Most adoptees are issued two birth certificates. The original document, containing information about the child’s biological parent(s), is sealed, or hidden by the state. A second document, or amended birth record, is created after a child is adopted. The amended certificate lists the adoptive parents in place of the birth parents and serves as the child’s legal proof of birth.
Over the past few years, some states have overturned decades-old legislation and previously sealed documents are freely available to adoptees who request them. California, however, is one of many states that still restricts access to original documents. Adoptees may seek a court order to access their records, but many requests are denied.
None of this is particularly relevant for people like Doris, an adoptee born in 1932. California did not begin officially sealing birth records until 1935, so the odds are slim that an alternate certificate exists.1
Hope for younger adoptees
In 1905, California began an official log of all births in the state. By 1915, all California births were legally required to be registered with the office of vital records. Every registered birth can be found on the state birth index. The index can be found here at Ancestry.com or for free at FamilySearch.org.
The index may offer a way to sidestep California’s privacy laws. Recently, I found someone born in 1989 listed twice — once by the name given to her at birth, and again with the name given by her adoptive family. Yet, she had been denied access to her original birth certificate.
The certificate itself is still sealed, but if you know the exact county and date of birth, you’ll still find a record of birth on the index. The mother’s maiden surname is almost always listed, and often you’ll see the father’s surname as well. This can be very useful, especially if you’re using DNA to locate a bio parent and keep seeing a particular surname in your DNA match list.
Using the California Birth Index
I’m using Doris as an example because she’s no longer living. She was born on November 5, 1932, in Los Angeles. If I didn’t already have a copy of her birth certificate, I could use Ancestry.com to search with only the location and date of Doris’ birth, as well as her gender. FamilySearch does not have as many filters, so it takes a bit longer to find people.
There were 34 baby girls born in Los Angeles County on that day. Doris appears with her adoptive father’s surname and adoptive mother’s maiden surname, Craig.
There was no duplicate record for Doris. The birth certificate she had been given is likely the only one that was ever filed. We did manage to identify her birth parents anyway, but that’s another story.
If you or someone you know are a California-born adoptee, give the birth index trick a try. If this trick works for you, please leave a comment and let me know.