Beginning Wednesday, adoptees will be able to obtain their birth certificates

RICHMOND — A law that enables adoptees to obtain copies of their pre-adoption birth certificates when they turn 18 is welcomed, but long overdue, according to Richmond Town Councilman Steve Barnhoorn.

That hadn’t been the case for decades, short of a court order, as the 1938 law was crafted to protect the identity of the biological parents.

The new law takes effect Jan. 15, which Barnhoorn said makes him happy.

“The law that was on the books is antiquated and borne out of the Dark Ages,” Barnhoorn said. “With the advances in technology — particularly with all the DNA testing that’s out there now — it made the law irrelevant and moot.”

The new law applies to those 18 and older born in New York state, but outside of New York City, according to information from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

If the adoptee is deceased, direct-line descendants, such as a child, grandchild or great-grandchild of the adoptee, may request a copy of the adoptee's birth certificate. Also, a lawful representative of an adoptee or a lawful representative of a deceased adopted person's direct-line descendant may also apply for an original birth certificate.

Barnhoorn, who has lobbied state legislators for years on the need for the legislation, said his late mother, Rebecca Wilcox Barnhoorn, and uncle were adoptees.

Because he was adept at genealogy, he was able to find family information through records, which aided in the health care of his mother, who had been treated for a serious illness.

Also, that family medical history he was able to find helps him guide informed decisions for his own health care.

His mother passed away nearly three years ago. Having the law in place years ago would have made the information easier to find, he said.

Barnhoorn was lucky, however; his mother had the names of her biological parents, aiding his research. Many adoptees did not have that information at hand and, in many cases, could not obtain it.

“Without any of the names, basically, you’re stuck in the mud,” Barnhoorn said.

Cuomo, in a prepared statement released Monday, said adoptees had in the past been denied a “basic human right.”

“Every person has the right to know where they came from, and this new law grants all New Yorkers the same unrestricted rights to their original birth records,” said Cuomo, who signed the bill into law last November.

From Barnhoorn’s reading of the law, he said he believes there are enough safeguards in place that protect the circumstances of adoption.

For too long, misconceptions and myths surrounded the issue, which may have led to a delay in enacting it, Barnhoorn said.

“The only thing confidential was supposed to be the adoption papers themselves, and the law doesn’t touch that,” Barnhoorn said. “It just addresses the birth records. There are no smoking gun revelations on a birth certificate.”

Barnhoorn said the law also will “open a huge door” for genealogists as well.

State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker said the Department of Health will help adoptees access birth records that other New Yorkers have always been able to obtain as best as the state Department of Health can. 

“We expect a high volume of requests in the first few weeks and urge patience as we work to fulfill them in a timely manner,” Zucker said in a prepared statement Monday.

Zucker said he is pleased the law is being implemented.

“I know my late mom and uncle would be happy about it, too,” Barnhoorn said.