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The new year to bring original birth certificates

It’s a New Year’s gift to New York adoptees.

Finally… finallyfinally… more than 80 years after adoption records in the Empire State were sealed by law, the New Year will see those born in New York and adopted entitled to receive copies of their original, unchanged, unredacted birth certificates.

On 15 January 2020, under a new law signed yesterday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York will join a growing movement to allow adults who were adopted access to their original birth records.1 For many, this will be the very first time they may ever see the names they were given at birth, and whatever information those records provide about their biological parents.

NY adoptee rights

New York adoption records have been sealed since the 1930s, when Gov. Herbert H. Lehman — himself an adoptive parent — signed a law sealing the original birth certificates of adopted children born in New York.2 That law provided that only a court could unseal the records and only for the most compelling of reasons, leading the Adoptee Rights Law Project to conclude: “Based on how judges have handled adoptee requests to unseal records, New York may be one of the most restrictive states in the U.S. on the issue of access to an original birth certificate.”3

A movement to reverse the secrecy and allow adults access to their own records began in the 1970s and gained momentum in recent years. A bill to provide such access was first introduced in 2003 and again in every legislative session thereafter.

In 2015, the bill was amended with a complex system requiring court permissions and birth parent notification. That complicated measure passed, but was vetoed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017 in favor of “legislative proposals that allow adoptees greater access to birth records.”4

A working group of the state Department of Health was tasked with reviewing the issue and, in 2018, recommended unrestricted access by adults to their birth certificates.5

The result: a new bill, introduced in the 2019 session, giving those over age 18 unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates. If the adopted person is deceased, then that person’s direct line descendants and lawful representatives of those persons can obtain it.6

The bill passed the State Senate by a vote of 56-6 in June and the State Assembly the same month by a vote of 126-2.7 It then went to Gov. Cuomo to sign, and since he’d already said he’d sign it, it looked like a done deal.

Then July came and went. No action. August, nothing. September, ditto. October. And into this month. With everybody holding their breath.

Until yesterday. When that all-important signature was added to the law.

“Where you came from informs who you are, and every New Yorker deserves access to the same birth records – it’s a basic human right,” Cuomo said in the signing statement. “For too many years, adoptees have been wrongly denied access to this information and I am proud to sign this legislation into law and correct this inequity once and for all.”8

The Department of Health has until the effective date of the law — 15 January 2020 — to put procedures in place to handle what’s expected to be a flood of requests.

And to give all those New York adoptees that New Year’s gift: the gift of their own identities.

Congratulations to the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition and the thousands of New Yorkers who fought for years for this.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “A NY gift to NY adoptees,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 15 Nov 2019).


  1. See “Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Allowing Adoptees to Receive a Certified Birth Certificate at Age 18,” Office of the Governor, New York State ( : accessed 15 Nov 2019).
  2. See Wikipedia (, “Herbert H. Lehman,” rev. 4 Nov 2019.
  3. Adoptee Rights Law, “New York,” updated 29 March 2019 ( : accessed 15 Nov 2019).
  4. Veto message No. 252, Governor Andrew Cuomo, 29 December 2017; digital image, Adoptee Rights Law ( : accessed 15 Nov 2019).
  5. Adoptee Stakeholder Workgroup Report, 30 April 2018, New York Department of Health ( : accessed 15 Nov 2019).
  6. See A05494/S03419, New York Assembly ( : accessed 15 Nov 2019).
  7. See Judy G. Russell, “Welcome number 10,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 June 2019 ( : accessed 15 Nov 2019).
  8. Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Allowing Adoptees to Receive a Certified Birth Certificate at Age 18,” Office of the Governor, New York State ( : accessed 15 Nov 2019).
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