Every day we hear from adoptees make the statement, “If I had my Original Birth Certificate I wouldn’t need to hire a PRO to help me find my birth family. That’s a pretty common assumption in the adoption community. However I’d like to enlighten a few of you who feel that way based on what we know ‘historically’ and by reviewing hundreds of OBC’s submitted for review by stumped and confused adoptees who ARE in possession of their Original Birth certificates.
Historically it was not uncommon for agencies to encourage alias names to be placed on ‘official and legal’ documents. Come to find out, this was a pretty standard practice with high volume and religious based placing agencies from the late 1940’s to the mid 1970’s in many of the states now granting access to Original Birth certificates.
One of our oldest cases comes to mind. We had a set of twin girls born in Illinois. They were in possession of their birth surname from the beginning since it was a private adoption. They hired the Illinois intermediary system to conduct a search, who found a woman who matched the name and the age of the birth mother, who denied being the birth mother. The twins’ adoptive mother then hired our agency to locate the birth mother. The day OBC access was granted in Illinois they were one of the first requests to process, and they shortly thereafter received their OBCs. Their search resumed. Within a week I had located a likely candidate to be the biological mother. She is a current family law practitioner in the State of Wisconsin. When contacted (again) she informed me that she was ‘not’ their biological mother, provided proof that she’d given birth to her own child four months prior to their own birthdate, and was highly curious as to how such a ‘mistake’ could have been made on an official document. The only way possible was someone she knew from that time used her name on the official documents. Quite the Quandary for everyone involved.
Even if the names are correct the mother’s surname may be a former married name. Many of the New York adoptees who don’t have access to their OBC but at one time ‘did’ have access to the boroughs birth index have discovered, usually after decades of search and after doing DNA.
Even in newly opened OBC access states information on the OBC may cause some consternation. We recently worked on a Rhode Island search where the adoptee had the birth mother’s name and last known address. Let’s call her Jacquelyn. Jacquelyn’s surname matched the name of the residents living in that household in the census records. We quickly tracked her down, only to be told that she ‘was not’ the birth mother, and then added, if you don’t believe me check my DNA results on Ancestry. Sure enough, she was not our client’s biological mother, but she ‘was’ a 5th cousin. Back to the drawing board, and we located the correct Jacquelyn and asked about her residence at that time. She had no idea that the home she rented a room in had at one time been owned by blood relatives. Without DNA we would probably have assumed that we did have the correct party, but she was denying the connection.
Don’t take information at face value. Assume that it’s correct, but if the party you locate is a bit older or younger than what’s listed on your OBC, do ‘not’ discount the possibility. Those who complete records and those who write up non-identifying information are just as human as we are, and transposing numbers or letters is a possibility. In many cases intake notes were taken from the biological mother or family during the first or second visit to the agency. The age given at that time may very well change by one year if the birth occurs after the mother’s birthday.
Be prepared for the weird coincidences in life. Many adoptees have reported that once they received their OBC they realized that their either knew, or someone they knew was connected to their biological family.
Even with excellent non-identifying information and an OBC or a name, it’s not always easy to put those puzzle pieces together and there is no shame in contacting a professional for assistance.