Thanks to advances in technology making DNA testing a more affordable option for many, a growing number of people across the country are now using it to trace their genealogy. While many are checking to see if royal blood runs through their veins, adoptees — from private adoption agencies and foster care alike — are using it for a much humbler cause: to find their biological parents.
The Link Between DNA Tests and Foster Care
While many may consider DNA testing as something adoptees from private adoption agencies might use, adoptees from foster care are no different. Many adults who were formerly in foster care may not remember their parents, while others may have been spared details from their adopted parents. In most cases, adopted kids want to know the same thing: where they came from.
DNA Tests and Foster Care Across the Country
A spokesman from 23andMe, a DNA testing lab and database, told the New York Times that “6 percent of its 1 million customers were adoptees.” This statistic becomes even more telling of adoptees’ longing to find a connection to their ancestry when one considers that they account for less than 2 percent of the national population.
Simply purchasing a DNA testing kit and sending a vial of one’s saliva to any company, such as 23andMe and Ancestry, can open the door to finding long lost blood relatives. These companies search their databases for DNA matches and tell the customers if there are matches and how they are related. With 30 states sealing adoptees’ original birth certificates that list the parents’ names, DNA testing and mutual-consent registries are the only ways adoptees have a chance at discovering the identity of their parents.
A mutual-consent registry is a state run archive that allows adult adoptees and members of their biological family to enter their information in hopes that the other party will do the same, in which case the registries pass along the contact information. Unfortunately, for these registries to work, both the child and parent need to be registered and want to be reached. DNA testing is able to link individuals with extended family, greatly increasing one’s ability to start growing their family tree. With websites like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com hosting over 80 million active users, there is an ever growing hope that adoptees will be able to find their birth parents.
For some a DNA testing kit can lead to unexpected results. What may start out as a search to discover one’s ethnicity can turn into the story of how an adopted son found his biological family that was hoping to find him.
While there are plenty of heartwarming stories like this, there is also a less fortunate side to DNA testing. Some parents may have put their child up for adoption with the expectation that they would never have contact with the child again and may have gone as far as to make sure no one in their family knew about the pregnancy.
The potential issues that can arise from adoptees finding their biological family through these DNA databases can be a painful and damaging experience for both parties. To date, there are 20 states that have legislation in place that not only makes it easier for adoptees to find their parents but also ensures that this connection is wanted.
These states, which include Alabama, Maine and New Hampshire, have agreed to open the birth certificates that were sealed when the children were adopted, revealing the names given to the children when they were born, the name s of their parents and the location of birth. When an adoption takes place, the original birth certificate is sealed and a second one is made with the names of the adoptive parents and their home address. This practice was started to protect mothers from the shame of being pregnant out of wedlock and the children from the stigma of illegitimacy. While the ideology may seem dated in today’s world, prior generations upheld a strict code of morals that in part led to the post-World War II Baby Scoop Era, which witnessed an increase in premarital pregnancies and newborn adoptions.
To protect the parents’ anonymity and avoid unwanted shame, many states with open birth certificate laws offer parents the opportunity to redact their names from the documents. Illinois State officials told the New York Times in 2010 that, “of 10,421 original birth certificates issued as of April, only 53 were redacted at the biological parents’ request.”
DNA Tests and Foster Care in New Jersey
Adoptees in New Jersey will no longer need to rely on DNA testing to find their biological parents as the 30-year long fight to open sealed birth certificates is about to come to an end. Governor Chris Christie signed a law in 2014 that will provide access to an uncertified copy of an adoptee’s original long-form birth certificate. Starting in 2017, adoptees, their immediate biological families and their adoptive parents can request access to the formerly sealed birth certificates.
For years, similar legislation was stalled in New Jersey due to protests from Catholic and pro-life groups. Both groups argued that, without guaranteed anonymity, mothers would be more likely to choose abortion over adoption. The American Adoption Congress, a supporter of the law, studied the adoption and abortion rates of five states that passed similar laws in 2010 and found that there was a decrease in abortions and an increase in children being adopted during that time.
Parents wishing to maintain their anonymity can submit redaction forms until December 31, 2016. While their identities will remain anonymous, they will be required to provide and update their medical, cultural and social histories.
For adoptees in states that still have sealed birth certificates, DNA testing is making it easier for them to discover where their blue eyes or love for all things Irish came from. Son Vo, an adoptee who reconnected with his biological father through AncestryDNA, told the Washington Post that “I let go of years of the unknown… and it’s because of DNA, because of the age we live in.”
If you are an adopted child in New Jersey looking for your birth parents, you will be able to request a copy of your original birth certificate here.
If you are from a state that does not have open birth certificate laws, you can register with your respective states mutual-consent registry, contact the agency you were adopted through or order a DNA testing kit through companies like AncestoryDNA and 23andMe.