Adoption records in the State of Michigan are sealed and generally inaccessible to the public.  However, there are methods, allowed by Michigan Law, where an adoptee and/or direct descendant of an adoptee can request nonidentifying or identifying information pertaining to the adoptee in question.  So, if you are an adoptee looking for a birth parent or former blood sibling, or if you are a direct descendant of an adoptee and have hit a brick wall in your family tree…don’t give up.  There is hope!

In this article we will be examining current Michigan Probate Law as it relates to adoptees and private probate file information sealed by court order.  The Michigan Law we will examine is Michigan Probate Code, Section 710.68 and 710.27.

Adult Adoptees

If you are an adult adoptee, defined as an individual over the age of 18, then you have the right to request from either the adoption agency (if known) or the probate court for all non-identifying information pertaining to your birth parent(s).  Per Michigan Law this information must be delivered to you in written form within 8 weeks.

Unless a written release by the birth parent or parents (if both signed the adoption papers) is on file, then you will not be given identifying information – meaning the name(s) of parent(s) will be blacked out and not given.

The information you will receive can be used to search for the identity of either parent using public records such as city directories, births, deaths, etc.  It all depends on what is received.

So how does this work?  The adoptee requests non-identifying information from the adoption agency.  That agency then has 8 weeks to supply the information in written form.

If you don’t know the agency that handled the adoption you may request this information from the probate court which must supply the information within 4 weeks.

What you will receive varies.  It depends on what the agency has on file.  But generally with older files the information given the courts is much less than what an agency holds.  This is why we typically request the adoption information direct from an agency rather than the court.

This information pertains to all adoptions that occurred between 28 May 1945 and 12 September 1980.  For adoptions before or after these dates this information does not pertain.

If both parents (or single parent if only one parent signed the release form) have statements on file with the central adoption agency consenting to release of the identifying information or if both parents are deceased, then you will receive:

  1. Your birth name before adoption.
  2. Name(s) of Parent(s) at time of termination of parental rights.
  3. Most recent name and address of parent(s).
  4. Names of biological siblings at time of termination.

If a single parent is deceased, then you will receive:

  1. Name of the Parent at time of termination of parental rights.
  2. Most recent name and address of that parent.
  3. Your birth name before adoption.
  4. 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.

Many genealogists, myself included, have brick walls in our family tree where we run into a person that was adopted.  Can we request information of our ancestor from the State of Michigan?  Yes we 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.

Case File One

I had a recent client that stumbled upon an adoption in her family tree: her paternal grandmother.  Not knowing how to circumvent this brick wall, she contacted me for assistance.

We knew the grandmother’s adopted name and knew the time of her birth.  She had been given up for adoption at birth.

Armed with this information I contacted the probate court within the county where the adoption took place to discover the name of the adoption agency.  The probate court had information that was shared: the birth name of the grandmother and the agency that handled the adoption.

That agency was no longer in existence, so I cross-referenced existing agencies to find which had the records from the former.  Once the proper agency was found it was a matter of my client proving relationship, paying the $60 fee, and waiting for the information.

It was properly delivered, as promised, near the 8-week mark.  The file contained precisely what she had been looking for – the birth name of the grandmother’s father.  And the brick wall was circumvented.

Case File Two

In my own family tree, I had a brick wall in my paternal great-grandmother.  A letter was found written to my grandmother, once my great-grandmother had passed, that explained that the man she knew as her father was not her biological.  Unfortunately, no name was given.

In my great-grandmother’s pocket purse was a small worn photo of a balding man, perhaps in his early 40s, dressed in working clothes, wearing a soiled apron, sandals, and a cap.  He stood in front of the double doors of a garage.  His fingers were stained.

I contacted the probate court to see if any information could be found pertaining to my grandmother’s adoption.  She was born in 1921 and my great-grandmother married in 1923 the man whose name appears on the birth certificate.

The probate court supplied me the name of the birth father.  Unfortunately, the name was fictional.  My great-grandmother had given a bogus name – probably pushed for the information during birth.  She wanted to protect the real father.

I had to circumvent this issue.  But how?  I examined the lives of her four sisters.  One of the sisters, unbeknownst to the family, had been previously married in 1918.  The marriage did not last but a year and ended in divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty.

But what was interesting was found on her marriage certificate.  It gave my great-grandmother as one of the witnesses to the marriage alongside another man.  That man was brother to the husband, of the right age, and worked as a brash polisher in an instrument factory.  There he was!

Or so we thought.  I have since proven otherwise using DNA.  But that is another story for another time.  The point is, the probate court is willing to work with you in the bounds of Michigan Probate Law.  It’s not difficult to do.  You can do this too.  It you do need my assistance, I am more than eager to help.  But first you will need to request the name of the adoption agency from the court wherein your adoption took place.

Whether an adult adoptee looking for you birth parent(s), looking for a blood sibling, or need help requesting records pertaining to an ancestor adopted in the State of Michigan, simply fill out the information below.

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