Sealed Adoption Records: Case Closed?

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If you’re an adoptee searching for your biological roots, you may face a formidable challenge if the state where you were born has its adoption records sealed. Below is a list of states and their current sealed adoption record status, according to the American Adoption Congress. Is your state giving you access?

AlabamaUnrestricted Access
AlaskaUnrestricted Access
ArkansasAccess with Restrictions
ColoradoUnrestricted Access
ConnecticutPartial Access
DelawareAccess with Restrictions
HawaiiUnrestricted Access
IllinoisAccess with Restrictions
IndianaAccess with Restrictions
KansasUnrestricted Access
MaineUnrestricted Access
MarylandPartial with Restrictions
MassachusettsPartial Access
MichiganPartial with Restrictions
MinnesotaPartial with Restrictions
MissouriAccess with Restrictions
MontanaPartial with Restrictions
NebraskaPartial with Restrictions
New HampshireUnrestricted Access
New JerseyAccess with Restrictions
New MexicoSealed
New YorkSealed
North CarolinaSealed
North DakotaSealed
OhioAccess with Restrictions
OklahomaPartial with Restrictions
OregonUnrestricted Access
PennsylvaniaAccess with Restrictions
Rhode IslandUnrestricted Access
South CarolinaPartial with Restrictions
South DakotaSealed
TennesseeAccess with Restrictions
VermontPartial with Restrictions
WashingtonAccess with Restrictions
West VirginiaSealed
WisconsinAccess with Restrictions

If you discovered your state is listed as “sealed,” how do you hurdle that brick wall? Start by requesting non-identifying information, such as location and time of birth, from the adoption agency. If you don’t know the name of the agency, call the state social services department or the birth hospital to ask. (A good place to start is to type the state name plus social services department into Google.) If you do learn the name of the adoption agency but discover it no longer exists, check with local historical societies to see whether they have the records (or know who does).

A more directly actionable approach — but the one that potentially could yield the most information — is to petition the court to open the records. First, locate the county that holds the adoption record, so you know where to file your case: Start with the county where you were born, then check the county where your adoptive parents lived when they adopted you. Keep in mind birth mothers sometimes used aliases, and adoption agencies generally didn’t verify birth information. You’ll also need to know the state laws governing records access by adoptees.


Posting queries on online forums also may prove fruitful. State your question clearly and give all the details you know. Finally, find and contact your state representative and urge them to reconsider the state’s stance on sealed adoption records.