The Strange History of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Records

Adoption Quarterly, Vol. 5, p. 63, 2001

12 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2009 Last revised: 20 Sep 2012

See all articles by Elizabeth J. Samuels

Elizabeth J. Samuels

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: 2001


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, contemporary accounts reported that most states had sealed adoption court records completely but, typically, had sealed original birth certificates from all persons except adult adoptees. Through the 1950s influential experts recommended that original birth certificates remain available to adult adoptees, while birth and court records otherwise be closed to all persons except upon court order. In 1960 the laws in some 40 percent of the states still permitted adult adoptees to inspect them, but between 1960 and 1990 all but a handful of the rest of the states closed the birth records to adult adoptees. Since then a number of states have passed laws providing adult adoptees access to formerly sealed birth certificates. This article summarizes the authors research on and analysis of the complex history of the states sealing these records and now beginning to reopen them to the adult adoptees whose births they record.

(Correction and update: Delaware and Illinois provide a right of access to all adult adoptees, qualified by a possibility of a birth parent vetoe. At least eight states, including Nebraska, have recognized a right of access prospectively, which is also subject to birth parents vetoes. Since the publication of the article, New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island have joined Alabama, Oregon, and Tennessee in restoring access to original birth certificates to adult adoptees.)

Keywords: adoption, birth records, adult adoptees, access, family law

JEL Classification: K19, K39, D19, I18

Suggested Citation

Samuels, Elizabeth J., The Strange History of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Records (2001). Adoption Quarterly, Vol. 5, p. 63, 2001, Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth J. Samuels (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States
410 837 4534 (Phone)
410 837 4560 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics