Missouri releases original birth certificates
It’s called the Show Me State … and, yesterday, on the first workday of the year, Missouri did just that for hundreds, potentially even thousands, of adoptees: it showed them.
Because yesterday, the first official work day of 2018, was the first official day on which adoptees born in Missouri in or after 1941 and who are at least 18 years old were entitled, by law, to obtain copies of their original, unaltered, birth certificates.
The ones with those critical pieces of information that Missouri adoptees have not been entitled to since 1941.
The ones with the names of their birth parents.
From that time until now, thousands of children have been adopted in Missouri. And from that time until 2016, all original birth certificates of adoptees were sealed. Nobody could see them except by court order: not the adoptive parents, not the birth parents, not the children themselves even long after they reached adulthood.
But the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act, passed in 2016, has opened the records with access coming in two stages. Adoptees born before 1941 could get their original birth certificates starting in August 2016, and there were adoptees waiting when the office opened — some using canes and walkers — to get their original certificates.3
The law allowed adoptees born after 1941 to begin accessing those original certificates yesterday, and some of them met together over the holiday weekend in a special anticipatory event called Genected: Breaking the Seal, “an event to celebrate the change in Missouri law and educate adopted adults and their families about the changes and resources that are available.” Co-sponsored by G’s Adoption Registry and Family Tree DNA, activities included a New Year’s Eve dinner, a conference with workshops, and an evening musical performance.4
It may tell you something about how important — and how emotional — access to this information is when you know that part of the centerpiece for each of the dinner tables was a box of tissues. And that was from both sides of the adoption story: presenters at the event included both adoptees and birth mothers.5
And then… the main event: yesterday, January 2, when the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services began to distribute copies of birth certificates to adoptees who pre-submitted applications. Roughly 900 people had asked for their certificates starting as early as October, when the state began to accept applications, with roughly 60 new requests coming in every week. One who received his original birth certificate — the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Don Phillips, himself an adoptee.
Now there are some quirks in the law:
• First, the adoptee must be at least 18 years old.6
• Second, the birth parents had the right under the statute to register their objections with the state. Where one parent objects, the other parent’s name will be disclosed but the name of the objector redacted. Where both parents object, the original birth certificate won’t be provided.7 No specific number was available of birth parents who opted not to have identities disclosed, but if Missouri is anything like other states where the original birth certificates are now available, the number will be small.8
• Third, access to the certificates is limited to the adoptee: if you’re the child of a deceased adoptee, the access doesn’t pass to you.9
For more information about the new law, and how to apply for an original birth certificate under its provisions, check out the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ page, “Missouri Adoptee Rights Act.”
The form is there if you’re eligible to say to Missouri… Show Me.
- Mo. Laws. 1857, 59; 1 Wag. Stat., 256, § 1. ↩
- See generally Tyler McClay, “Missouri to Release Adoptee Birth Certificates,” The Messenger, Missouri Catholic Conference, April 2017, PDF version (http://www.mocatholic.org/ : accessed 1 Jan 2018) (“Starting in 1941, adoptions were closed. Original birth certificates containing the names of birth mothers and fathers were sealed, only to be released by the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records upon an order of the court performing the adoption.” ↩
- See generally Nancy Cambria, “Birth certificates now unlock past for some Missouri adoptees,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, posted 30 Aug 2016 (http://www.stltoday.com/ : accessed 1 Jan 2018). ↩
- See “Breaking the Seal,” Genected (https://www.genected.com/ : accessed 1 Jan 2018). ↩
- Lisa Janine Cloud, Family Tree DNA, Facebook status update, posted 1 Jan 2018. ↩
- ¶ 3, Revised Statutes of Missouri §193.218 (2016). ↩
- Ibid., ¶ 6. ↩
- In Oregon, where original birth certificates became available starting in 2000, only 87 birth parents have sought anonymity. See Helen Hill, “Oregon’s adoptee rights initiative, 20 years on,” Street Roots News, posted 17 Nov 2017 (http://news.streetroots.org/ : accessed 2 Jan 2018). In New Jersey, where more than 300,000 adoptees became eligible to receive their original birth certificates last year, fewer than 350 birth parents had asked not to be disclosed. See Judy G. Russell, “The lights go on,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Jan 2017 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 2 Jan 2018). ↩
- See Heather Dodd, “Missouri Birth Certificate Access – The Missouri Adoptee Rights Act,” Missouri Adoptee Rights Movement (https://www.missouriadopteerightsmovement.com/ : accessed 1 Jan 2018). ↩