How did records
get sealed
in the first place?


Adoption laws are decided state by state. Minnesota was the very first state to seal records back in 1917. The reasoning was appropriate for the era. Sealing the record from the public would ‘protect the child from the stigma of illegitimacy’. Over the next three decades, other states began to follow suit, for varying reasons. California sealed records in 1935 purportedly to protect wealthy adoptive parents (movie stars?) from the potential of blackmail.  But many states still allowed access to original birth certificates well into the 20th century. Interestingly, some states only sealed records after adoptees began seeking out their origins. Massachusetts sealed its records in 1974. Alabama sealed them in 1990 – and then unsealed them nine years later.

Unsealing the records does not mean that they will be made public. The adopted citizen is the only person who will have access to the record.

The history of how records were sealed was magnificently examined by legal scholar Elizabeth Samuels. To read a summary or her full work, visit:

The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry Into the History of Adult Adoptee Access to Birth Records
Rutgers Law Review, Vol. 53

How Adoption in America Grew Secret: Birth Records Weren’t Closed for the Reason You Might Think
Washington Post

The Strange History of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Records
Adoption Quarterly, Vol. 5

In addition, there are two other books which explain the history of two specific states: Tennessee and California.

The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption,
by Barbara Bisantz Raymond

The Donaldson Report

The Evan B. Donaldson Institute is the only independent institute providing research on adoption issues today. For more information about their work, or to read the comprehensive version of “For the Records II” which was released July 2010, visit: