Saturday, September 7, 2013

Birth Certificates - How Correct Are They?

After reading the Blog, Anglers Rest today, I decided to tell a very personal story.  Julie Goucher, author of the blog is offering prompts for "The Book of Me, Written By You" to help us write our own story. Perhaps, then, our grandchildren won't be saying in future years, "There's so much I don't know about my grandparents - I never thought to ask the right questions."

The current prompt is about birth.  In looking at the questions, I realized that my own story has a certain relevance for research regarding adoptions. Could even explain why curious results happen in Y-DNA testing when suddenly there appears to be what is called a non-paternal event.  Family secrets can remain secret.

My mother divorced my birth father - she left him before I was age two and we lived with her parents in Arkansas.  I was her first child.  She remarried when I was six and my new stepfather immediately legally adopted me, also legally changing my surname to his.  My birth certificate in the state of Tennessee was changed during the process - my stepfather was listed on the certificate as my father and my surname is his. There is NOTHING on the certificate to indicate that he was not my father, or that this certificate was ever amended or changed in any way.  If in years to come, a descendant ordered this certificate from the Tennessee Department of Health, there would be nothing to suggest the father on the certificate was not, in fact, my father.

Now I was the flower girl at the wedding of my mother to my stepfather, so I always knew perfectly well that he was not my father.  Details on my birth father were much harder to come by as lips were sealed when I asked questions.  Not until I had grown children of my own, did my mother produce an original copy of my birth certificate that she had kept. That was the first time I ever saw my own father's full name. So I do have a single copy of this birth certificate with my birth father's name - a single copy.  Of course I have made a digital image and made numerous paper copies for lineage societies.  But I cannot order this copy of my birth certificate from the state of Tennessee - only the altered one would be received.

I can think of many situations in which my half-adoption might never have been known. If I had died young. If my mother had never gone back to live near family, her neighbors and friends might never have known. My siblings are much younger and would not have known if they had not been told.  I could have kept this secret from my own children.

I do not know if other states handle adoptions in this manner - I have only my own experience.  My "birth" certificate is, in truth, incorrect.  We all know of instances when names are mis-spelled, dates are in error - but how many times do we think that a birth certificate might have an incorrect parent?