Adoption laws more humane

One of the most heartbreaking things I did was to deny an adopted man the names of his birth parents.

I was pinch-hitting as assistant city clerk during an election when we were short of staff.  The man in question came in seeking his real birth record.  He had some information and the old city records showed his birth, marked “illegitimate,” the legal term given to children of unmarried parents, and gave the name of his real mother; she had registered the father’s name as well.

At that time Maine law wouldn’t allow me to give him his own parents’ names though I was able to view the record. I was sad and angry that I, a stranger, could see this and the man most involved couldn’t. There was no recourse for him at that time.

Fortunately, the law has changed.  Today adoptees can obtain a copy of their original birth record.  They can also file a request with Child & Family services through the Department of Human Services in Augusta (online at http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cw/adoption/reunionregistry.htm) to attempt to make contact with a birth parent should that parent be willing.  Other researchers aren’t allowed this information.

In earlier times, our ancestors often weren’t concerned with formal adoption procedures and this is something to keep in mind when you are researching.  Unofficial or off-the-record adoptions pop up in family trees.  Sometimes a family would take in an orphaned relative or neighbor child and raise him/her as their own.  Sometimes an older daughter would bear a child out of wedlock, a grievous sin not so long ago, and the child would be raised as a “menopause” baby of his/her grandparents. This happened frequently in families and the child might never know the truth that his older sister was actually his mother.

In the case of second marriages I have an example where the second wife brought a very young daughter into the new family and that little girl was raised using her stepfather’s surname without a legal adoption.  I don’t know if she knew the truth about her real father, but her birthdate, her mother’s date of widowhood in her first marriage, and the stepfather’s first wife’s death date all point out the facts clearly.

I’m sure there were other instances of children being raised by people not their birth parents.  Sometimes the children found out only as adults and the knowledge could often be traumatic for the child. Not so long ago adopted parents often didn’t tell their children they were adopted and they never learned the truth. DNA tests today sometimes deliver this news to unsuspecting descendants.

I’m truly grateful a more humane law and a more tolerant society permits adopted children to identify and learn more about their birth families and even meet their mothers if both sides are willing for this to happen.  If you have records that don’t add up, the 60-year-old mother for example, you may be looking at an informal adoption in your own family tree.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com. Her semimonthly column is sponsored by the Aroostook County Genealogical Society which meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Caribou Library at 6:30 p.m. Guests are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.

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