March 21, 2013

Why Oppose Adult Adoptees Accessing Their Original Birth Records


I have seven sisters and six brothers.

Sister Lee is fifteen months older than I. Although we weren’t close (another post?) we do share the same history— the town of Portsmouth and Wallis Sands Beach in Rye, both in New Hampshire. And together we welcomed Jane, the oldest child in my mother’s second family, into the family when I was eleven years old. We were together in a move to Buffalo, New York, in November 1955.

Jane was the oldest child in my mother’s second family—brother Hugh arrived in ‘56; sisters Cynthia and Sally ’58 and ’59, and brother Pete in ’63.

When I was in my thirties I met another sister and three of four new brothers, my father’s family from his second marriage. It was akin to the adoptee meeting their bio-parents, since I had no contact with or knowledge on my father or his new family until this time.

In January 2011 I was contacted (through CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS comments) by a sibling ten years younger than I. She was released for infant adoption by my mother.

Likewise, in February 2012 I was contacted the same way by a sibling five years younger than I. She too was released for infant adoption by my mother.

I was fortunate that I could meet both my new sisters, although each lived several states distant.


I was also fortunate that the reunions, in all cases, went well, and that we are all undergoing the difficult and tedious task of getting to know each other.

My experience provides a positive attitude towards opening adoption records for adult adoptees, although I recognize that this is not the case in all reunions.

My additional experience with access to open records for adult adoptees comes from a variety of angles. I’ve been an adoption home-study case-worker, I’m an adoptive parent and aunt.

A friend of mine, who once leaned towards open adoption records, may be retracting her opinion. She is deeply pondering the issue.

Her main fear is that the bio-parents could sue the adoptive parent for poor parenting if the adoptee commits a crime, has mental health issues, or commits suicide.

Although I have never heard of a case where committed adoptive parents were sued by the bio-parent (except in the death of Dennis Jurgens***) this fear could be somewhat founded. Two cases I followed are the Connecticut murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, and the Pennsylvania case of Jennifer Daugherty.

Benedict and Jude Komisarjevsky, adopted Joshua, their miracle baby, when he was two weeks old. On October 13, 2011, he was convicted of the grisly murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, and the vicious beating of their father in a home invasion on July 23, 2007, (Jennifer was the daughter of a United Methodist Pastor colleague of my husband)

Ricky Smyrnes was convicted of being the ringleader of the “Greensburg 6,” a group of six co-defendants charged in the 48-hour torture and killing of a mentally disabled woman, Jennifer Daugherty in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Audrey Smyrnes, the man’s adoptive mother, testified she adopted him when he was 10-years old. She was aware he was abused physically, emotionally, and sexually as a toddler, but she thought she could help him be successful in life if she loved him unconditionally….”I knew he was going to take a lot of patience. I thought I could do it all,” she testified.


Other common arguments for opposing adult adoptees access to the original birth certificate include the following

  • Promised privacy for the birthparent
  • The adoptee’s conception during a crime—rape, incest
  • Secondary rejection (To be surrendered for adoption is one thing. To be rejected twice – to be rejected as a person, not a theory; to be rejected as an adult and not as an unexpected pregancy is something totally, utterly, abhorrently different.)*

I might add another reason from my experience: the moral wrong done by an adoption agency.
One adoption agency with which I was involved gained the release of an interracial infant with the promise that the child would be placed in a black family. Once the release was signed, confidentiality/secrecy allowed the agency to place the infant in a wealthy white family several states distant.

Whatever the reason or fears, many members of the adoption triad—bio-family, adoptive family, and adoptee—oppose allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth records.

I invite you to vote in the poll, and also to add your opinion, either pro or con, in the comment box below.



Pa. House Bill 162: Adult Adoptees Right to Access Original Birth Certificate

Sign to Support Adoptee Rights to Their Original Birth Certificates

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


* Secondary Adoptee Rejection In Reunion: Hearing The Rejected Adoptee’s Pain

** Defense rests following Ricky Smyrnes’ mother’s testimony in sentencing trial

***  A Child Lost Forever: The Jerry Sherwood Story (1992)



  1. I understand the reasons for opposing adult adoptees having access to their birth records. I have mixed feelings about this issue. Anyone who searches for their birth records/parents needs to think long and hard prior to doing so, and be prepared to deal with the results (the good, the bad and, sometimes, the downright ugly such as conception as the result of rape or incest). A good support system is essential, not just family members but others who have been through this process as well. I know first hand what risky and scary business it is to gain access to your birth record, and to search out family members who may or may not know of your existence. I need to take issue with the word “rejection.” Surrendering a child for adoption is not necessarily rejecting the child. All depends on the circumstances of the birth. Many birth mothers would love to keep their children, but are unable to do so. In this instances I view what the birth mother is doing as giving a gift–the possibility of the child having a better life than she herself could have provided. Also, think of how many adopted children are out their because the birth mother didn’t choose the ultimate rejection–to abort. Another gift. One takes their chances when searching out their birth parents, and preparation is the key. As the saying goes “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” No easy answers. bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb (This last little blurb is courtesy of one of my cats.)

    Comment by Pam — April 5, 2013 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  2. […] Why Oppose Adult Adoptees Accessing Their Original Birth Records […]

    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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