The CABI: Another Piece of the Puzzle

“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 adopteeit.  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.

puzzleThis 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):

CABI Michaels Summer

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.

The Journey – A Musical

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I love this quote for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1: It’s about the music. It explains why I have a playlist for my life. Music speaks to me. My playlist isn’t written down somewhere–it’s subconscious; subliminal.

Reason 2: Deitrich Bonhoeffer is German. I’m German. It’s my heritage; one I didn’t know about (and wasn’t entitled to)  until I discovered my ancestry through DNA. Since learning about my biological father and German heritage, I became a little obsessed with learning about German Americans in WWII and all kinds of spy stories and sabotage operations mounted against targets inside America. Why have I become so obsessed with the dark underside of espionage in WWII? The story of my German ancestors is fascinating and still holds many mysteries waiting to be uncovered.  It’s a long story and I won’t connect all the dots for you here, but Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a musician, a theologist and  a member of the Abwehr (defense) section of the German Military Intelligence Corps, the organization that originally was charged with espionage missions in Europe and the US by Hitler and the Nazi party.  Eventually, however, under cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer became a participant in the German Resistance movement against Hitler and Nazism. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr to assassinate Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in 1945, shortly before the war’s end. So I have a soft spot in my heart for this Bonhoeffer guy.

But I digress. Back to the music. After all, this post is about the music. Everyone knows that the right music can evoke deep emotional response. Think about what composers are able do with movie soundtracks. And that’s without lyrics!  Add some lyrics that might speak to time and place, intended or unintended, and it can leave you in a puddle. It happens to me sometimes.bellingham

Like the time I was traveling twelve hundred miles to Washington for the first time to meet my biological father. I was traveling solo. My husband and my boys were supportive of my personal journey and Guy did offer to go with me, but I knew that if he was with me, I would be distracted by constantly keeping tabs on how he was doing during the trip. I also thought it would be important to have this experience on my own so that I wouldn’t be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to gauge my emotions based on what I thought Guy was thinking, or to play up or down my emotions or reactions for any reason. I didn’t want to feel like I was measuring my reactions or being careful with my words. I wanted to experience everything authentically and honestly.

Once the plane was in the air, I put my earbuds in and turned on some music. My phone was loaded with all of my favorites—mostly U2. I’m a huge fan. Some of you already know that. The sounds of The Edge’s guitar and Adam’s baseline in tune with Bono’s emotive voice never fail to soothe me. Larry’s percussions punctuate each song perfectly. The lyrics of most U2 songs are nuanced with spirituality without being preachy, which is perfect for me, since I consider myself a spiritual person without subscribing to any particular line of religious reasoning. U2’s music is often drenched in emotion, while at the same time the sound is pure, raucous rock and roll. U2’s music has always been a sort of soundtrack for my life.

Invisible was the first song I listened to as the plane settled into cruising altitude.  It was a fairly new song at the time, but I knew the lyrics well. That day, however, while sitting on that airplane headed to a truly new world, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time.

It’s like the room just cleared of smoke
I didn’t even want the heart you broke
It’s yours to keep
You might just need one

Everything I had been told or taught to believe as a child about my adoption was that it was good, simple and straightforward. Be grateful. You were chosen. You are lucky.

I was grateful. My life as an adoptee most definitely didn’t suck, but what was missing was an acknowledgment that being adopted naturally comes with questions, emotions and even fears. Being adopted also comes with confines and rules that have been imposed not only by those individuals closest to me (like parents who never openly discussed adoption), as well as by the law and by strangers who can’t even begin to understand, despite their sincere efforts to make sense of the enigma of adoption on my behalf. The mantra has always been: Don’t question where you are, how you fit in, or where you came from. Just be the person “they” want you to be. You have no right to self-discovery.

But now it seemed that the adoption fog was finally lifting. And in that moment, on the plane, Bono was singing to me.

I finally found my real name
I won’t be me when you see me again
No, I won’t be my father’s son

Real names eventually translate into real history and truth. I found mine. And Jackson—we found his real name, too. Our lives are changed forever.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
More than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible

Margaret, of course, would prefer that I remain invisible. For so long, her rejection of me defined me when it came to thinking about my adoption. It took me some time and soul searching to realize that my existence and the truth about it mattered, even if Margaret felt otherwise. I finally turned the rejection into a redirection. I can accept that Margaret will never know me.

I don’t dream, not as such,
I don’t even think about you that much
Unless I start to think at all
All those frozen days
And your frozen ways
They melt away your face like snow

The anger and the pain of the rejections are melting away. But it had to be realized first. If you would have asked me twenty years ago if I was angry about Margaret’s second rejection of me, I would have told you flat out, “no.”   But in reality, I was denying it. I pushed the anger and the confusion deep down. Now I am finally finding answers about who I really am. I can accept that I may never know my story in its entirety—that there may still be gaps and questions in the grand scheme of it all. It’s okay.

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I am here

Thank you, Bono.

bono roxy

My son, Zach, actually took this photo at the Roxy in Hollywood earlier this year. We were there. Did I mention I’m a huge fan?

Of course, the song really isn’t about my journey–or anyone’s journey–through the adoption maze.  It’s really about how helping others is important.  It is about human dignity and the one human family. The lyrics persuade us to reflect on small movements toward justice, participation in something bigger than ourselves, and solidarity. Bono is a humanitarian of epic proportions.

But in that moment on the plane . . . Corny? Maybe. That’s okay.  I don’t mind being corny.

I’d like to end with another quote.  This one is from Aldous Huxley.  Those  of you that have been following my journey and my quest to get to know my biological father will understand why a quote from Aldous Huxley delights me.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
― Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays

 

Spit and Image

Four and a half months!  I apologize, but I’ve been in my own head since I met my biological father.  Thoughts and emotions have been swirling around in my noggin . . . just trying to make sense of it all.  It’s all so simple, but also complicated!  Mission accomplished . . . but it’s just the beginning of something new.

The trip up to meet Jackson could not have gone better.  We met, we hugged, we talked for hours.  We cooked together, had a drink or two, shared stories, pictures and laughter. And I met my half-sister, Megan, too.  Megan admitted that she was reluctant when I first contacted her.  I know she was being protective of her father.  But she said that when she finally realized I was actually coming, she started to get excited and was looking forward to meeting me.  We were able to spend some time together, as well, and talk about life over a glass of wine or two.

And what of physical similarities?  Even before I met Jackson, through photos, I could see similarities between Jackson and my son, Garrett.  But try as I may, I could not see any physical similarities between myself and Jackson.  It’s something adoptees are obsessed with.  Even when I met him, I didn’t have an “Aha!” moment.  He does have a full beard, so I couldn’t really see the details of his facial features. I gave up looking for the physical similarities.  That is, until I got home and analyzed some old photos.

Spit and Image!

Spit and Image!

Jackson believes he’s about 18 in this photo.  I’m 17.

Spitting image is the usual modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase, however, is spit and image, perhaps inspired by the Biblical God‘s use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image. There is no evidence that the origin of the phrase goes back to Biblical times, but its usage has been traced back to the 17th century in England. It was used to refer to someone who is so similar to another as to appear to have been spat out of his mouth. Of course, spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for over a century, but I prefer the phrase spit and image. After all, we found each other by spitting into test tubes.

Jackson and Garrett

Jackson and Garrett

Layers

First, I have news.  It’s FINALLY happening!  I’m finally going to meet a member of my biological family–my father!

I know my blog and the stories about my journey that I have been sharing with you have pretty much come to a halt.  I apologize for that, but a lot has been happening behind the scenes.  A great amount of it has been very personal and difficult for me to process emotionally; hence, I have not been able to share it here. But I am happy to report that I’ll be meeting Jackson soon.  I’ll also get to meet my half-sister and my niece. It’s a big triumph for me! I will share more about the emotional journey it took to get to this point very soon. For now I’ll tell you that I’m nervous, but Jackson has assured me that he has “open arms” and is looking forward to meeting me, as well.  I will not call it a “reunion,” though, because we never even knew about each other. He didn’t even know I existed, for Pete’s sake! This will simply be a meeting of common hearts and souls.

Sadly, there has been no new news on my bio mom’s side (as expected), although I am still in contact with my aunt (my bio mom’s half-sister) and she has expressed interest in meeting and sharing information with me in the past.  I need to take the initiative to contact her again–I know that I can’t let these opportunities drift by.  Life is too short.

Now about the layers!  Since I’ve been in contact with Jackson, together we have discovered so much about ourselves and our extended family! I recently wrote an article for Secret Sons and Daughters on the importance of sharing stories and contacting everyone and anyone that may have a connection (DNA or otherwise) in order to uncover long lost or forgotten details, secrets and even deception. If you keep sharing, you will eventually come up with something.  Sometimes it’s a big deal (I found my 70-year old father that didn’t even know I existed!) and sometimes it’s just a great little tidbit of history that adds color to your story.

Beach Blanket Bingo!

Beach Blanket Bingo!

For example, with the help of a second cousin (found through a DNA match on 23andMe), and the helpful hints and extensive document library on Ancestry.com, we discovered that Jackson had a nephew (they didn’t know about each other) who was a handsome up-and-coming folk-singer in the early 1960’s, who married a young beauty queen and Hollywood starlet who made appearances in all of the great “Beach Party” movies of the 1960’s (including Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach). Unfortunately, Jackson’s nephew (my first cousin!) was killed at age 26 in a tragic airplane crash off the beach in San Diego while he was flying a small plane with his friend (both experienced pilots).  The beautiful starlet never remarried, but went on to be a successful photographer who hobnobbed with the rock and roll crowd in the late 60’s and 70’s (she toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for a couple of years as their official photographer) and artist.

I think that’s pretty neato. What’s also neato is that I am still discovering new things about my family.  My friend, Nancy, who has been super supportive and helpful with my search and journey, gave me a copy of a small blurb from a magazine that she cut out.  She doesn’t remember where it came from [Nancy remembered: it came from Parade magazine, but we’re still not sure of the date], but it was in the form of a multiple choice question/statement:

When a team of psychologists measured children’s resilience, they found that the kids who were best able to handle stress:

a) knew the most about their family’s history;

b) played team sports;

c) attended regular religious services.

Answer: (a). The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem.  the reason: These children have a stronger sense of “intergenerational self”–they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows.

So keep learning.  And keep peeling away the layers.

We Are Warriors

Personal history must be constantly renewed by telling parents, relatives, and friends everything one does. On the other hand, for the warrior who has no personal history, no explanations are needed; nobody is angry or disillusioned with his acts. And above all, no one pins him down with their thoughts and their expectations. — Carlos Castaneda

For adoptees, personal histories change. You learn little bits of truth and you start to imagine the rest.  Then you learn more, and you rewrite.  It’s kind of like getting to know a new person . . . but it’s you.

All this time I’ve been working on unraveling my own story.  But you know . . .  it’s not only adoptees that  sometimes have to fill in the blanks or rewrite the past.  Take my biological father, for instance.  Remember when I “found” Jackson through our DNA match on 23andMe?  He knew nothing about me–didn’t even know I existed until I contacted him–and he didn’t remember my biological mother (still doesn’t!).  I had asked him why he had submitted his DNA to 23andMe.  He explained that he wanted to try to learn more about his father’s side of the family.  His father died when he was quite young and he was raised by his mother.  His mother was older than his friends’ mothers (she was 41 when he was born).  They were never close. His mother never spoke much about his father.  Even as Jackson grew older and would ask questions, she never gave him any meaningful details about his dad.

As Jackson approached the age of 70, he thought it would be a good idea to at least invest in the DNA test to get a heads up on any potential health concerns (this was prior to the FDA’s directive to 23andMe to stop offering consumers health-related genetic testing results in December 2013). He had a daughter (well, two, actually, if you count yours truly) and a granddaughter (and two grandsons hiding in the shadows!) to think about. Jackson spit into the tube to find out whether he had any health concerns and to fill in some blanks about the family he already knew.

I’m here to tell you, even if you don’t get a “jackpot” match immediately–like I did when I found Jackson (mind blown!)–if you’re looking for someone specific or a specific connection, stay the course with the DNA testing and make contact with those 1st, 2nd and even distant cousins because you never know what will evolve.  Someone out there knows your truth.  They may not know they know, and you may not think that these distant relatives can provide you with any useful information, but you never know when you will get that little piece of information that makes all the other random information come together and make sense.  You can only put together the whole puzzle when you have all of the little pieces.

Of course, we’re talking about the family puzzle.  Families are the cornerstone of life in this great country, providing biological (for most) and social continuity for individuals as they also shape and are shaped by the larger society as a whole.  I’ve experienced first-hand how a society’s larger agenda or values, such as society’s attitudes toward unwed mothers and children born out of wedlock, can affect the family.  Adoption itself was shaped by these values and continues to evolve as society and the American family change with the social and economic ebbs and tides of the past, present and future.

There were and are other factors shaping American families, of course. These days, families come in all shapes and sizes.  Single moms, single dads, two moms, two dads, children being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  The possibilities are really endless.  And for the most part, families today are not bending over backwards to force the appearance of a traditional, nuclear family (mom, dad and a couple of kiddos).  That was part of the problem with families back in the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s and even into the 1970’s and 80’s.  Often there was what may have been considered an “oops” in a family (pre-marital sex and pregnancy, an extramarital affair that resulted in a pregnancy, etc.) and a scramble to cover it up, deny it, or re-shape it into something more acceptable. 

Cover-ups, lies, re-shaping.  Let’s just call it what it is.  Let’s face it.  We lie to protect ourselves; we lie to promote ourselves.  We lie to elevate ourselves; we lie to excuse ourselves. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, when a lie is told or a truth is hidden about the identity of another human being, that lie, cover up or informational void should not follow that person for his or her entire life.  It’s just not fair.  It’s not right.

About 7 months ago, I got one of those initial contact e-mails from a 2nd-3rd cousin through 23andMe. He asked the usual questions, using a template provided by 23andMe:

Hi,

Through our shared DNA, 23andMe has identified us as relatives. Our predicted relationship is 2nd Cousin. Would you like to compare our genomes? By sharing genomes we can compare our DNA using ancestry features and discover clues about how we are related. Surnames in my family: Mann, Bailey, Schmidt.  I live in Northern California now, and I’m in my late 50’s. This is my first experience with 23andMe—interesting!  Andy Mann

Well, none of those names meant anything to me, but, then again, I simply don’t know. So I shared my story with Andy.  Who knows?  Maybe something would click with him.

Hi Andy!

23andMe is most definitely “interesting!” Here is the information I have about my biological family–maybe you can help me put some of the puzzle pieces together and see how we may be related. Unfortunately, the surnames you provided don’t mean anything to me, but there is a reason for that.  Perhaps they will mean something to me after we exchange information (I am hopeful!).

Mine is an interesting story. I was adopted as an infant. Pittman is my adopted name, so it won’t help you with your relative search. But I do have some information that may be able to help you.

I was able to locate my biological mother 25 years ago. Her name is Margaret Michaels, born in Chicago in 1945. Her mother’s name is Eve (maiden name Beryl). I do not know her father’s first name, but I assume his last name was Michaels (I was born “Baby Girl Michaels”).

Margaret never told me who my biological father is (she has refused contact with me–it’s a complicated story), but I was able to find him through 23andMe! His name is Jackson Summer and he currently lives in Washington state. He was born in 1943–I’m not sure where, but he grew up in Santa Barbara, CA (as did Margaret). Perhaps you are a match with Jackson?

I started blogging about my adoption story a few months back.  If you’re interested in reading, you can find it at https://adoptionmytruth.wordpress.com/.

If there is any other information I can give to you, I’d be happy to. Perhaps the surnames I’ve listed here mean something to you. That would be fabulous!

Looking forward to hearing from you again.

Laureen

 

Andy wrote back right away to inform me that none of the surnames or locations rang a bell with him.  I didn’t hear from Andy for 6 months.  And then, this:

Hi Laureen,
Have you been in touch with  Jackson Summer?  My 88 year old mom, who lives in Northern California, recently wrote me this (below).  Can you forward it to him? Hope you’re doing well. – Andy Mann

 

* * * * * *

From my mom:
Jackson is the son of my Uncle Richard, your grandfather’s older brother who had come to this country before your grandfather. Richard Schmidt was married to Katherine and had 2 children: Franz and Marybeth.  The family lived in Fallbrook and every Christmas would send a large box of goodies to our family: oranges, grapefruit and avocados, and always a lovely gift for me and my sister. Living in those days many miles apart, I believe I only saw him once when the family drove to Southern California when I was very young.
I do remember attending the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1915 with Uncle Richard and the rest of my family.  I next spent time with Uncle Richard during WWII when I was a secretary in the Bay Area.  He had an apartment on Telegraph Hill near Coit Tower because he traveled to the Bay Area for work quite often.  He also maintained his home in Southern California where he would go on the weekends.

After the war, I lost track of what Uncle Richard was doing.  I know he was summoned to Washington, D.C. by President Truman and made several trips to the capitol to help with post-war reparations in Europe and rebuilding. It wasn’t until I was married that I learned that Uncle Richard had had an affair while married to his first wife, Katherine.  Of course, everything was very hush hush. He and Katherine were divorced and the “other woman,” whose name was Mollie Summer, had a child.

Heide

 

Whoa!  Jackson and I now realize we have much more in common!  Isn’t the truth a lovely thing?  And Heide?  What a woman!  88 years old!  She’s helping us both uncover our true personal histories.  Jackson is amazed at what is unfolding and it’s actually helping to bring us closer.

Once again, we have to thank science–along with the generous heart of another human being, for connecting us with family.

 

Secret Sons & Daughters – Adoptee Tales

I’m honored that Secret Sons & Daughters has shared part of my story. DNA testing for adoptees is most definitely “trending” these days.  I found answers and information that I didn’t expect . . . you might, too. 

 

Genetic Testing: Miracles and Science

 

Who Are You?

I had lunch recently with a friend of mine who also happens to be adopted.  We hadn’t really talked in quite a long time.  You know the story–we’ve both been busy with our families and all the adventures and complications of raising teens and hustling them off to college and watching them blossom into young adults. But something amazing happened to her recently that changed her life.  Literally, it changed who she was (er . . . is).

My friend (let’s call her Linda) has been following my story here on the blog, but she confessed to me some time ago that she never had the desire to search for her own biological family. She explained that “one family is quite enough.”  Linda’s childhood with her adoptive family was not exactly idyllic, but she’s in a very happy family situation right now with her husband and grown kids–why complicate things?  Because really, who knows what you’ll find?  I get that. The decision to search is a personal one, for sure.

But Linda’s husband is big into genealogy.  He’s done quite a bit of research on his own family tree.  He’s not adopted.  He’s just a guy who’s into his family history.  He even invested in a DNA test to dig deeper into his ancestral history.  Linda did one, too . . . just for the fun of it.

Linda had always been told by her adoptive parents that a big part of her biological ethnicity included ancestors of Mexican heritage.  Well, guess what?  When she received the results of the DNA test (she used AncestryDNA at Ancestry.com) she was shocked and fascinated to find that she has no Mexican blood in her at all! Instead, she found out that a substantial part of her ancestry is actually Native American.

Linda hasn’t changed her mind about actually seeking out her biological parents, but she is definitely interested in defining her family’s biological relationship to Native American heritage. In other words, which tribe?  Were her ancestors here in America before Europeans made their appearance on the continent?  I would find that prospect fascinating, too!

Linda’s husband is helping her build her family tree by reaching out to matches on Ancestry.com.  She still has no real interest in searching for specific people or uncovering her adoption story, per se, but she’s hoping to discover more about her Native American heritage.

While we were sitting there at lunch chatting about the wonders of technology and DNA, an old-fashioned light bulb went on over my head.  Discovering more information about her Native American heritage may be as simple as getting her hands on her non-identifying information! I explained to Linda how she has the right to receive the information. I explained to her how she could request her non-identifying information from the county where she was placed for adoption (she was born and adopted in California).  It is entirely possible that the information would include the name of the tribe.

For some adoptees, the non-identifying information is enough to answer nagging questions. Sometimes it’s a springboard to wanting more details.  Sometimes it’s a can of worms.  But I would encourage all adoptees who have any curiosity at all about their ancestral heritage to request their non-identifying information.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that when I started my search I had my biological mother’s name.  I thought that was enough information to find her.  Turns out it wasn’t.  But once I had the non-identifying information, I was able to put together certain details and find answers quickly.

So here’s a primer on getting your hands on your non-identifying information.  When I got it some 25 years ago, it was a fairly easy process.  All it took was a phone call and one visit to the County Social Services Department.  Now you must make your request in writing. The information below is specifically for California, but the letter sample below can be adapted for other states that provide non-identifying information.


 

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), or the licensed public adoption or private adoption agency that handled your adoption can provide non-identifying background information to adoptees. The information provided includes general facts about the birth parents and may include relevant medical information.You must request this information by writing directly to the licensed adoption agency, if known, or to CDSS at the following address:

California Department of Social Services / Adoptions Support Unit
744 “P” Street, MS 8-12-31
Sacramento, CA 95814

Your letter must include your name, birth date, and the full names of both of your adoptive parents. Also, your signature must be notarized by a Notary Public.

Non-identifying information is background information about the circumstances of your adoption.  When it is prepared, the preparer typically (but sometimes not too successfully!) attempts to remove all of the identifying information (first and last names of birth parents, last names of other family members, etc.).  Non-identifying information may include:

  • Age of your birth mother and birth father
  • Education background of your birth mother and birth father
  • Religious affiliations
  • Physical description
  • Medical history of your birth mother
  • Your birth family ethnicity, nationality or heritage
  • Professions of the birth mother and birth father and their birth parents
  • If the birth mother and father were single or married
  • Hobbies
  • Circumstances of the adoption—the reason given by the birth mother for why you were relinquished
  • Ages of the birth grand parents and information regarding other family members
  • First names of grand parents
  • Additional historical information or other information from the file that the social worker or preparer deems relevant

Remember, however, that the information that will be provided to you was originally obtained by a social worker (or other agency worker) from the birth mother (often under difficult circumstances).  The birth mother may or may not have disclosed the information you are looking for.  And it is quite possible that some of the information provided by the birth mother is false or untrue. She may have made up information or certain details out of fear or to protect herself or others.  The bottom line is: BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING!

Here is a sample letter request:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

My name is ________________________.  I was adopted in _________________ County in [year of adoption] through the [name of county agency or private agency handling adoption].

I am an adult adoptee and find myself in critical need of the non-identifying information contained in my adoption file or other records regarding my birth parents and any other data available regarding my biological family’s history.

Please note that I am not requesting identifying information or an original or amended birth record or certificate.

Name as Adopted:  ________________________

Current Name:  _________________________

Current Address:  __________________________

                              __________________________

Date of Birth:  __________________________

Adoptive Mother’s Maiden Name (if available):  __________________________

Adoptive Father’s Name (if available):  _________________________________

[Provide here any other relevant information you may have regarding your adoption (court case no., date adoption was finalized, etc.)]

Thank you in advance for your assistance in providing this vital information.

Sincerely,

Sign Your Name 

REMEMBER—YOUR SIGNATURE MUST BE NOTARIZED!

It will take a few weeks (or more) before you receive a response from CDSS.  You may get instructions on how to proceed with the local agency where your adoption was finalized. Then, after following their directions, it may take several more weeks or even months before receiving your non-identifying information.

Have you received your non-identifying information?  What surprised you in the information you received?

Legalized Fraud?

My birth certificate bears the words: Certificate of Live Birth, under the two separate, official-looking headers:

State of California

Certification of Vital Records

and

State of California

Department of Public Health

california-sealIt also bears  “The Great Seal of the State of California,” on the left bottom corner, as well as a funky, more modern looking “CDPH” (California Department of Public Health) seal on the bottom right corner.  The paper itself is really official and fancy, too–pretty even–shades of red, white and blue–with a serious blue border with the somber words “Any Alteration or Erasure Voids this Certificate” on the bottom.  When you hold up the certificate to the light, you can see a watermark: “OFFICIAL VITAL RECORD.”logo_CDPH_v.1_color

A birth certificate.  Big deal.  Well, the one I have in my possession is a fraud.  Officially, it’s called an amended birth certificate. And there is actually a legitimate reason for it (although I have a problem with the form of it being the same as an original birth certificate).

Adoption files (usually held by the state department of health or social services and the courts) and original birth certificates of adoptees were sealed to all parties in most states starting in the early 1930’s (open adoption records were the norm prior to this time). Historically, there are a number of reasons cited for the sealing of the records. Basically, birth records were amended and sealed based on ideas of the shame of adoption, the stigma of illegitimacy, and the attempt to hide the adoptive family from the socially scorned birth mother.  I won’t go into the details here because there has been so much written on the subject of anonymity in adoptions and there are so many opinions out there.  If you want to read about it in more depth, you can go here: Bastard Nation; or here: California Open (related specifically to California adoptions); or just Google “sealed adoption records” and you’ll get all kinds of articles and all kinds of opinions on the subject.

I understand the need for privacy when a child is placed for adoption.  The adoptive family needs to bond with the child and eventually tell the story of their family (including the adoption) in their own way.  But the story needs to be told.  Families that don’t tell their adopted children that they were adopted really scare me.   But that’s another blog–not mine.  I always knew I was adopted.  It was a happy story.

Back to sealed records. There is just one argument on the side of sealed records that I don’t like.  It’s not just that I don’t agree with it–it’s that it’s just plain wrong.  And I want to be clear about it so it doesn’t clog up any argument you may want to have with me about sealed records and any so-called right to privacy.  Plain and simple: there is no right to privacy in adoption that extends to a birth parent.  Anonymity may have been promised and may have been desired by a birth parent, but there is nothing in any adoption law or even in the official relinquishment papers signed by the birth parent(s), that guarantees anonymity.  It’s a funny idea  to me–like wanting to be in the witness protection program. I just don’t get it.  You gave birth to a person. A thinking person. 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said it quite simply when it upheld a Tennessee law granting adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates:

“A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event — the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth.

The judges of the Sixth Circuit Court also wrote: “if there is a federal constitutional right of familial privacy, it does not extend [to birth parents who have relinquished children to adoption]” and cited  a 1981 decision in which the appeals court found that

[T]he Constitution does not encompass a general right to nondisclosure of private information.

Interestingly, the Court went a little further and dealt with the emotion of it all and found that the interest of an adoptee to know who his or her birth parents are is

an interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy.

[106 F.3d 703 (6th Cir. 1997)]

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to overrule the Appeals Court ruling in favor of open records.

Remember that I am talking about information and identity and the documentation that can provide this information.  I am not talking about relationships.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I gave up my idea of ever having any kind of relationship with my biological mother.  She refuses even to communicate in any meaningful way, so it’s a non-issue for me.  It has become an issue for others, though, namely Jackson, my biological father, who cannot remember anything about his apparently fleeting relationship with Margaret.  He’d like to communicate with her. But we cannot legislate communication, relationships, or emotions.  So there you have it.

My record of identity–my amended birth certificate (the only one I have)–is fraught with obvious inaccuracies.  For starters, I think it would be helpful if adopted persons were provided with a document with a different title, such as, Amended Birth Certificate or Certificate of Adoption.  It’s quite confusing to see the words “Certificate of Live Birth” showing “Mother of Child” as my adoptive mother and “Father of Child” as my adoptive father.  “Informant’s Certification” lists my adoptive mother’s name (typewritten in where there is supposed to be a signature) and dashes (—–) in the blank for “Date Signed By Informant.”

Even weirder, for “Place of Birth,” the “City or Town” is listed as Corona; however, the “County” is listed as “San Bernardino.”  The City of Corona is actually located in Riverside County, not San Bernardino County.  But the Chino Institute for Women is actually located in Chino, in the County of San Bernardino (I’m not sure what hospital facilities were used when I was born).  You’d think if my birth parents wanted to “hide” the fact that I was born in prison by changing the city from Chino to Corona, you’d think they’d figure out that they’d need to change the County to Riverside, as well.  In addition, the “Place of Birth – Name of Hospital” and “Street Address” spots are left completely blank.  Like I just appeared into thin air into the arms of my adoptive parents. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks-who-cares-it-does’t-matter nightmare.  Okay, so it’s not a nightmare–it’s just a fraud.  A fake. It makes me feel like a phony.journey

I’m working on my Petition for Authorization to Inspect Adoption and Birth Record Information, which I will file with the Superior Court.  California law provides that I must show good cause and state the reasons that I need to see my own birth record. It’s up to the judge to decide whether my reasons are compelling enough. If my petition is successful, I will be able to view my original sealed birth certificate.  It will remain sealed–not open to public inspection.  I would also gain access to view my adoption :”file,” which contains all of the information and documentation provided by the Department of Social Services to the Court and the Court documents relating to my adoption.  Some counties have simple petition “forms” to complete and file.  The county that I need to file in does not, so I am drafting it from scratch.  There aren’t many useful “samples” out there, so I am struggling to get it just right.  I’ll post a copy when I’m finished with it. After all, it’s public record.

Wish me luck!

Scars and Chain Link Fences

Scars fade with time. And the ones that never go away, well, they build character, maturity, caution. — Erin McCarthy

Relationships develop slowly.  Because they have to.  Adults, with their character, reasoning, actions and reactions having been molded by a lifetime of individual (and sometimes solitary) experience, are often cautious.  Sometimes the lifetime of experience builds walls, causing unintended isolation and a kind of numbness to what’s real and what matters. The walls can not only separate you from other people, they can separate you from your true self–making relationships difficult, or even impossible.fence flowers 1

I like to think that I have no walls.  But I know that is not entirely true.  I would characterize them more as fences, rather than walls. Something like a chain-link fence that I can see through and past. It’s easy for me to let people in . . . most of the time.  It’s super easy for me to go outside of my fence and do whatever it is I need to do. But there are times when I don’t let anyone in. And there are times I just hang out . . . alone. But doesn’t everyone have walls or fences?

Writing this blog is a big deal for me.  I’ve let all of you in.  You know my reality–I’ve told it exactly like it is.  The truth–except for changing some of the names.  My reality.  As much as I know.  As much as I allow myself to feel.

I know that my reality, or my adoption truth, is different from anyone else’s.  It’s even different for those who are directly involved in my story.  A person’s reality, whether or not adoption is part of the picture, is a obviously a product of many subjective perceptions, filtered through a personal and unique emotional, psychological and sometimes spiritual lens. But without the truth, reality is skewed.  It’s wrong.

Everyone is entitled to know the facts or learn their own truth. If an individual does not know his or her truth, the lies become the story.  The lies become the history.  The lies become the untruth. It’s unfair.

Why can’t we all be on the right side of history?  The correct and only reality: the truth . An adoptee’s experience as he or she grows should be affirmed with the truth–the story of what really happened.  It’s understood that as a child she is told only small parts of the truth.  As much as a child’s brain can handle and still allow love and trust to enter the picture.  But as an adult, she should be given the opportunity to hear the truths from those that lived it, and to be offered context in order to process and to own that truth. With that truth, an adoptee can build a sense of trust and openness, as well as a willingness to share. Intimacy.

I am thankful that Jackson is open and honest.  He and I are learning about each other.  I am happy that he is open to learning more about himself by letting me be a part of his truth. It’s amazing, really. He’s still grappling with the idea of having a “new” 50-year-old daughter and he has many questions himself.  Questions that I can’t answer.  His truth, like mine, depends on context and answers that can be provided by only one person: Margaret.

Talk about walls. As you know, I was not able to break down Margaret’s walls.  I believe she’s happy content oblivious numb living inside those walls. She feels protected–from what, I do not know. Jackson still toys with the idea of writing to Margaret.  He’s even mentioned wanting to “see” her.

He asked me recently about how I felt about Margaret today. My response:

I want to be as clear as possible about how I feel about Margaret. I know enough about her (her situation 50 years ago, as well as her life as an adult, which includes a successful career and fierce independence as a woman), and while I would have loved to have had some sort of open communication with her over the years, I understand that I won’t. Frankly, the person that I am today doesn’t want to meet her. In my heart I believe that she would disappoint me if I ever did meet her in person–she was not meant to be a mother and she absolutely did the right thing in relinquishing me for adoption. That being said, I am not angry or resentful. Disappointed–yes. But not angry. And definitely not longing for some motherly relationship I never had.

I loved his response.

Laureen, I like you very much…. you are honest and straight forward. I am more and more inclined to write your mom and tell her exactly what has happened here. She needs to understand that whatever has happened is old business. Life is what it is about right now. Making things better on this planet is what it is about. I just don’t want to cause her trouble.

Warm Fuzzy

Warm Fuzzy

I especially liked the “I like you very much” part. [warm fuzzies]

Real Life Unfolding . . . Be Patient

We should not be so taken up in the search for truth, as to neglect the duties of active life; for it is only action that gives a true value and commendation to virtue. — Marcus Tullius Cicero

I’ve neglected this blog.  I apologize.  “Real life” has kind of taken over.  Wait . . . that’s not accurate. Or fair. It’s all real. What I mean is, some things going on in my life have taken a priority over other things. I haven’t been able to keep you properly updated on everything that’s been going on. Nothing earth shattering . . . but that’s okay.  After all, it’s just real life.

I’m currently re-reading Richard Hill’s book, Finding Family.  I devoured it quickly several months ago, at that time I was mostly interested in how DNA testing fit into the search for his biological family. It’s a fascinating story that begins before the internet even existed and continues through the evolution of science and technology. I won’t spoil the story for you (you should read it!), but I keep thinking about how patient he was.  His search over the decades was methodical and creative at times.  Before the internet appeared on the scene, “research” was done with a lot of legwork (especially difficult if you are researching something that happened in another state or another even another country), hit and miss telephone calls, and dogged determination.  Understandably, there were periods over the nearly 3-decade time period when nothing happened.  No progress was made. Sometimes years  went by with his search just sitting on the back burner.  He got busy with “real life.”

Real life includes it all: your health and the health of your family members, your marriage (or your relationship with your significant other), family, friends, kids in school, kids in sports, adult kids moving back home, aging parents that need help more and more, career, hobbies, etc.  At any moment, the juggling act to keep it all going can be thrown out of whack. Throw in a search for biological family members and all of the emotional ups and downs that go with it.  Something has to give.

Needless to say, my real life has gotten a little crazy lately.  I know I don’t need to explain it to you because I know that each and every one of you have experienced some sort of personal crisis or something that seemed to suddenly throw your life into chaos or elevated stress mode. So I apologize for the lag in between posts.  Enough said about that.

There is good news.  I’m happy to report that Jackson and I are communicating again. Apparently the communication “breakdown” was caused by a new e-mail address and a problem with e-mail servers not accepting mail from certain domains. We’ve figured it out and all is well.  He’s still the open-hearted, sweet man he always has been.  We even video chatted!  It was totally by accident (my son just pushed the button and handed me the phone and there he was!) and I was totally unprepared, but it was really fantastic to talk to him “face-to-face.”  He still has questions and still wants to know more about Margaret. I wish I knew more.  He’s written a few letters to Margaret, but hasn’t sent any.  He’d rather talk to her in person (he’s brave).  I told him I’d help him out however I can.  Who knows . . . maybe a road trip is in our future!  Okay, that’s a long shot.  I still haven’t even met Jackson.  I hope to soon.

Jackson does want to go ahead and re-submit DNA to another company to confirm our father/daughter match.  I’m fine with that, so hopefully we’ll be doing that soon.  I think I will also submit samples from both of my sons at the same time.  Perhaps a double dose of an instant grandson matches might convince him beyond a reasonable doubt that he is my biological father.

If you’ll recall, a few months ago when Jackson suggested sending in another sample he thought it would also be a good idea to have his other daughter submit a sample, too.  I thought that would be cool–a sister.  But apparently she’s not interested.  I don’t know exactly how she feels about my arrival on the scene, but she is not interested in sending in a DNA sample to help her father out.  It’s also apparent that she isn’t interested in developing a relationship with her biological half-sister.  At least not yet.  That’s okay . . . remember Richard Hill’s story?  These things take time.  And I know from past experience you just can’t rush (or force) these things.

The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter. — Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die