At long last!
The final legal barrier between me and the truth of my heritage was obliterated yesterday. Judge Eugene Reese of the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Alabama signed an Order for the Alabama Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics to unseal my father’s birth and adoption records.
My father was born in Phenix City, Alabama in 1941. At approximately three months of age his mother, an unmarried nightclub singer, put him up for adoption. Shortly thereafter the records associated with his birth mother, background and adoption were sealed.
I never knew my father for he was in prison in the United States my entire life. When I did contact him through letters my recurring question was about the identity of his birth parents. In every response he named a different set of parents. One week his mother was a gypsy princess and the next she was a British heiress, a South Dakota poet laureate or a Nashville singer.
My father was a pathological liar, but I really believed that in this one instance he would muster the heart and brains to tell me what he knew of his birth parents and was bitterly disappointed when he refused. But when he died in 2003 I discovered that it wasn’t just a case of him not wanting to tell me. He was unable to for he didn’t know.
Among his possessions I found several letters in which he pleads for information on his birth mother. Some of these are letters to newspapers or lawyers associated with his adoption case. There are several application forms to agencies in Georgia and Alabama requesting his birth records.
Here’s an example of one of those letters which ran in a 1988 edition of the Phenix Citizen (click for larger view):
Every one of his attempts to find the truth was coldly dismissed and he never had the tools to maintain his search. For my father, this pursuit of truth was an exercise in alienation and disappointment. I almost don’t blame him for retreating to fantasy.
While my desire to know the truth of my family goes back for decades, my formal search only began in 2007.
He was born in Phenix City so I travelled there to petition the Russell County Court to unseal his birth records. It was then that I learned his adoption proceedings took place across the river in Columbus, Georgia so in 2008 I petitioned courts there but they essentially bounced me off to the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry. In 2009 I sent them $300 and they told me the name and last-known address of my grandmother but they had no medical or background information. It was a total rip-off.
The complete records, which include my father’s birth certificate, medical information and so forth, are in Alabama. So I phoned Reginald Strickland, the Deputy Director for Alabama Center for Health Statistics who is responsible for sealed records and asked him what to do.
Here’s the court order (click for larger view):
He informed me that the information may be released as provided under Section 22-9A-12(c) of the Code of Alabama, 1975 which states that the record may not be viewed except upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction which would be the Montgomery County Circuit Court.
I am deeply grateful to Reginald Strickland. I would never have figured this out if I hadn’t called him. I am also thankful to Judge Reese who signed the order and his able staff who patiently answered my questions over the last few months.
Next week I’ll send the Court Order and $25 to Alabama vital statistics who will send me everything in the sealed file.
I have no idea what’s in there. It could be as little as a birth certificate and a copy of the adoption decree but I’m hoping there’s a lot more information. I hope to glean some identifying information about my grandparents.
At the end of the day I might not find out much, but I take comfort in knowing that I will have all the information that’s been withheld for nearly 70 years.
Stay tuned for more updates!