It’s safe to say that most of my readers are genealogists. I came upon a question today that may be of great interest to genealogists – what would you do if you couldn’t do genealogy? I don’t mean you can’t find someone or have a “brick wall” that is hindering your research. I mean what if you had all of the desire, curiosity, and sheer determination that we genealogists have to dig up our roots, but you could not research your family history because you didn’t know who your parents were? And the government won’t show you your own birth certificate?
I learned today that this is the fate of most adoptees in the United States. Birth records in 44 states are completely closed to adoptees, so they are unable to learn the bare facts about their family history. Privacy laws have been on the books for a few generations that deny access to adult adoptees to protect the privacy of the parents who chose to give their child up for adoption. In theory, it’s understandable. But in reality, is it practical? Advocates of open access insist the issue is unrelated to the decision to find or know their birth parents, but is more about a right that nearly all of us have to simply have a copy of the birth record that all other Americans are allowed to have. Those for open access argue that the family history, regardless of the reasons for the adoption, is important for health or genealogical reasons. Opponents insist that the parents have the right to remain unknown.
I think adoption is a wonderful thing and a selfless act on the part of both parties – the birth mother/parents as well as the adoptive parent/s. But does giving up a child to another out of love allow someone to remain anonymous? Does knowing your parents’ names guarantee a relationship with them?
It’s a tough issue, and I’m no expert since I am not adopted nor have I given up a child for adoption. But, as a genealogist, I honestly can’t imagine not knowing my ancestry. I know many people who have no interest in their genealogy whatsoever. But, what if you are like me and you do have that interest – yet you can’t even get a copy of your own birth certificate to surmise what nationality your ancestors were?
I learned about this issue because advocates of adoptee rights protested yesterday here at the Philadelphia Convention Center during the National Conference of State Legislatures. Read more about their cause here. I wish them luck. I don’t know what I’d do if I enjoyed genealogical research as much as I do but could not research my own genealogy. What would you do?