“Lies require commitment.”
― Veronica Roth, Divergent
Unfortunately, this post may only be of interest to adoptees born in California. Read on!
I had always assumed that my birth mother left blank the space on my original birth certificate (OBC), or filled it in “unknown.” Of course, I do not have access to my OBC. In order for me to get access, I must file a petition with the Superior Court of California showing “good and compelling cause” to have the records unsealed. I’ve thought about doing it. I’ve drafted a petition. I’ve never filed it.
I am one of the “lucky” ones. My puzzle was solved through DNA. Frankly, I don’t need my OBC. And if you were born in California, you may not need it, either. Of course, we should all be able to access our OBCs once we are adults–I’m not saying we’re not entitled. Of course we are. I’m just talking about different ways to piece together your puzzle.
Do you know about the California Birth Index? I’m not talking about the record of your OBC, which is maintained by the California Department of Public Health–because you’re not entitled to that if you were adopted. I’m talking about the California Birth Index (CABI), which is a completely separate database compiled by the California Office of Health Information and Research (which is described as a “program” established under the California Department of Public Health). The CABI does not contain the same information as a birth certificate. The CABI contains birth records of all registered births in California between 1905 and 1995. The information generally available through the CABI is: date of birth, full name, county of birth, gender, and the mother’s maiden name.
This is where it gets interesting for California adoptees. No, the skies aren’t going to open up with all the answers you’ve been looking for, but you may be able to find another piece to your puzzle. Like your birth father’s last name.
Unmarried women will often have two listings for the original birth–the baby of an unwed mother is listed with the last name of each parent. Both listings show date of birth, mother’s maiden name and county of birth. In the case of married couples or unmarried couples where the father identifies himself at the time of birth there will be only one original record–under the name of the father. And in cases where the mother refuses to identify the father (or she doesn’t know), there will also only be only one birth record–under the name of the mother. Surprisingly, the the California Office of Health Information and Research, through the CABI, has made every effort to provide as many options as possible for a child to use later on. Go figure.
I didn’t know about the CABI until fairly recently. Had I known about it sooner, I would have known my birth father’s last name before I found him through the use of DNA. I would not have had his first name, but it is possible that I could have tracked him down with the other clues I had–like where he grew up, his age, etc. Another piece of the puzzle.
When I accessed the CABI a few weeks ago, here is what I found when I entered my information (I entered my DOB, birth mother’s surname, and county of birth):
Two entries! One that lists my last name as Michaels (b-mom’s surname) and one that lists my last name as Summer (b-dad’s surname). This blew me away! Apparently, Margaret knew the identity of my birth father all along! If she hadn’t known, or refused to divulge the information, my birth record under the CABI would have only shown a single record with the last name “Michaels.” That’s what I expected to find . . . what a surprise! Hmmmmm. All the more interesting that Jackson cannot remember Margaret, or the circumstances that brought them together to create me.
This is cool, too: if your birth mother named you before putting you up for adoption, it will be listed here, as well. If you were not given a first name and were just called “Baby Girl” or “Baby Boy” (like I was), the record will show a blank for the first and middle names (as above).
I also found it interesting that the CABI does not list the child again under the adopted name. You’re not born again when you are adopted, so that makes perfect sense to me. The CABI just doesn’t care about your sealed records, your adoption, or your silly “amended” birth certificate. How refreshing, actually!
The CABI is available from several websites, including Ancestry.com, Family Tree Legends, Vital Search, and, of course, here: CaliforniaBirthIndex.org. I like to access the information through SFgenealogy.org–I find their search engine to be the most useful.