When I began to search for my birth parents, I knew adoption records were sealed. But I still started where many adoptees start. I wrote to my state’s Vital Records Office to request a copy of my birth certificate.
I expected to receive some kind of form letter about closed adoption records. To my surprise I received an official birth certificate listing my adoptive parents. There was no mention of an adoption.
Genealogists consider government records of birth, marriage, and death to be the highest form of proof in tracing a family tree. So I was absolutely shocked that the State of Michigan would deliberately falsify a birth certificate.
Fortunately, I had other information that enabled me to learn the identity of my birth mother. She died in a Jeep accident a year after I was born. So I would never meet her. Although I learned a lot about her without access to my adoption records, none of her friends or family members knew the identity of my father.
Now I knew my birth mother had been married and divorced before I came along. So once again I requested a birth certificate. But this time I made the request using my first name and my birth mother’s married name.
The certificate I received in the mail was one step closer to the truth. Created before my adoption, it correctly listed my birth mother. But it incorrectly listed her husband as my father. They had separated six months before she got pregnant. And everyone assured me there was no way he would have been my father.
Eventually, I learned the reasoning behind this second false certificate. My birth mother’s divorce was not final until shortly after she became pregnant. Since she was still legally married nine months before my birth, the law presumed her husband was my father.
I also wrote the county court that held my adoption records. I got back the typical “non-identifying information.” The data on my birth mother matched what I already knew. The information on my birth father stated that he was Polish.
Assuming this was correct, I spent years searching for and checking out men with Polish names who knew my birth mother. Other possibilities surfaced; but I rejected all men without Polish names.
Many years later the court allowed a confidential intermediary to check my adoption file. She then located the Polish man my mother had named. But parental DNA testing proved he could not possibly be my father.
I want to caution adoptees that “official” information about your birth father may not be true. Your birth mother has to provide a name for the adoption records. But adoption officials simply accept what she tells them. Nobody checks this out.
Sometimes birth mothers get it wrong. Often, a woman won’t know she’s pregnant for a few months. If she was seeing more than one man, she may not know which one was the father. And her statement is simply a guess.
In many cases a birth mother may deliberately lie about the father’s identity. I eventually learned through genealogy DNA testing that my biological father was a man who had been married at the time. The Polish man my mother named was single.
My mother was concerned that her ex-husband might use her out-of-wedlock pregnancy to win custody of the child they had together. So I believe she considered the single man less damaging to her reputation. And that’s why she falsely named him as my father.
I have written a book that tells my whole story with all the details and all the highs and lows. In it, I describe in detail every DNA test that I took to finally learn the truth about my biological roots.
Whether you're searching for your own roots or just craving a darn good read, this is a book you will likely devour in one sitting...and wholeheartedly recommend to others.
Legacy Family Tree. Learn genealogy and genetic genealogy at your own pace with a monthly or annual webinar membership. All live webinars are free to the public. With a webinar membership, you get on-demand access to all their video archives, and access to the instructors' handouts. Watch via your computer or mobile device. New videos are added monthly at no additional cost.