The Death of

In 4 Generations, Half of Americans' Ancestry Will be Bogus
--by [Attorney] Brice M. Clagett

In "Adoption Laws Threaten Death of Genealogy," an article by Attorney Brice M. Clagett in the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Newsletter, Clagett describes how genealogical research, whether for medical purposes, sociological studies, or hobby purposes, is becoming increasingly impaired with each passing generation by secrecy laws.

In most states, secrecy laws have been adopted in this century which cause the original birth record of an adopted child to be replaced by a bogus record. The bogus record names, as the parents, the newly adoptive parents, and does not reveal in any way that they are not the birth parents. Thus, the researcher has no way of knowing that the apparent ancestry of the child as shown in public records is bogus.

The effect is similar to compound interest in reverese. Attorney Clagett estimates that IN ANOTHER 4 GENERATIONS OR SO, ABOUT HALF THE ANCESTRY OF THE AMERICAN POPULATION WILL BE BOGUS.

Genealogical researchers, as well as medical and other researchers, need to take action to correct this Orwellian practice. Surely all people, whether adopted or not, have a right to be able to trace their ancestry in public records.

[NOTE: The above article and complete newsletters are available from The National Genealogical Society Newsletter is at 4527 - 17th Street North, Arlington, VA 22207-2399.]

--by [Attorney] Brice M. Clagett

from "NEXUS," the New England Historic Genealogical Society newsletter, Volume VII, No. 1, February 1990, Boston, Massachusetts

[NOTE: Clagett uses the term "adopted children" when referring to "adopted adults" also (*). Claget's background and contact information are at the end of this article.]

At the October 1989 Board meeting, the NEHGS Trustees voted to become involved in seeling reconsideration of several governmental practices that seriously impair genealogical knowledge, in addition to depriving people of medical information that can be vitally important to their health.

The first of these is a problem that has been around for several decades: the stale-mated concealment of adoption records and denial of the right of adopted children to know their biological parentage. This practice has been frequently challenged in recent years, with varying degreees of success, and the efforts of many adopted children to learn the truth have received widespread publicity. But like the Uniform Adoption Act -- a product of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, whose model statutes have great influence on state legislatures -- still provides that adoption records are to be kept sealed "and are subject to inspection only upon consent of the Court and all interested persons; or in exceptional cases, only upon an order of the Court for good cause shown."

This policy puts a heavy burden on the adopted child seeking to learn his or her biological background. Surely the burden should be reveresed: an adopted child, (*) at least one of adult age, should be presumed to have good cause to learn who he or she is, or, if s/he wants to, and only in "exceptional cases" should that information be denied. Certainly there can be no reasonable basis for denying access to the facts if the biological parents are dead.

From a genealogical pont of view, the current practice -- which typically involves the issuance of a birth certificate representing the adopted parents as the biological parents -- is clearly insiduous. Even though an adopted child is usually told privately, at some point, that he or she is adopted, the biologically false certificate remains in the public records. It is estimated today that about 2% **of the U.S. population are adopted children. A century from now, descendants of these people who are tracing their genealogy will encounter false certificates and may well have no reason to disbeleive them. [**NOTE: Since this article was published, it is now assumed that a much larger percentage of Americans are adopted.] They will thus be deceived into tracing their lineage back to hosts of people to whom they are wholly unrelated.

It would perhaps be overreaching to argue that government has an obligation to facilitate genealogical research. But is seems a modest, entirely tenable proposition that GOVERNMENT HAS AN OBLIGATION TO REFRAIN FROM AFFIRMATIVELY AND DELIBERATELY DECEIVING PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR ANCESTRY..

The current practice of falsification is relatively recent. Damage has already been done, but it can be contained if the nedded changes are made soon. AT THE VERY LEAST, THE LAW SHOULD REQUIRE THAT EVERY FALSIFIED BIRTH CERTIFICATE BEAR A SYMBOL OR NOTATION INDICATING THAT IT IS SUCH, so that future generations can gain access to the facts, or at least will know that the altered certificate cannot be relied upon for genealogical purposes.

For a number of reasons, the time seems ripe for a major assault on the current practice. Such an assault is already well under way by adopted children and groups they have formed, but genealogical organizations like NEHGS have not until now become involved. Genealogical research has never been so popular as it is today, and its practitioners should be ripe for mobilization once they realize the long-term implications of birth certificate falsification. Do we really want our great-great-great grandchildren to be uncertain that they are descended from us because there is no way to know whether their grandparents or great-grandparents were really the children of the people theofficial records say they were?

The practice of concealment is based on attitudes of the 1930s, 40s and 50s that, mercifully, are diminished if not dying. One is the hangover Victorian notion that it is an ineffable disgrace to be an "illegtiimate" child or the parent of one. Another is the "brave new world" assumption of the early 20th century that nurture (environment) is everything that makes a person what he or she is, and that biology is insignificant (and probably snobbish as well). THIS INSIDIOUS LIAISON OF PRUDERY AND MARXISM HAS DOMINATED ADOPTION POLICY LONG ENOUGH.

Bureaucratic habits, once established, die hard. The precedent of birth certificate falsification has recently been extended to the novel realms of artificial inemination and in vitro fertilization. Again, government may have no obligation to facilitate our researches, but surely it has an obligation to not willfully and deliberately deceive us.

[NOTE: Brice McAdoo Clagett, a member of the Board of Trustees, is a native of Washington, DC, and a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He is a partner of Covington and Burling, 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PO Box 7566, Washington, DC 29044, and has written on legal, historical and genealogical topics. He assisted AmFOR with regard to deaf adoptee, Melanie Sandoval, in opening her adoption record; with AmFOR's help, she located her birth family and met her sister.]

Adoption Wheel

Armenian Genesis

In ARMENIAN GENESIS: The Last Survivor at - author Mary L. Foess (Judith Movsisian) AN ADOPTEE, explifies the adopted individual's dilemma of a dual existence -- one that demands suppression of pain from actual or perceived rejection while accepting "as normal" the abnormal status of one whose origins are secret -- and one that compels a search for normalcy of familial relationships. Mary's book lays bare not only her own feelings and admissions, but also the complexities of those who hold the answers to family secrets and who fear the proverbial "knock on the door" from an adoptee so obsessed by her "need to know" and to be accepted.