November 29, 2021

State rules change opens birth certificates to adoptees

Finding themselves

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Christine Gregory, a retired Cortland High School teacher, explains the DNA data that helped her determine her family roots after finding out she was adopted. A new state law makes birth records available to adoptees. Gregory received her document Monday, confirming her research.

Christine Gregory spent years trying to learn who she is.

Gregory, an adoptee, found out who her biological parents were, but only after devoting years of her retirement to the effort. That search was made even more difficult because she was born in New York, where, until recently, birth certificates for adoptees were sealed.

That changed Jan. 15, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year signed into law a bill that allows adoptees, age 18 and older, to obtain certified copies of their birth certificates.

Gregory applied for hers on the first day she could: Jan. 15. The estimated wait time is 40 to 45 days, but she got hers in the mail on Monday.

She had already found out pretty much everything she can, and the information on her birth certificate confirmed what she knew already. She knows who her biological mother and father were, and she not only knows who her nine siblings are, she’s slowly starting to build relationships with them.

Already having all this information has made the process of getting her birth certificate “kind of anticlimactic,” she said.

But Gregory thinks her birth certificate may fill in other details, and also answer questions about the place where she was born — Springer Private Hospital in Johnson City, a hospital that closed in 1958 and was later beset by allegations of selling babies on the black market.

But her birth certificate revealed only one new detail — that her biological grandmother apparently put down an Americanized version of her own maiden name as Gregory’s last name on the birth certificate, and not her biological mother’s actual last name.

That puzzled Gregory a little.

“I don’t know why,” she said, “and I don’t know who’s alive now who would know why. Very interesting.”

Access to birth certificates is important, she said, but it won’t answer every question an adoptee may have. But it’s a start, and the new state law is a crucial step in the right direction.

But filling in all the gaps requires a lot more time and effort. Her own search took years and involved the help of many people she’s met along the way, as well as the professional efforts of a private investigator.

“I could never ever have done it by myself,” she said.

Gregory also credited DNA testing services as being especially helpful.

Kevin Conlon/city editor

A chart created by Christine Gregory shows the results of her research into her family tree.

 

All of that work helped her find her siblings and her mother, who, it turned out, lived not so far away. Her father, however, had already died by the time she found out who he was. But learning all of this about her biological family has “been a dream come true for me,” she said.

“People have unanswered questions frequently — unanswered questions about their own identity,” said Marie Walsh, executive director of Catholic Charities of Cortland County. “Their ability to gain some information and gain some closure is really valuable to them.”

That information also has immediately practical application, too, she said.
Walsh said the new state law will make it easier for adult adoptees to begin to learn more about their genetic and family medical history.

“Your family history is really relevant to your own medical care,” she said. “That’s an aspect that’s really important to people.”

While the new state law will make access to some information easier, Gregory thinks it also presents a major step forward for the rights of adoptees.

“To me it was one of the last civil rights battles that needs to be fought — the right for a person to know who they are,” she said.


How to get your birth certificate

  • If you are an adoptee born in New York who has yet to obtain your birth certificate, you can obtain it online at: www.vital chek.com/.
  • You can also obtain paper request forms at: tinyurl.com/t62tqrn.
  • If you were born in New York City, you can get paper request forms here: tinyurl. com/y984zh9q.