January 20, 2013

Adoptees Right to Original Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania



In mid-January 2011 I was contacted, through CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS, by a sister my mother released for adoption. In early February I was contacted again, through this online magazine, by a second sister my mother released for adoption.

They were able to locate their biological family—mine—because they were released for adoption in the two states which have opened original birth certificate access to adult adoptees over 18 years of age—New Hampshire in June, 2007 and Massachusetts since May 2007.

Since my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania in 1969 I have been involved in many aspects of the state’s adoption process.

  • In August 1969 my husband and I became involved in the adoption process in Butler County. We endured the necessary home study, completion of documents, and waiting period. A tiny three-week old baby girl was placed in our home on June 10, 1970.
  •  Between September 1969 and June 1970 I worked part time at an adoption agency in Mercer County. My job was to decrease a backlog of adoption homestudies.
  • For three years I served on the board of Catholic Charities in Butler County. Adoption—working through the adoption triangle—was one of their services.

Looking back I consider it strange that in my pre-1984 experience in the adoption field I was totally unaware that Pennsylvania adult adoptees had access to their birth records. I assumed, wrongly, that records were sealed and could not be opened without a court order.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that I heard whisperings that we had missed the opportunity to check out our daughter’s original birth record.

Prior to 1984, adult adoptees born in Pennsylvania were able to access their original birth certificates just as all non-adopted adults who were born in Pennsylvania. This equality under law changed upon the enactment of Act 195, The Adoption Act of 1984, which took away the right for adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.

I must stop here to consider the birth mother.

One argument used to oppose opening original birth records to adult adoptees is the disruption it could cause the birth mother.

I often wonder how my late mother would feel if the two daughters she released for adoption appeared on her doorstep. Shrouded in secrecy as the adoption process was (and still can be) she must have believed that her “secret” was safe, never to be revealed—although it was never truly safe, as her brother hinted at it to my sister, and residents of her small community had to have known about her situation.

However, that secrecy was not secure in Pennsylvania prior to 1984. I understood—much too late—that my daughter’s original birth certificate could be accessed up to 1984. Thus, her biological mother did not have the “safety” of “secrecy.”

The only secrecy prior to 1984 was on behalf of adoption workers who implied that records could only be accessed through a court order (yes, I am guilty as charged, through ignorance—our caseworker was also guilty) and biological mothers were falsely assured of secrecy.

Currently only the states of Alabama, Alaska, Oregon, Kansas, New Hampshire and Maine allow adult adoptees have unrestricted access to their own original birth records.


Hopefully Pennsylvania will soon become the seventh state to allow adult adoptees access to their original birth record.

My adult legally adopted daughter and my adult unofficially adopted daughter (adopted by another couple who’ve passed on) have a right to know their biological history—medical and cultural. The results of this knowledge may prove hurtful (consider rejection).

However, truth can be dealt with while fantasy can be a negative driving force.

These two women have expressed an interest in attaining knowledge about their origins, about their medical histories.

To read about Pennsylvania House Bill 162, introduced by Rep. Benninghoff, click on:  Pa. House Bill 162: Adult Adoptees Right to Access Original Birth Certificate

To sign a petition supporting adoptees rights to original birth certificates click on Sign to Support Adoptee Rights to Their Original Birth Certificates

Click here to ontinue reading about Pa. House Bill 162: Adult Adoptees Right to Access Original Birth Certificate .



Sister’s Day: 2012—Sisters Meet After 63 Years

While Doing Adoption Home Studies: Part 1

My Mother’s Secret: An Adoption Story

We’re Adopting a Baby! Part 1



  1. My daughter, given up for adoption in California in 1964, has been unable to obtain her birth certificate even with my full consent because, prior to 1980, all records were simply stored in a paper file system and warehoused. The state says it could take 5 or 6 years and only “maybe” will it be found since many have been lost due to mistakes, or damage from weather. Fortunately, I have been able to give her the information but she would like the original records. It would be helpful if all states would recognize that the child may someday need the medical and family information in those records.

    Comment by Fran — January 20, 2013 @ 7:24 am | Reply

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    Adoptees Right to Original Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania | CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS

    Trackback by basic food hygiene — July 23, 2014 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

  3. […] Adoptees Right to Original Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania […]

    Pingback by Abandoned 40 Years Ago, Seeking Birth Family | The Atkinson Journal — November 4, 2014 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

  4. […] Adoptees Right to Original Birth Certificate in Pennsylvania […]

    Pingback by PA Rep. Benninghoff 2015 Action on Open Records for Adult Adoptees | Carolyn's Online Magazine — January 17, 2015 @ 4:24 am | Reply

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