Were you born in Ohio and adopted inside or outside the state? It used to be very difficult for adoptees to get access to their adoption records in Ohio.
However, there were significant changes in recent years that have opened access to adoption files that include your original birth certificate.
This article explains the background and explains how to get your adoption file. We also cover how to apply for additional information from adoption agencies and probate courts that processed your adoption.
Finding Adoption Records In Ohio
If you are researching your adoption records in Ohio, it’s important to understand that there are two types of adoption files:
- adoption files held by the Department of Health, Columbus, Ohio
- Documents held by adoption agencies and probate courts
Let’s take these in turn.
Department Of Health adoption file
The Department of Health holds adoption files for people born in Ohio and adopted in or outside the state. The file is also called a “Vital Statistics” file and it contains:
- The adoptee’s original birth certificate
- Court records about the legal adoption process
Just to be clear, if you were born in Ohio and adopted through the courts in Pennsylvania, your birth certificate is held on file in Ohio.
The Pennsylvania courts likely have a copy. But this article looks at what is in Ohio.
The good news is that Ohio has clarified the laws around access to the vital statistics files. Access may be easier to navigate than the other type of documents.
Adoption records elsewhere
The adoption agencies and probate courts throughout Ohio also hold records. These can start from the time that a woman approaches an adoption agency for help prior to giving birth.
And events can get complicated. Remember that many women traveled to have their babies.
I wasn’t born in Ohio, but I’ll give my own circumstances as an example. My birth mother dealt with two adoption agencies at different stages, and both held different sets of records.
Aside from adoption agencies, a specific probate court may also hold records about your adoption.
The challenge for adoptees is that Ohio does not allow adoption agencies and probate courts to provide what’s called “identifying information” about you or other people. That includes your pre-adoption name, your birth parents’ names, and their addresses.
However, you should be entitled to see non-identifying information. This could include medical history volunteered by a birth parent. It could also include their ages, occupations, and the general region where they’re from.
Are Adoption Records Open In Ohio?
By “open”, I’m referring to when adoptees are allowed to access their adoption records.
In Ohio, Access to adoption files held by the Department of Health depends on the year of adoption. This has been the case since the legislation was changed in 2013.
The key question is the date of your adoption. Was it:
- Before 1964
- Between 1965-1996
- After 1996
This infographic gives an overview:
Let’s get into this in detail.
Born In Ohio And Adopted Before 1964
Older adoptees have the most straightforward level of access to their records in Ohio.
You are entitled to your adoption file at the Department of Health. This will include your original birth certificate and some court records legalizing the adoption.
Born In Ohio And Adopted From 1964 To 1996
The Ohio laws were changed again in 2015 in relation to access for people whose adoption is within this date range.
If you are over 21, you are entitled to your adoption file.
If you are aged between 18 and 20, your adoptive parents can apply for the file.
It’s also possible that you will get a medical history if this was provided by your birth parent. Birth parents may also have specified whether they were open to future contact.
Birth parents’ redaction
Another area of confusion is around the possible redaction of birth parent names.
By redaction, I mean that you will be provided with documents where your birth parents’ names and other identifying details are blanked out.
When the laws were changed in 2015, birth parents were given a time window in which they could request that their names be redacted on adoption files. That includes the birth certificate.
Parents who chose to do this had to provide a medical history document for the file.
You shouldn’t be too concerned about this. A tiny fraction of people availed of the redaction during the one-year time window.
Born In Ohio And Adopted After 1996
Since 1996, birth parents could specify that they wanted an open or closed adoption.
This decision impacts your access to records.
Be Aware That Older Adoption Laws Were More Secretive
Ohio has had different sets of laws over the decades that made access to adoption records very difficult.
If you are searching for information on the internet, be aware that the laws were changed significantly in 2013 and again in 2015.
If you see references to having to show “good cause” to the courts or to complicated “release forms” from birth parents, then you are reading about older versions of the laws.
How To Get Your Adoption File From The Ohio Department Of Health
If you are an adoptee who is entitled to your adoption file, the process can be completed through the post.
You will need to sign an affidavit and supply two pieces of identification. There is also a small fee.
The Ohio government website keeps changing the location of the relevant documents, so I won’t link it here. But a quick search will bring you to the right information page.
Descendants of deceased adoptees
Are you the child or grandchild (and so on down) of an adoptee who is now deceased?
If the adoptee was adopted before 1965, then you also can access the vital statistics file. You will need to provide proof of the family relationship, as well as the other documents I mentioned above.
This process requires personal contact with the Department of Health.
Is Non-Identifying Information Worth Requesting?
It’s understandable to focus on getting your birth certificate. But it could be very worthwhile to get non-identifying information from the adoption agencies, an attorney, and probate courts.
The actual source depends on how your adoption was handled. Some families used a private attorney. But many women went to an adoption agency.
If you’re not sure, the details should be in your adoption file from the Department of Health.
What kind of information can you expect? Well, it depends on the adoption agency. Many had a standard set of questions that they put to the woman engaging their services.
That could include occupation, eye color, height, and some medical history. The agency may have an exact address at the time that they are not allowed to release to you. But they may give you a wider area or state from where one or both parents were from.
Non-identifying information can be particularly valuable when one or both birth parents are deceased.
How To Get Non-Identifying Information
There is a specific code in the Ohio statute books that allows you to request non-identifying information.
As long as you are over eighteen, you can make a request in writing for non-identifying information about your birth parents. You are also entitled to non-identifying information about any birth siblings on file.
What if an adoption agency no longer exists?
As the number of placements for adoption has dropped over decades in the United States, some agencies went out of business.
In this scenario, the adoption documents should have been transferred to either a probate court or the Department Of Health. Whoever holds the documents is obliged to facilitate your request for non-identifying information.
What if your request isn’t dealt with?
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. I’ve already explained that the Department holds the adoption file that is covered by different legislation.
You are entitled to request two different types of information: your vital statistics file from the Department of Health and your non-identifying information from other agencies involved in your adoption.
It’s true that the agencies can refuse to provide information on the grounds that it would reveal the identity of a birth parent. However, they should provide a clear explanation to this effect.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some quick answers to some common questions.
Are adoption records public in Ohio?
Adoption records are not public in the state of Ohio and are exempt from public records laws.
Only the people directly affected by a specific adoption can request access to related records. That is usually the adopted adult, but it may also be the descendants of a deceased adopted adult.
When did Ohio open adoption records?
The laws were changed in 2013 in Ohio to allow open adoption records on a tiered basis. There were severe restrictions placed on people adopted between 1964 and 1996.
The laws were amended in 2015 to remove many of the restrictions.
Can you view adoption records online?
You cannot view your adoption records online.
When you make your application in the way that we described earlier, your adoption file will be posted to you by the Department of Health.