other adoptees on the same journey, including a woman who’d flown in from California the day before to request her original birth certificate.
R.S. was told the process may take as long as 12–14 weeks—they’re in uncharted territory and the records are stored in an off-site location—but there may be more than just his original birth certificate in his file. Now we wait!
Thank you so much to the generous people in the Vital Records office, to the legislature and governor of New York for passing this law, and especially all of those who have advocated for their rights for years.
You can see the state of play for adoptee rights in the US here.
Next up: Massachusetts?
Information for those born outside of New York but adopted in the state is here.