Friday, May 18, 2007

Building Bridges and Fighting Battles To End Sealed Adoption Records In New York State

The Adoptees Right to Genealogical, Cultural
and Medical History

Her natural mother wanted to be an executive secretary but she ended up a clerk in a department store after her divorce at age thirty-two, and was not the stereotypical loose woman those who surrendered to adoption were considered to be. Her natural father was a teacher, principal, hunter, trapper and fly fisherman. Both of adoptee, Melinda Warshaw’s natural parents were talented and from upper and middle class Wisconsin families.

Knowledge of her biological roots, her genetic background came to Melinda at age thirty after she located her mother and father and joined the Grant County,Wisconsin Genealogical Society and out of the blue a letter arrived from a girl who had information on her maternal great grandfather---a girl hoping she and Melinda were related. At last Melinda would learn where her talent as an artist and musician came from---her model body type, big eyes, dimples, laugh and smile. She recognized her son’s fly fishing expertise later to find out to her surprise that her natural father was a fly fisherman and wrote for Field and Stream Magazine.

Melinda plays and teaches the flute and was elated to learn her maternal grandfather was a professional trumpet player in a big band.

Her maternal grandfather was also a master builder who built bridges over the Misissippi and carved the woodwork inside the Mississippi River boats. Her paternal great grandfather studied in London to be a tailor in London before he came to Potisi Wisconsin where he raised a family of twelve children and eventually fought in the Civil War.

Her paternal grandmother’s family came from Luxembourg. The Weikers another set of relatives built the first Catholic church in Mormon Coulee. An uncle was an engineer, stock broker and railroad engineer---Her maternal half brother has the same exact artistic talent as Melinda—Recently she designed adoption related cards and will soon have them available on

Melinda knows very little about her medical history as she was rejected by her natural family and has yet to acquire needed information to pass on to her children and their children, but she will hopefully muster up the strength to gain information from family members some time in the future. Her children feel cheated because they don’t get to have a relationship with their relatives in Wisconsin and know their medical history.

In 1987 Lutheran Child and Family Services reunited Joyce Bahr with the son she surrendered to adoption in Chicago 1966, enabling her to pass on important genetic and cultural history as well as medical history. Joyce who is President of New York Statewide Adoption Reform lobbies in Albany for legislation giving all adopted adults at the age of majority a copy of their original birth certificate and updated medical histories and works closely with many adoptees like Melinda throughout the state. Her organization feels strongly that medical history has been neglected in our country's past for adoptees and change is paramount.

Joyce’s maternal grandmother who she admired greatly was a school teacher and her mother, Joyce’s great grandmother was half Native American-- from an Illinois tribe the Illiniwek. Her maternal great great grandfather she knows came from Germany and his son was a recorder of deeds in the Madison County Court House in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Her mother told her that her dad’s grandfather came from Germany with 2 brothers and after entering the country in New Orleans took a trace (large wagon) up a road alongside the Mississippi River to St. Louis. He and another brother Frederick received $300 each to go in the Civil War in another person’s place which was common in those times. The brothers used the money to purchase land in Worden, Illinois not far from St. Louis which Joyce’s great grand father would return to after fighting in 102 battles from Illinois to the East Coast. His brother died in the battle of Shilo and is buried in Worden. Illinois while her great grandfather would return to build the town store and several houses in the town which thrived until the depression. His legacy is recorded in two books on the history of Madison County and one his great granddaughters is planning on a publishing a book on the history of Worden in pictures.

Her father says that his great grandfather and four brothers were Bohemians who came to Chicago from Prague. Settling in Antigo, Wisconsin to farm--- his great grandfather’s legacy is that he fed the starving Native Americans. His grandfather had ten children and his father was a bootlegger during prohibition which was at the time of the great depression---He spent nine months in the county jail. His mother Beatrice Pike was French and British was from Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

A rare muscle disease is genetic in Joyce’s family although she can’t say which relatives had it she does know some relatives on her father’s side who had alcoholism. There is some mental illness on her mother’s side of the family but for the most part they were mentally healthy. Her maternal great aunt was a chiropractor and healer who lived to be 92 and was in good health until she died. There is a genetic tendency for diabetes and low blood surgar problems—an uncle died from cancer.

Joyce and Melinda give their attention to an article by attorney Brice M. Clagett titled Adoption Laws Threaten Death of Genealogy published a few year ago in the National Genealogical Society Newsletter indicating how genealogical research is becoming increasingly impaired with each passing generation by secrecy laws. Because the original birth certificate of the adoptee is replaced by a bogus record (the amended birth certificate) genealogical records are in fact bogus. Mr. Claggett states that researchers, as well as medical and other researchers, need to take action to correct this Orwellian practice. Surely all people, adopted or not have a right to be able to trace their ancestry in public records.

Adoption reform advocates are aware that some countries throughout the world have made this reform--adoptees receive only one original birth certificate and a decree of adoption which safeguards genealogy.

The New York Assembly bill A2277 is sponsored by Assemblymember
David Koon from Fairport and the Senate bill S235 is sponsored by Senator William Larkin from New Windsor. Senator Larkin has adopted grandchildren and he believes they should have the right to know. Also two of the fifty-four sponsors on the assembly bill are adoptive parents. The bill allows the birth or natural parent the option of choosing they want contact, contact by an intermediary or no—they do not want contact, at the same time giving all adult adoptees the right to their original birth certificate. The sealed record law is unfair, outdated and discriminatory.

Melinda Warshaw
Joyce Bahr

1 comment:

HeatherUK said...

Excellent blog. Behind Unsealed Initiative all the way. Joyce is a star. A one in a million

Adoptee Searching
Syracuse NY