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MN adoptees now have unfettered access to their original birth records

Minnesota's new state flag adopted in 2024 flies over the Minnesota State Capitol in May 2024.
Lorie Shaull
/
Contributed
Minnesota's new state flag adopted in 2024 flies over the Minnesota State Capitol in May 2024.

The changes to the state law — which require disclosure, no matter birth parent preference — come as more people are uncovering their ancestry through DNA testing kits.

Minnesota became the 15th state in the nation on Monday, July 1, to open access to original birth certificates for adoptees born in the state.

An estimated 172,000 previously sealed birth records instantly became available by request to adoptees or their close relatives, following a law passed by the Legislature in the 2023 session. The change comes as more people are discovering their birth parents through DNA testing kits like those from Ancestry and 23AndMe.

Minnesota State Registrar Molly Crawford said staff in the vital records division of the Minnesota Department of Health have been preparing for this day for a year. She said she expects a massive influx of requests for birth records, which the state has kept since 1900.

“A lot of people are affected by adoption, either directly or indirectly, and so there have been advocates wanting this change for a long time,” Crawford said in a Thursday interview. “And so yes, there's been some preparation in changing our vital records system to be able to issue the documentation that's required under the new law.”

How does this law affect you? We’d love to hear your story. Email us at news@kaxe.org.

Access to original birth certificates has long been challenging or impossible for people adopted in closed adoptions in the United States. State laws allowed birth parents to withhold their identities from their birth children indefinitely. The advent of DNA testing kits, however, provided a new avenue for people to learn their origins.

“Birth parents and adopted people have connected through other means, and the expectations around what should be held private and confidential have changed,” Crawford said. “And I think that contributed to the law change.”

The new law gives adopted people who are 18 or older the ability to receive these birth records and any other documentation associated with the case. This includes court case file numbers for adoption records or contact preference forms, which allow birth parents to indicate if they prefer direct contact, outreach through a proxy or no contact at all.

The law also allows close relatives or a legal representative of an adoptee who is deceased to acquire original birth records. Genetic siblings who are 18 and older can also request identifying information from the adoption agency.

Crawford said that since a statewide mailing went out in June to every residence in Minnesota, the health department has received about 200 more of these preference forms.

“Over the course of a century, birth parents understood that these records would be sealed. And the law did change, which may have come as a surprise,” Crawford said. “We've had birth parents call us who are concerned because this information maybe they've never shared. ... They could have held this information secret for 50 years, not even telling a spouse or their other children.

“And so there are some concerns about the release of the information. But it is the law, and MDH will do what's required of the law.”

While the law change is certain to change lives and give people more background about themselves, Crawford also noted the limited information available in the birth records.

“It will have names of birth parents. It will have a place of birth, time of birth. But it's not going to have medical information. And so gaining access to the original birth record might be one tool, or one document, an adopted person can use to maybe get at the other information that they want.”

Crawford said it’s likely for some adoptees, the documents won’t necessarily solve the mysteries they’ve sought to unpack for years. This is especially the case for older records.

“There's a number of original birth records that have just one parent listed — perhaps a single mom who may have been at one of those unwed mothers homes long ago who may have used an alias name on that original documentation,” she said. “And so even though an adopted person may gain access to their original birth record, it may not give them the results that they've been waiting for.

“I'm hoping that we can provide them those documents, and that they can put them to good use.”

For more information about the law, visit this comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions prepared by the Adoptee Rights Law Center.

Chelsey Perkins spent the first 15 years of her journalism career as a print journalist, primarily as a newspaper reporter and editor. In February 2023, she accepted a role as News Director of KAXE in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where she's building a new local newsroom at the station.