How To Get Adoption Records In Cuyahoga County, Ohio

Was your adoption finalized by the Probate Court in Cleveland?

Did your birth parent go to an adoption agency or attorney in Cuyahoga County to arrange your adoption?

This article looks at how to get information and records to which you are entitled under Ohio laws.

What Kind Of Adoption Records Are Held In The Probate Court In Cleveland?

The first thing I should point out is that the main adoption files for Ohio are held at the Department Of Health in Columbus.

These files contain original birth certificates (with names of one or both birth parents) as well as court records. We have a separate article on getting your adoption file in Ohio.

However, there are likely to be other documents held at:

  • the Probate Court that finalized the adoption
  • the adoption agency or attorney that handled your adoption

You aren’t usually entitled to see the full records. However, the Ohio laws allow you to request what is known as non-identifying information within these documents.

I have a full explanation of what this means in a later section of this article. Let’s look first at where these documents reside.

Where Is The Probate Court?

The Cuyahoga County Probate Court is located on Lakeside Avenue, Cleveland. This is the address:

Probate Court Of Cuyahoga County

1 Lakeside Ave E, Cleveland

OH 44113

Do you need to visit the courthouse?

There may be circumstances in which you need to visit the building.

Several buses stop outside the building.

If you are traveling by car, there is parking in the nearby Huntington Park Garage. There are several entrances into the garage. This option is the closest, but it isn’t the cheapest.

There are several public parking lots within a few blocks, as I’ve marked on the map below.

Why The Cuyahoga County Probate Court Has Some Adoption Records

Adoptions in Ohio were usually finalized at the Probate Court in the county of the agency or attorney dealing with the placement.

Cleveland has several courts including the Probate Court of Cuyahoga County. This court dealt with adoptions in Cleveland and throughout the county.

The Probate Court has the legal papers that transferred parental rights and obligations from birth parents and adoptive parents.

Aside from vital documents such as consent forms, there could be many other incidental details recorded about the birth parents in these papers.

The Court has also accumulated adoption records from defunct adoption agencies and retired attorneys. Let’s look at this aspect next.

Adoption Agencies And Attorneys May Also Have Records

The circumstances of adoption usually start with a woman approaching an adoption agency or a private attorney.

Adoption agencies and attorneys must retain historic records for as long as they continue to process new adoptions.

Let’s take an example of a birth mother who went to an adoption agency in Rocky River that arranged the initial placement of her baby in a foster home. The adoption was finalized months later at the Probate Court of Cuyahoga County.

If that agency is still handling adoptions, then you have two sources to look for your records.

However, you may find that all roads lead to the courthouse in Cleveland. This is because the adoption agency (or attorney) may have shut down.

What happens when adoption agencies and attorneys are gone

AS the number of adoptions has dropped in the past decades, some agencies have gone out of business. Aside from agencies, attorneys who handled adoptions in prior decades may have retired.

When agencies or lawyers no longer provide adoption services, they are obliged by Ohio law to transfer to the probate court that finalized the adoption.

There is an exception if the attorney has a joint practice with another attorney who continues to handle adoptions. The records can be transferred to the second attorney.

Warning: Courts, Agencies, And Attorneys Cannot Release Identifying Information

The Ohio laws prevent the probate courts from providing “identifying information” about your birth parents.

That includes their names, and your name before adoption. Your original surname is withheld as it reveals the surname of your birth mother.

Types of identifying information

You can expect these details to be deemed identifying information:

  • first, middle, and last names
  • physical addresses
  • SSN
  • telephone numbers
  • employers and the exact location of where they worked

But don’t dismiss what you could get as not being important. Let’s take a closer look…

What Non-Identifying Information Could Be Available?

When women engaged with adoption agencies and the courts, they were usually asked for background information about themselves and the father.

The information requested changed through decades and across different agencies. It’s also true that some agency staff or solicitors collected more information than others. And some mothers provided more information than others.

So, I can’t advise you on what you could get. But the information is usually some of the below about the birth mother:

  • age at the time of recording (a round number, not a date of birth)
  • religion
  • physical description e.g., height, eye color, hair color
  • ethnic background
  • occupation (but not employer details)
  • educational level (e.g., high school or college)
  • medical history (less likely to be available in earlier adoptions)
  • age and gender of older birth siblings

The records may also have some description of the circumstances that led to the adoption.

There also may be similar details about the birth father. However, there is usually less detail than about the mother. You should also bear in mind that the information about the father may be solely provided by the mother.

You may also find that some of the information is from a grandparent or other relatives in your birth family.

A note of caution

banner saying proceed with caution

My adoption was in another country, but there was a similar process for applying for non-identifying information.

It took me quite a while to disentangle what was true and what was:

  • wrong information mistakenly recorded by careless officials
  • conflicting information from different sources
  • deliberate misinformation provided by my birth parent (for good reasons)

However, carefully sifting through the sometimes confusing details was vital to my research.

How To Check That Your Adoption Was Processed In Cuyahoga County

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably fairly sure that your adoption was finalized at the Probate Court in Cleveland.

But you should double-check that this is the case. If you haven’t already done so, you should first apply for your main adoption file from the Department Of Health in Columbus.

In our article on getting your Ohio adoption records, we describe how to do this.

This file should include the name of the Probate Court that processed your adoption.

Requesting Non-Identifying Information

There is a specific code in the Ohio statute books that allows you to request non-identifying information about your birth parents (and possible birth siblings).

This applies to the probate courts, adoption agencies, or attorneys that dealt with your adoption.

This article assumes that you’re the adoptee. But you may be the child or grandchild of a deceased adoptee. Adjust the wording of your request accordingly.

Call first for details about the latest request form

You should first telephone the Probate Court and explain that you want to request the non-identifying information in your adoption records.

Because the Ohio laws on adoption files have changed several times in the last decade, some of the Probate Court websites have out-of-date information and forms. Unfortunately, Cleveland is one of the courts that need to update its content.

I advise that you telephone for details. The court clerk will inform you how to make your request.

Making the request

When you make a request, you are asking the staff to search for your records.

You will be asked for these details:

  • your full adoptive name
  • your date of birth
  • the names of your adoptive parents
  • the year the adoption was finalized (don’t worry if you’re not sure)

You will need to provide two pieces of identification:

  • birth certificate (the version with your adopted name)
  • driving license or other state-issued photo identification

What if your request isn’t dealt with properly?

There are reports of adoption agencies, attorneys, and probate courts being less than helpful with requests for non-identifying information.

If you are told to send your requests to the Department of Health, don’t be fobbed off. You are entitled by law to request non-identifying information from the Probate Court.

Margaret created a family tree on a genealogy website in 2012. She purchased her first DNA kit in 2017. She created this website to share insights and how-to guides on DNA, genealogy, and family research.

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