Michigan Law allows you, the adoptee seeking his/her birth record, or the direct descendant of such an adoptee, to request and receive information pertaining to that adoption.
My Adoption Story
What do you do as a family historian when you come across an adoption or an unplanned pregnancy? Where do you turn for answers?
I was not adopted, but Betty, my paternal grandmother born in 1921, was. Betty, like the rest of our family, was unaware of her adoption until 1998 at the passing of her mother, Pauline. Pauline had written a revealing letter to Betty, discovered post-death in her personal possessions, that explained how the man Betty knew to be her father was not biological. Unfortunately for the family, no names were given. The adoption was left a mystery.
A small photograph of a balding man wearing a cap, apron and sandals, was found in Pauline’s purse. It was obvious the photo had been viewed on numerous occasions over the years evidenced by the worn edges. But who was the man? No-one could identify him. And no name was written thereon. Was he Betty’s father?
After Betty’s death in 2008 I inherited all the family photos. I had never seen these before. Our heritage was never discussed. Fortunately, there were enough named photos to piece together the family history, but no further photo of the mysterious balding man held by Pauline.
I decided to dig deep and investigate.
I started with the balding man, attempting to discover his identity. To do this I thought it best to search into the early years of Pauline, those years surrounding Betty’s birth and the years prior.
Pauline had three sisters. There was also a brother who died young. I looked at the sister closest in age to Pauline and discovered an early 1918 marriage and subsequent divorce just a short time later. On the marriage record were given two witnesses: Pauline and the husband’s brother. The brother turned out to be a band instrument polisher who would wear similar garb as the man in the mysterious photo.
I brought the family line forward and found a living granddaughter. I wrote her with a copy of the photo explaining my theory of why I felt her grandfather might be the biological father of my grandmother Betty and the woman called me about a week later. She confirmed that the man in the photo was indeed her grandfather Alfred. But I don’t think she liked where the conversation was headed, and I never heard from her again.
At that time, I had taken an AncestryDNA test. I searched for people on Ancestry with Alfred in their family tree and contacted each to inquire whether any had taken a DNA test. I heard from a couple that confirmed they had indeed taken a test. I was disheartened and discouraged when I didn’t see their names listed in my cousin matches. Alfred was not Betty’s father.
Now I had nothing to go on. Alfred was in the right place at the right time. And apparently, Pauline may have thought he was Betty’s father. Why else carry a photo over some 70 years? If I were to proceed, I might discover a truth that not even Pauline knew the answer to.
And if I did proceed, what would my family think once I found some answers? Was it better to leave it alone and let things be? Or was it essential as the only family historian to learn the truth and share with others only if asked? This is a serious issue that you too might face. There might be people that would rather you let things be and not mar the family name. But you owe it to yourself and your future descendants to learn the truth if it can be found. One day we’ll all be gone, and no-one will remember us, our family, and certain not the generation we’re looking into today.
If we’re capable of discovering the truth behind an anomaly in our family tree, then we should do so. We must.
My next step was to turn to the court system. As a direct descendant of Betty’s, I was privy to the same information she would have received had she been alive. Because Betty lived her entire life in Kent County, Michigan, it was from the Kent County Probate Court that I requested Betty’s adoption probate record.
It took a few months, but I was contacted back with the information I sought. After proving my identity, I was given the adoption record of my grandmother. That record proved Betty was adopted by the man who raised her two years after Betty was born. Pauline gave a fictitious name for Betty’s biological father, another false lead.
The man who raised Betty did a fabulous job as her father. Many in my family that knew him, and I did not, would say the same. He was yet living when my father and uncles were children and they remember him well. They choose to remember him as their true grandfather and that is fine, but it doesn’t change that fact that genealogically speaking, DNA says otherwise. And I would be doing the family an injustice were I to plug this man’s heritage into my own family tree no matter how he was loved as a grandfather.
This is where feelings tend to get hurt and the family historian despised. Why stick your hand in the hornet’s nest? Just let things be as they were. It is also why great care must be taken not to share what you learn with others unless they are interested in learning the same.
Neither do I judge anyone as a genealogist. I have no right. These are secrets taken to the grave that were intended on being kept secret. And I certainly have enough faults and skeletons of my own. I put no blame on either Pauline of the biological father. Pauline did well in raising Betty, her one and only child. The truth I was to uncover did not change the love felt between the family between all involved.
I can’t reiterate enough the importance of what you are seeking to do as a family historian. Be certain you really want to uncover the truth, a truth you might have to keep silent from your own family for years to come. For that truth can be dangerous if carelessly spoken.
For the rest of my own story I used DNA to piece together the clues. I took a DNA test with what I call the BIG4 (AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage). I also had both my father and mother take a DNA test with AncestryDNA that I imported into MyHeritage, this to differentiate the many matches between my paternal and maternal lines.
I kept seeing the same surnames popping up on my father’s side. Over a very long period of time, after creating numerous trees and putting all the pieces together, and after eliminating over a dozen male candidates who could have been the biological father, it came down to a single man, one whom I had not yet placed under the genealogical microscope.
And then out of the blue I was contacted by a man living in Germany who had read an online article I had placed on my blog, written some time ago about Alfred, the man proven not to be kin. The man had been looking at a crossing line and suggested the same individual I had not yet examined rather than Alfred. What were the chances of such a serendipitous suggestion? Someone was leading me in the right direction.
Yes, the last piece of the puzzle was a man named Edgar James McMellen. Once his piece was found and placed into my tree, all other pieces surrounding fit perfectly, meaning that all other DNA matches were precise in suggested relationships. To date I have over 18 confirmed cousin matches that all point to Edgar, the biological father of my grandmother Betty.
Sound easy? It wasn’t. This took many months of tedious work, a ton of persistence, and a little “luck” added in for good measure.
If the truth is truly something you need to learn, then be prepared for a bumpy road and one that is not so cheerful. There may be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
This was true for one adoptee I assisted. Once we discovered the identities of her biological parents, based on non-identifying information received from the adoption agency, the story turned melancholic as we learned her mother had died in a plane crash and her father, though alive, wanted nothing to do with her.
And sad your story too might be. Expect the best but prepare for the worst. Know too that this may be a difficult journey. Should you choose to not go it alone, I am here to assist should you choose that route. Just use the form at the bottom of this post to send me a message with as much pertinent details as you choose to share. We can talk via phone, text or email. My research services start at $500 (for 10 hours’ time). I will conduct the research, find the necessary probate court and/or agency information, and write the letters you will need to request the adoption information.
Still with me? Then it’s time to investigate Michigan Law. You need to be armed with what the law allows you to do, and what it does not.
Adoption law is found in Michigan Probate Code, sections 710.68 and 710.27.
Your Own Adoption
If you are an adult adoptee, defined as an adopted individual over the age of 18, then you have the right under Michigan Law to request from either the adoption agency and/or the probate court all non-identifying information pertaining to your birth parent(s). And by law this information must be delivered in written form within 8 weeks upon request.
What can you do with this information?
The information received can be used to search for the identity of either parent using public records such as city directories, birth and death records, newspaper articles, and more. It all depends on what is received. Some agencies created rich biographies of one or both parents while other agencies took very little. I’ve seen both.
How do you request your record?
As an adult adoptee you can request your non-identifying information from the adoption agency that handled your adoption. If you do not know the name of the agency, then you can request this information from the probate court within the county where you were placed for adoption. The probate court has 4 weeks (by law) to give you this information. And the adoption agency has 8 weeks (by law) to supply the non-identifying information once you request it.
What will you receive?
What you will receive will vary. It all depends on how much information was collected by the adoption agency at the time of adoption. Probate courts generally do not have the wealth of information found at the adoption agency. Therefore, we request information direct from the agency rather than the court.
For adoptions having occurred between 28 May 1945 and 12 September 1980, and if both parents (or a single parent) have statements on file with the central adoption agency consenting to the release of identifying information or if both parents are deceased, you may receive:
- Your birth name before adoption.
- Name(s) of Parent(s) at time of termination of parental rights.
- Most recent name and address of parent(s).
- Names of biological siblings at time of termination.
If a single parent is deceased, then you will receive:
- Name of the Parent at time of termination of parental rights.
- Most recent name and address of that parent.
- Your birth name before adoption.
- Names of biological siblings at time of termination.
For adoptions where parental rights were terminated before 28 May 1945 or on/after 12 September 1980, the agency or court will release all identifying information to an adoptee unless a former parent has on file a statement (waived at death of the parent) denying consent.
If an adult adoptee wishes to receive information pertaining to an adult former sibling, the agency/court will submit a clearance form to the central adoption registry and then has 28 days after a reply is received to notify the adoptee in writing of the name/address of an adult former sibling – if a statement is on file.
If neither of the birth parents have a statement denying consent on file, then a copy of the clearance reply form will be released to the adult adoptee. This form can be used to obtain the adoptee’s original certificate of live birth. Again, this only applies to those adoptions in which parental rights were terminated before 28 May 1945 and on/after 12 September 1980.
What are the fees?
Fees are set by Michigan Law to $60.00 (or actual cost of supplying information), whichever is less. But this fee may be waived if indigent or under hardship.
An Ancestral Adoption
Many family historians have brick walls in their family trees where they run into a person that was adopted. Can they request information about their ancestor from the State of Michigan? Yes, they can.
Pursuant to the following that reads…
(20) A direct descendant of a deceased adult adoptee may request information under this section. All information to which an adult adoptee is entitled under this section shall be released to the adult adoptee’s direct descendants if the adult adoptee is deceased.
Therefore, if the adult adoptee is deceased, a direct descendant (must be proven) will be treated as if he/she were the adult adoptee and receive the equivalent information authorized by law.
Using DNA to Break Through Brick Walls
DNA can be a useful tool in your search for birth parents or siblings. You will need to construct a family tree based on each cousin match to prove relationships. Once you’ve done this with enough trees, you’ll start seeing some cross-connections where each tree overlaps one another until eventually you’ll begin to see the larger picture.
You might be armed with non-identifying information and that is great. Sometimes that information can be used to sort through the candidates. It can be done. It just takes a lot of willpower to see it through to the end.
Don’t give up. Be persistent. And know that the truth is in sight. You just need to work for it and lay claim to it. This may take many hours of confusing research. Don’t be dismayed. Keep trekking along and eventually you’ll start seeing cracks in that brick wall.
What DNA company should you test with?
I am asked this on a regular basis and my answer is always the same. As many as you of the BIG4 you can afford to. Why is this?
Taking a single DNA test with one company will leave many family connections unfound. The truth is that we don’t know what company our relatives on either side may have tested with. I’ve found connections using this method that would never have been found otherwise. And in my own case this was crucial.
There are 4 large companies that I highly recommend. These companies offer substantial discounts if you have time to wait. These discounts take place around holidays – so it is important to watch for them.
Perhaps one of the largest databases available. Due to their ample advertising for ethnicity results many people from curiosity submit their DNA sample to find their ethnic composition. Problem is once these people learn their ethnicity, they abandon Ancestry never to return and thus you may have several cousin queries that go unanswered. However, Ancestry is extremely useful and comes highly recommended.
The base price is $99. This goes on sale for $79 and sometimes $59 based on holidays.
MyHeritage DNA. MyHeritage.com
At the time of this writing MyHeritage, a strong competitor to Ancestry.com, offers a free membership. This free membership includes a free upload of your AncestryDNA results. A brilliant marketing tool for MyHeritage that makes their database one of the largest. Their base price is $79. Goes on sale for $59 on occasion. But you won’t need to pay either price if you simply follow these steps.
- Log in to Ancestry
- Select DNA from top menu.
- Select the Settings tab under your name upper right.
- Click “Download Raw DNA Data” the gray bar in the right column.
- You will be prompted for your password and must check a box concerning security measures stating that you assume all risk.
- You will then receive an email from Ancestry where you must confirm data download by selecting a green button.
- Selecting that button will open up a new window in Ancestry where you must once again select the green button that reads “Download DNA Raw Data”.
- You will then download a zipped folder: dna-data-(todays date).zip
- Browse to MyHeritage.com.
- At present (may change in future) – you will see an orange box that reads “Start your family tree”. Select it.
- Here you will create your account. Enter all information and select “Get started”. Follow additional prompts until you have set up your free account.
- Once your MyHeritage account is set up, log in to your free account.
- Browse to the DNA tab from menu across top of page. Select upload DNA data.
- Select the purple start button.
- You must then select both checkboxes in the gray area and then “upload”.
- This will prompt you for the zip folder you downloaded from Ancestry. Find this and click open from the new window.
- This will upload your Ancestry results for MyHeritage to digest. This will take a few days. You’ll be notified when results are ready.
23andMe offers a couple options, one with health features added in. $99 for the base DNA package.
$79 for the family finder package.
By spreading your DNA across all four of these large databases you are setting up a better mousetrap to find relatives, close and distant. If you can afford to, I highly recommend purchasing all the above – except for MyHeritage which for the time is free.
If you can’t, at least take an AncestryDNA test and upload your results to MyHeritage.
Let me know if I can be of assistance to you.
Below is a sample identifying report from an adoption agency received by a former client with names smeared to protect client identity.