When an Adoptee Does a Search for Ancestry
After my last post and some of the questions I’ve been asked, I feel like I need to clarify a few things on how adoption, adoptee searches, and opening records works in Minnesota.
I’m not a lawyer or paralegal, so my knowledge is based on my experience along with whatever information I’ve been able to dig up on the internet, but I do list some of the references I’ve used at the end of this post.
“My Search Timeline” covers two searches I carried out for my birth family information, plus my still ongoing pursuit of my original birth certificate. The story is pretty long, but then so were the searches.
I’m breaking all the rules of keeping blog posts brief so to ease your pain, I’m giving you the option (which is very generous of me) of skimming through the timeline and heading to “The Truth Bombs” for the finale of the latest, and not quite finished, quest for my original birth certificate. That’s where the intrigue lies (at least for me).
My Search Timeline
At age twenty-two, I began my search for my birth parents by contacting the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and requesting my original birth certificate. I already knew they wouldn’t release it to me but it’s where I was told to start by Catholic Charities, the agency I was adopted through.
I received the expected letter back saying they had notified the Department of Public Welfare (MDPW) of my request and that they would make a reasonable search for my genetic parents. If they couldn’t be located in six months, were deceased or didn’t consent to a release of this information, I would need a court order to obtain access to the file.
Three weeks later, I received a letter from the MDPW that they had received my request and I needed to contact Catholic Charities (CC) to do the search and contact my parents. So I sent a letter to CC.
A week after that, I received a letter from a social worker at CC. Since both my birth parents were named on the birth certificate, she would try to contact both of them to acquire permission to release information. There was a $50 fee and I was told to send a brief biography about myself with my permission to share that information.
The social worker located my birth mother but the request to release information was met with “I’ll think about it” followed by non-responsiveness and the search was deemed a failure.
When I heard the news, I went into a period of depression and decided I would never put myself through such a thing again. I was able to obtain non-identifying information that included enlightening information such as your mother has blue eyes and brown hair and your father has a wiry build.
in February of 1998, I contacted CC again to tell them I JUST wanted to obtain health information without seeking contact with my birth family. My son was having health problem and my doctor had suggested I do so.
It was the same process – I’d still have to do a search. I said, “No thanks.”
A month later, CC called to tell me that the situation had changed – my birth mother was more open to communicating with me. Given that information, was I interested? I said, “Yes,” which cost me $130 to have the paperwork and initial contact handled.
Letters between my birth mom and siblings were exchanged. I met everyone for Thanksgiving that year and I continue to have a relationship my siblings. My birth dad passed away ten years after we met and my birth mom, eight years after that.
January 8, 2018
I became curious about my original birth certificate. Obtaining it felt like a way to have something from the very start of my life. I’d had so little time with my birth parents and I wanted something to hold in my hands that connected me to them.
Catholic Charities stopped providing adoption services and closed their prenatal clinic. This meant they also were no longer helping adoptees or birth parents with searches. The files and that service had been turned over to Lutheran Social Services (LSS). I contacted LSS and was sent forms to fill out, which I returned with their fee of $60.
LSS assigned someone to my case and I gave her my information over the phone. Because it had been so long since I’d filled out the forms the Minnesota Department of Health requires, I had to do that again. There was another $13 fee.
As expected, the Minnesota Department of Health sent me a letter that they couldn’t release my birth certificate, and I would need to do a search to obtain a release of my records through my adoption agency. So the ball went back to LSS or, actually, it went back to me: I had to provide proof that my parents were deceased and I did so.
Then there were more forms to fill out to petition the county where I was adopted to open my records and obtain my original birth certificate. That was accompanied by a letter from LSS stating that they had confirmed my birth parents were deceased. I had the petition notarized and mailed everything to the county court’s Juvenile Records department.
May 31, 2018
I waited nine weeks for a response before asking Lutheran Social Services to follow up on it. I received a call back that juvenile records couldn’t find my petition. I filled out the petition again, had it notarized and hand carried the papers to Juvenile Records (JR).
August 31, 2018
I called JR and once again, they couldn’t find my petition, but the woman I spoke to promised to look for it. I waited five days and called back. They had located the petition and my file but the photo of the birth certificate wasn’t legible.
I didn’t know that this didn’t matter because I assumed legibility meant something since the person I spoke to thought it did. It took LSS explaining the entire process to get both of us up to speed. JR needed to get the petition and my file before a judge to rule on the release of my records. That did happen, but as of today, I haven’t heard back on a judge’s decision.
The Truth Bombs
I asked Lutheran Social Services if they could answer a few questions for me regardless of what the judge did:
- What hospital was I born at?
- What time was I born?
- What name was I given?
- Where was I for the two weeks before I was adopted?
LSS answered my questions:
- Except the first one. I was told they couldn’t tell me the name of the hospital.
- I was born at 11:06 PM (I can now get a “proper” astrological reading).
- My name was Patricia Ann.
- I was at the hospital for five days. Then I was released to Catholic Infant Care where I remained for twenty days before being released to my adoptee family.
Let me repeat that first part – Lutheran Social Services answered my questions. I ASKED for information and THEY GAVE IT TO ME! What the?!!!
One of my traits that has come from my life as an adoptee is to avoid ever asking questions point blank. I’ve been told too many time that I don’t have any right to know anything. Or I am told, “We don’t know.” Or “We can’t give you that information.”
So what the?!!! I ask and they tell me! So there’s the first rule I’ve lived by all my life – poof! Gone. I mean I’m happy! Ecstatically happy to finally know things I’ve been wondering all my life. But what the?!!!
Okay. I have to let it go as just one of the mysteries of the adoption system. So many secrets. So many lies. Sprinkled every once in a while with a sugary truth.
The second piece of this that made my brain explode was that I was without parents for one month. I’d been told by my adoptive parents I was two weeks old when I was adopted. I was actually almost a month old?!
Most people will think, so? Okay. If you have children, think about the first month of their lives. Yeah. It matters.
The other part of learning that information is that it removed another piece of what I DID know about myself, all of my life – how old I was when I was adopted – and exposed it as untrue. Now I have to ask myself, exactly what about me IS true? Just these new pieces of information that I learned?
All of this will settle into place in my mind eventually, but that doesn’t stop me from being angry. Only my anger has no real target. It could be that Catholic Charities wasn’t completely truthful with my adoptive parents. It could be that they told me something different than the truth because they thought it would be easier for me to live with.
In reality, people were doing what they thought was best.
The only thing is that they were so absolutely wrong.
Resources for Adoptees
- Adoptee Rights Law: For information on the laws in all fifty states for obtaining your original birth certificate. The site was put together by Attorney Gregory Luce. He is an excellent resource and may be able to help you if you’ve run into a roadblock.
- Minnesota Coalition for Adoption Reform: For the history of adoption law in Minnesota and current efforts to make changes.
- Minnesota Department of Health – Birth Records After Adoption: For the Minnesota process to obtain an original birth certificate or other records
WOW Mary…I just don’t have words for all of this!! But good for you for being persistent and continuing to follow up. I hope you get the document soon so it will help you understand your past. Continue to be the “dog with the bone” because you DESERVE to have answers. Love the new look and look forward to following along as I’m right there with you in the CRONE department!
Maery Rose, have you heard back from the judge and your petition? Thanks for sharing this grudgingly familiar story about lies, deception, and prejudice. I didn’t get my original certificate until 2016, and that required prostrating myself to a judge. https://www.howluckyuare.com/bittersweet-one-year-anniversary-winning-court-order-original-birth-certificate/
I’d love to hear the outcome. There’s a lot I’d love to comment on in comparison to my story, but that would be a long comment. I like your commitment to your goal. It’s a rough road, but it is one worth taking. For some of us, it takes decades.
Thanks for your response, Rudy. Yes, your story does sounds similar. I haven’t heard back on my petition. Most of my communication has been with Juvenile Court records. It appears they are hung up on whether my parents being deceased has any bearing. I would prefer to go to the judge myself to state that my birth certificate will not provide me with any information I don’t already have. I simply want my birth certificate because it’s mine, and no one has more right to it than me. I also want it in remembrance of my birth parents because they are deceased and I miss them both dearly.