Government Secret: How to Access Your Original Birth Certificate and Adoption Records in Tennessee

Those of you who have been following my blog will be happy to hear that I finally gained access to my sealed records. Few people realise how long, drawn-out and humiliating this process is and are shocked when I explain it. Since I finally have the records in my hands, I thought I would type out my entire process from start-to-finish so that people can see from my perspective what it is like to apply for sealed records from the state of Tennessee.

Here are a few things I'd like for you to keep in mind. Two states never sealed records. Four additional states have unsealed their records and have open access. A few more states have some sort of access but allow original parents r to deny access or allow adoptees to see only censored records. The rest of the country allows adoptees access to their records by court order only (so you can imagine how hard it is to get anything at all in those states).

I'd like to  also point out is that along with the adoption records being sealed, so is an adoptee's Original Birth Certificate. My birth certificate was altered to show my adoptive parents as though they gave birth to me and my original was sealed as though it was something shameful.

Lastly, the "blame" for this mess lies solely with a messed up system that is governed by out-dated and archaic laws that stigmatize unwed mothers and their children. These flawed policies are not the fault of adoptees themselves, original parents, or adoptive parents.

When you read this, keep in mind that a Tennessee born individual can pay $8 to obtain a printed copy of their birth certificate and they generally wait about 2 weeks to receive it.

Obtaining the Records
1. You must first apply for the eligibility to obtain your records. This is $150 and is non-refundable even if you are denied.

2. TN DCS will request your records from storage (it took 30 days for my files to be taken out of storage and delivered to the case managers). The employees review your files. If you were determined to the the product of rape or incest, they must initiate a search for your original mother to ask her permission for you to view your files.

3. If you were not the product of rape or incest, you skip directly to #4. If you were and your original mother gives the "OK," you can move on to step #4. If your original mother denies you access, you can then start a process to receive non-identifying information. This means that they take a marker to your records and censor out anything they think you could use to identify someone.

4. TN DCS will contact you by letter notifying you if you are eligible for access to your records. They will include the "Sworn Statement" with your letter that you must sign in order to achieve access to your records.

This document essentially acts as a restraining order.  You agree that to access your records and get clearance to obtain your original birth certificate, you will not contact certain individuals whose names may be found in your record without further clearance from TN DCS.  Adoptees who violate this, even by accident, can face both civil and criminal penalties.

5. If you live locally, you can go in to the office to view your records and copy whatever you'd like to take with you. It is $.25 per copied page. If you do not live locally, they will count the pages and mail you a bill for $.25 per copied page. Once they receive your payment, they will then send the adoptee their records.

6.  You may receive a hospital long form photo copy of your original birth certificate in the file.  But your actual OBC may not be present if a copy is not in your adoption records.  You will receive official letters from TN DCS that you can send in to the Vital Statistics office to request your OBC.  It costs $35 to make this request with the Vital Stats office.

Let's Move on to Establishing Contact
This currently costs $150 and can only be done after going through the records request process.  That Disclosure Veto you had to agree to in order to receive your records?  This process exists to allow you to contact your original mother through the veto that you signed.  An original mother may allow you to contact her in certain ways through the veto.  Or she can say "no" and disallow you to contact her altogether.  She is also given the right through this law to "veto" other family members. In other words, the law allows an original mother to make it illegal for you to contact an aunt or uncle, even if that adult relative very much wants to speak with you.

When all was said and done, this process that allowed me the right to do what everyone else does usually for free as a part of being human--access their birth record and talk to biological family members--cost me about $300.

The reality is, TN was the first State to reform this process and make access at least easier for adult adoptees.  This was won after a long, arduous battle in court  and against all odds.  I can't lose appreciation for that.  But I cannot say that the law is OK as it is either.  Adoptees must be treated the same way all those who are not adopted are.  Become an Adoptee Rights activist today.