Petitioning the D.C. Court for Your Adoption Records

By Gregory D. Luce on January 16, 2017 — 11 mins read

This goes out to D.C. adoptees who are considering whether or not to petition the court to release your adoption records. If you are thinking about it, you may want to start by reading my rather long and legalistic post here. That post lays out what’s happened in break seal petitions over the years, from the good ol’ days of 1979 to the tad more troublesome times of today.

But, a few major points and an important disclaimer before I get to the nitty gritty.

First, and I cannot stress this enough, it’s a terrible strategic move to ask directly for reunion or contact through the D.C. court petition. As I’ve repeated before ad nauseum, search and reunion is distinct from your right to receive identifying information. If you seek reunion, you may sidetrack the court and get nothing. If you focus only on identifying information, you stand a much better chance of actually getting that information. And what you then do with that information is simply a different question. Capisce? No? If you don’t understand, re-read my prior post here.

Second, it will be expensive. The court’s filing fee is $80, and the “search” fee charged by the agency is typically $500 (except in some limited circumstances, by D.C. regulation it cannot be more than $500).

Third, if you haven’t figured it out already, getting your adoption records is not automatic, nor do you have an unrestricted right to get them. The court currently requires a petition and, as part of that process, referral of the case to your adoption agency. After that, it’s kind of a crapshoot as to what happens, depending on who presides over your case. That’s mostly what I covered in my earlier post.

Fourth, it may take a long time, perhaps up to a year. More likely, it will take several months. So, be prepared to wait.

Fifth, the court’s adoption records will rarely if ever include your original birth certificate. The OBC is typically on file with the District of Columbia Department of Public Health, which requires a court order to release it. While the court’s form does not specifically contemplate asking for your original birth certificate, it doesn’t hurt to include a request in the petition. In fact, it’s probably wise to do so.

Finally, I’m a lawyer but not yours. If you need legal advice or help drafting your petition, hire an attorney. If you can afford it, it may be well worth the cost of getting independent advice and direction. That said, the required court forms are not hard to complete, and I’ve provided my own sample petition as an example. You can follow my example or not—your choice. It is simply an example from 1) an adoptee who is going through the process himself and 2) an adoptee who also happens to be an attorney. So here goes.

Image of DC Courthouse Location on a 1965 Map

Court Petition: The Basics

The D.C. court provides a fillable PDF and packet you can review and use to complete a break seal petition. The petition is here, and you can fill it out, print it, and file it with the court after you sign it in front of a notary (and enclose the fee). But, a huge caveat. The court’s form tries to pigeonhole you into specific reasons to get your records, namely for medical information or “to establish contact with the birth parents.” The form does include an option of “other,” but the focus on contact and reunion with a birth parent is abundantly clear. Avoid being pigeonholed. I avoided it by creating my own form, and my annotated sample, in Google Docs, is here. I’ve commented on the form itself. I’ve also included a summary of those comments below.

Case Title. Include your full name, as it was at the time of adoption. It is key to include your name as it was back then, not a new name now or a married name you may have taken later. The court must link your initial adoptive name to the court file.

Adoption Case Number. You may not know this number, which was assigned at the time your adoptive parents filed their petition for adoption way back when. No worries. You should be able to get it from the adoption agency, which I did back in 2000. If you cannot get it, no sweat. As long as the name on your petition matches your name at the time of your adoption, the court should be able to find your original adoption case number.

Adoption Agency. The court needs to know the name of the adoption agency that handled your adoption so that it can refer the matter to that agency for a “search.” Hopefully, you know this. If not, the court should still be able to find it by matching your name with existing court records. Also, be aware that many adoption agencies back in the day are no longer in operation. Before closing up shop, they were required to transfer their files to another agency still in operation. That’s why I have two agencies listed on my own petition. I’ve been told the second agency has my file. Fingers crossed.

You. This is easy. Give the court your full name, address, and phone number. For good measure, I also included my email address.

Date of Adoption. List the approximate date of your adoption. This one confused me a bit because an adoption often does not become final until months after you are born. Luckily, I had a copy of my interlocutory decree, the temporary order issued to your adoptive parents a few months after they file for adoption. That order stated my adoption would become final on August 1, 1966, so I used that date. But if you have your adoption case number already, the court will be able to find the exact date of your adoption in the court records.

Adoptive Parents. Hopefully you know your adoptive parents’ names and dates of birth. I’m not sure what to tell you if you don’t.

Birth Parents. Obviously, most folks do not know this, which is the reason you are filing a petition. If you do know them, list them. If you do not, simply say “Unknown.”

Court Petition: Advanced

The final two questions on the petition are a little more complicated to work out, not because they are difficult to complete but because they make up the petition’s raison d’etre. Y’know, the whole shebang. That is, the questions that tell the court your what and why. The first question simply asks you to complete the following:

I am seeking the following information from this petition:

The court’s own form gives you three options to check: 1) medical information; 2) contact with the birth parents; and/or 3) other. Again, the court tries to limit your reasons to two primary things: medical info or reunion. And again, proceed at your own risk if you choose reunion. It’s largely a misplaced reason because it leapfrogs over a more nuanced and central reason, at least for me: you want information about your origin and identity. And what you do with that information and knowledge, once you have it, is up to you. That is, if you get it and then decide to ask the adoption agency to facilitate a reunion, all the power to you. That’s what those social workers are there for.

For my petition, I had also prepared a lengthy memorandum of law and my own affidavit, so I simply referred the court to those by saying “See Petitioner’s Memorandum of Law and its request for relief, along with supporting affidavits and documents.” But what if you want to include everything in just one form, without the need for a separate memorandum of law and affidavits? That’s up to you. But, to understand it a bit better, here’s what I said in my memorandum:

Petitioner, an adult adoptee, seeks the following relief:

  1. An order directed to the District of Columbia Department of Health ordering it to unseal and to release to petitioner a copy of petitioner’s original birth certificate; see, In Re G.D.L., 223 A.3d 100 (2020);
  2. An order unsealing the adoption records and papers in this proceeding and allowing petitioner to inspect and request copies of those records, pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-311 and In Re G.D.L., 223 A.3d 100 (2020);
  3. An order directed to the original child-placing agency in this matter, or its successor in interest, to allow petitioner to inspect records from petitioner’s adoption agency file and to request documents from the file that do not abridge any legally defined and recognized right of an individual’s confidentially in the records

Whew. That’s a fair bit of legalese. But I’m an attorney who needs to think through all of the issues as well as any potential for appeal. I was also careful to ask for information from three separate “repositories,” each of which held identifying information but was reasonably subject to court control: the department of health (my OBC); the court (my court records); and the agency (my adoption records). I also did this because each one of these repositories has a slightly different legal standard for release of its records. Which may explain why it took me 35 pages in a separate memorandum to lay it all out.

So, what to request? Again, it’s up to you. If you want all of it, ask for all of it, but be specific as to which records: your original birth certificate, your court records, or your adoption records. And keep in mind that the court’s records are likely the most directly applicable and, relatively speaking, more easily obtained. The court, after all, has direct control over its records. In fact, I cannot realistically imagine asking for your OBC or agency records without also asking for your court records (unless, of course, you already have those).

Finally, the last part on the court form states: “If there is any additional information you would like to provide, please do so here. Attach an additional page, if needed.”

I consider this the “why” question, as in why do you want your records? As I did with the prior question, I referred to my affidavit and other submissions, which explained my own reasons in significant detail. If I could distill those reasons down to a few key words, I’d get this: I wanted proof of my birth to my first mother, and I needed to know if I had another name, my first identity. I also wanted to know how the process of my relinquishment and adoption unfolded, clouded by now because I was seven days old at the time. Essentially, I wanted to know the full extent of my origin and identity, the same as almost all other people in the world and the same as Carolyn Brinker, the adoptee who requested and got her identifying information from a D.C. court in 1979. Indeed, this is what was said in 1979 for Brinker’s reasons to get her own records:

that she has desired to know the identities of her birth parents and siblings since her early teenage years; that the lack of knowledge has left her with feelings of emptiness and confusion concerning her identity; that she is concerned that possible hereditary diseases or conditions could affect her children; and that her adoptive parents have shared with her all of the information in their possession concerning her adoption and fully support her efforts to learn the identities of her birth family.

Hopefully, you understand your own reasons. If you don’t, I’d think twice about petitioning the court. It may not be wise to do so without at least some articulable reason. This process is not the same as requesting an original birth certificate in a place where you have an unrestricted right to get one. In those states, mere curiosity is fine, irrelevant actually. Here, before the court, expressing mere curiosity may hinder any success.

Finally, I’d attach the most recent decision on this issue from the D.C. Court of Appeals. It’s here and I discuss it in greater detail here (it’s the case I brought for myself).

Also, don’t forget to include a money order for $80 (yes, a money order) and send the form and any attachments to the court, at the address listed here on the court’s PDF form. The court should send you a receipt in the mail, which shows that it was successfully filed.

I cannot predict what will happen, with your case or mine. It’s actually not a good idea to guess on outcomes of cases. With the recent case of In Re: GDL, I believe the law is on our side. But that does not mean a different judge will agree. You will have to make your own decision to file, based on all of your information as well as the risk, cost, and potential disappointment.

If you petition the court, I’d love to know. I want to continue to follow how the court handles and resolves these cases after a recent decision. In addition, it would be good to monitor how the court handles these cases and build a decent library of decisions and approaches so that we can better advocate for positive results.

Best of luck. Really.

Issues: Adoptees, DC Courts

Leave a comment

  • Thanks very much for this. I found it quite informative! I hope to be able to file a petition soon for my own OBC. I hope that things work out for you with your petition!

  • Dear Gregory my name is Robin Lindner I was born in Washington DC on November 30th 1953 right now I’m 63 years old and basically I’m starting from scratch I need to send away for my amended birth certificate because I lost it years ago I figure at least I can get the amended birth certificate with the adoption case and perhaps the doctor’s name that’s another question I have if somewhere it would be recorded that a certain Dr deliverered a certain baby on a specific date?? Any advice would be greatly appreciated and I do enjoy your website it’s very informative!! I thank you very much sir I look forward to communicating to you and the future!

  • So glad I found your site. I am a birth mother that has recently been contacted by my wonderful daughter who was born in DC 1967. Adopting Agency was in Virginia. Would it be easier for me to get her OBC? Also do I go thru DC or Virginia? I can’t believe the complicated process for Adoptees. It would mean so much to her to have the OBC.

    • Nice news for you and your daughter!

      The birth certificate would be filed in the District of Columbia. Current DC law explicitly prohibits a birth parent from obtaining the original birth certificate, so it wouldn’t help actually. And DC really does not have a process (yet) to request only the OBC. If you were in a maternity home the home may have a copy of the OBC in your file, but I’ve heard from many people that those files have often “disappeared” or been mysteriously lost.

      I have my own case pending that seeks to change the process, and I’m still waiting for that decision. Feel free to email me at [email protected] to talk about it a bit more. But, yeah, it’s unnecessarily complicated.

  • Kathleen–

    Thanks for contacting me. I will email you with more information. One important thing to figure out for the DC court records in your mom’s case is whether they were ever sealed—and if a new birth certificate was ever issued. Adoptions prior to August 25, 1937, took extra effort on the part of the adoptive parents to have them sealed (including the mayor’s involvement to issue a new birth certificate). I will be in touch.

  • My dad was told he was adopted right before he passed away in 2008. Both of my grandparents have passed away as well. I am interested in finding out my medical history and would like to know if my dad was really adopted. He was born in Washington DC. Is there a way for me to find out that information.

  • Hello,
    Thanks for sharing so much informative info. I am having similar issues. I have waited at least a year and a half for 1967 Sealed Adoption records from DC. I just came across this website and now I have decided to Petition the courts…but the agency is saying the records are lost. I am as well, LOST….
    Again, Thanks for sharing

    • Sorry to hear that! Which agency is it? You may want to contact the District of Columbia Department of Family and Child Services (DCFCS). It regulates the child-placing agencies (adoption agencies) in DC and may have information about that specific agency and/or its records.

  • Great information, from a 1970 DC adoptee. I recently found my birth parents, after many years of searching, of all places on Ancestry DNA. My half-brother tested his DNA on a whim, and things just snow-balled from there. I could write a book…seriously. I would love to have my OBC and it seems like, in DC, the only way to obtain it is through your (very informative) post. Thank you so much.

  • Thank you for sharing this very helpful information! I am a 1956 D.C. adoptee who has discovered the name of my birth father through DNA and have also found several of my birth mother’s extended family through this DNA test. My mother’s side is a bit complicated though- my maternal half-sister’s parents are probably first cousins and there are many to consider so we both feel our search for answers has met a brick wall.

    I found my adoption order with adoption number and the Department of Public Welfare listed as my custodian. My name was changed at birth – I am wanting to find out my birthmother’s name and medical history as my half-sister has a muscular dystrophy-related disease and I have similar symptoms that are escalating. I am hoping an appeal on this medical basis makes my petition to break the seal of adoption a bit more compelling to the judge. I wish you luck in your case as well. I had no idea what the $80.00 fee was for or that this can be such a long drawn-out process!

    • Thanks, Pam, for commenting and contributing. On your adoption decree/order, do you know if it was DC Superior Court or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Adoptions prior to 1956 were typically handled through the federal courts. Let me know. Feel free to contact me through my other website for Adoptee Rights Law Center (

  • It sounds so complicated!! I was born in 1963 , Washington D.C. and just now I am searching for my Biological mothers name…the agency in Washington D.C. was Pierce-Warwick Adoption Services…but when I googled it, they have moved and I’m not sure if it is the same now. I have the documents..dates, law firm etc. ….but no names!! Its so difficult and confusing. ….any more advice? Thanks so much!

    • Thanks for commenting. I believe Family Matters of Washington DC now handles the old Pierce-Warwick records. That’s the information I found on a Florence Crittenton site. Family Matters is also the agency I’m dealing with in my own case, though my original adoption agency was the private Family and Children’s Service agency that used to be on 9th and L. The info for Family Matters is:

      Family Matters of Washington DC
      425 I St NW, Suite 700
      Washington, D.C. 20001
      Email: [email protected]

  • I was born and adopted out of DC in 1962. I already petitioned the court back in 1996 and they located my birth mother but she did not want to reveal her name or make contact. I sent a letter to her through a social worker which was found by my cousin. I was told that my birth father had passed away and there is no way I could get his information. My cousin’s granddaughter found me from the information in the letter, so I know that side. However, through DNA matching on ancestry and 23andme the closest I’ve been able to get is two 2nd cousins neither of whom can figure out who he might be. They do not know who he is and he immigrated to the US in 1947/48 so most of his closest relatives are in another country. If I just had the OBC I think I’d be able to trace my family history and maybe get medical history. Any suggestions? Would it be easier to get the OBC by bypassing the adoption agency and not trying to get the agency’s records?

    • Thanks for the comment, Joe. My first thought is that your father may not even be listed on the birth certificate, but perhaps the social worker told you otherwise (sometimes they will reveal whether or not a father is on the OBC). My second thought is that the courts need to be challenged on the issue of only requesting the OBC and not all the other records. Right now, the court is set up, in break seal petitions, to respond by sending it to the agency for consideration. The default is that ANY information provided must be at the consent of the birth parents. That’s not how I read the law and not how it should happen.

      So, “bypassing” the agency can be a tough task. It would be interesting to request ONLY the original birth certificate and nothing else in a break seal petition, especially in your case where you know the identity of birthmom. I expect an order in my case within the next month so it could serve as some guidance, though the rigmarole that I encountered in getting to this point is somewhat discouraging. We’ll see. I’ll also follow up with you by email to let you know about a closed Facebook group solely for DC adoptees.

      • The social worker did not tell me that my birth father’s name was on the OBC, I just figured it would be there since it’s a legal document. The way they are interpreting the law to me indicates they are more concerned about the parents than the adoptee. They made it even more restrictive, requiring both parent and child make a motion to break the seal, when in 1996 it was just one. If the parent is deceased you have no recourse. Right next door in Maryland they have to give the adoptee all identifying when requested. Why should it matter what state you were born in?

        • It will often depend on whether the birth is “legitimate” or “illegitimate” as to whether a father is on the original birth certificate. In 1966, the law was still in place in DC that did not require ANY names of the father, mother, or child on a birth certificate if the child was born “illegitimate.” That said, as late as 1966 it would be highly unusual if the mother’s name was not listed, presuming the mother’s name was truthfully recorded. It’s complicated.

  • I’m just starting the process myself. The anger at the inflated opinion of the court and agency’s to think there whim outweighs my right to know who I really am and was. I’ve located my birth mother after taking a dna test. Pretty sure oh where my father is. I am pretty sure my birth mother didn’t sign anything on the bases of her privacy. So the idea I must show good cause to a authoritarian court is completely assbackwards. It should be the court showing good cause for the denial of my inalienable right, my natural rights under the 4th 5th 8th 9th and 14th amendment. I’m biting my tongue on that. I see it as identity theft purported under the color of law with the state’s interest being the pure tuition of their illusion of supreme authority. And I want everything, not a page here a page there everything the stole I want back. And I looked at their form, and asking for proof of date of birth is impossible since I have no memory only what I have been told and that seems like they are asking me give testimony on hearsay evidence. As I cannot in good conscience be part of the fraudulent identity ordered Oct 28 1968 in the best interest of the child they claimed. Oh why are only the names on the petition and court order all capital letter my true name mothers family name my adoptive parents names my new name and the judge and deputy clerks names. Seems odd, like there’s more to it.

  • Hey I read your article. I was adopted along with my sister back in 1986. I was wondering if anything has changed since.

    • Thanks for the comment. The law essentially hasn’t changed since the 1950s. The way the courts interpret the law is often subject to change, and that’s what is partially at stake in some of these cases. Bottom line, though, no, it hasn’t changed and a 1986 adoption is treated like almost all others. The only date-related difference in DC is that adoptions prior to 1956 may require the adoptee to go through federal court.

  • I was born in DC in 1954, surrendered to foster care in 1955, and my adoption was finalized in 1956. I filed a petition to unseal the record in 2002-2003 (citing a wish to have medical history), and the petition was granted. A social worker for DC CFS was able to locate my birth mother, who declined contact. I was given certain non-identifying information but that was it. This year, I completed DNA testing with I still do not know the identity of my birth parents, but I did locate some cousins, so I have more information about family history and origins. My advice would be to understand that it is a long process, one that may or may not have a happy ending. Persistence is key. However, having some information is better than none at all.

    • Thanks, Elaine. Did you petition the U.S. District Court or the DC Superior Court. Your year of adoption is right on the edge of when adoptions switched over to DC Superior Court. It is a long process. But it should be shortened by at least releasing the original birth certificate and not equating that with contacting a birth parent. They are very different, as you have obviously found out. Finally, you should consider joining a Facebook group for DC adoptees, which is here.

      • I was able to determine the identity of my birth mother, by combining the non-identifying information I was given by DC Family Services with my Ancestry DNA test results. (I did petition DC District Court, not Superior Court). I was able to determine that my birth mother died in 2014, and I now have her death certificate. Do you think I would be able to get my file and original birth certificate now?

        • Hi, Elaine–

          So, you earlier filed a case in United States District Court, meaning your adoption occurred prior to 1956? It’s possible to obtain the records with additional information, such as the death certificate, but it’s unclear what standard the courts are applying right now when a birthparent is deceased. I’ve seen it go both ways.

  • Great explanation of everything! I have petitioned DC twice and had my adoption files opened twice. I am not preparing to petition them again to receive a copy of my original birth certificate. I have found both of my biological parents but they both recently passed away and I would like my OBC. I did personally go to Vital Records and attempt to get my OBC but was told directly that they do not have them because they were “destroyed in a fire years ago”. I was actually shocked because that seems to be the adoption agency party line! We will see how it goes!

    • Yours is now the fifth report of destroyed records I’ve received. I just wrote the DC Department of Health attorney to find out if there is any truth to the destruction of records. Thanks for reporting this!

      • When I contacted the Florence Crittenton office, I was told the same thing, that at least 1/2 of their records were destroyed in a fire. I was too naive to persist and see if MY info was the 1/2 that survived!

  • Thank you for your information…it helped a great deal! I petitioned the courts on my birthday (08/09/17) and my petition for Break Seal was approved.

    Prior to petitioning the court I submitted a DNA test through and was able to locate my biological paternal side (with help from private investigator & genealogist). Unfortunately my birth father was deceased but I did meet my 2 half brothers.

    After several months of phone tag with the caseworker assigned to my Break Seal order…she advised me that she had all my adoption information but unfortunately she was unable to release my birth mothers name, date of birth or age to me. She indicated that in the file it stated “my birth mother was a victim of forced sexual relationship” in which I was conceived as a result of the rape/assault. She stated she would need to confer with my birth mother first prior to disclosing any information to me. (By now you may have gathered I’m an emotional wreck after hearing this information.)

    My question is: Am I entitled to receive any hard copies of my non-identifying information to include medical records related to my adoption??

    • I’m very sorry to hear that. And it’s my opinion too that the social worker will now make it worse for the birthmother through this contact. That’s one of the problems of this approach—rather than provide you with straightforward information on the original birth certificate, the social worker acts as an intermediary and makes things worse.

      In any event, though DC law is a bit fuzzy on this and it may allow some agencies not to provide non-id, it is my position that you are entitled to non-identifying information and that the agency may not charge you more than $100 for providing it. That non-identifying information may provide some general information about medical history, but it will depend on how much the agency shares from the file and whether it was adequately or accurately recorded from your birthmother’s intake many years ago.

      Again, sorry to hear of this current result. Hang in there. Seek someone you trust to talk about this, as you are certainly not alone—many adoptees have similar stories. If you have further questions you should contact me at my email at [email protected]. My best to you!

  • Hello, My name is Tammy Kapust. I’m 59 years old, and I’ve recently found out the identity of my biological father. My mother and the man who raised me had my name changed on my birth certificate to reflect his name. DC vital records advised that the man my mother lived with legitimized me. However, my birth father’s sister stated he had never relinquished his parental rights. Based on your experience do you think I may be successful in petitioning the DC Superior Court to unseal my original birth certificate? Social Security Administration has verbally confirmed the initial name at time of application for as card matches that of my biological father. My mother, my father and the man who raised me are all deceased. I’m at a loss as to why I am being refused my own records. Technically my mother never married the second man, therefore how could I have been adopted without consent from my birth father? Any advice you can provide is greatly appreciated.

  • I filed in 2000 and was given no identifying information..then DC DSS FILED a motion to permanently block me from ever coming again..Thanks to Ancestry I found bio dad and he wasnt the man in pic from agency.. He knew nothing about my birth..Now what do i do? But most of all what are they hiding

  • Hello thank you for the information. My question is, I’m looking for my brother that was given up for adoption in Washington DC. My mother has passed and I just recently found out that I have a brother. I know some information but not a lot. I know that my mother was sent to a home for unwed mothers in dc that is still in business today, even though no longer a home for unwed mothers. I know he was born in either 1964 or 1965. I do know his fathers name as well. What are my next steps if any? TYIA for your assistance.

  • I was born 11/01/1960 in District Of Columbia and it was a big secret .All I know is St. Dominics ,St. Marys , the last names Brick,Hawk,and Cones,Lancon involved …Everybody involved has passed awy that I know ….I was adopted 3 times ,once in DC as Cones and once in Maryland as Lancon …Then in California as Shelton but I know all bout that one .

    • Thank you so much for the info my husband was born 1955 feb in DC but adopted out of St Ann’s Maryland which is still open we are really looking for medical info and called St Ann’s maternity home was told records are sealed going to follow your steps

  • Thank you for so much detailed information. Your site is a huge help. My own situation is slightly different, and I don’t think there was an agency involved. My parents separated pretty quickly (shotgun marriage), my mother remarried, and her husband adopted me. Unfortunately I’ve become estranged from them, so they won’t be providing any info. If I have my birthdate, location, original name, and mother’s info can I just file without any agency info or record #? I doubt there would be any.

    • It’s likely there was no agency involved if it was a step-parent adoption. And it will depend on what you want from the process. Do you want your original birth certificate or court records? Or agency records? Or everything? And what was the year of the adoption (that determines if it was in federal court or DC superior court)?

  • Thanks so much for this information. I was adopted in 1962 through the Barker Foundation in DC. They indicated they would charge $5oo for their services. Since you indicate that the court would refer me to them anyway, should I start withe the Barker Foundation? Or start by petitioning the court myself? Not so much worried about the $80, but would rather take the most expeditious route!

    • What does Barker offer in return for the $500 fee? A search for birthparents? Depending on what you want, it may be better to go through the agency, unless they also require you to break the seal first through DC courts. The search services typically will involve the agency acting as an intermediary to search for and, if you want, contact the birthparents. They will not release any information without the consent of a birthparent.

    • Nancy I was also adopted through Barker. I received non-identifying information which led me to find both birth parents. Let me know if I can give you any information.

  • That was absolutely life changing thank you so much for your efforts and your resources!

  • Thank you for all your great information…and willingness to share. Would you recommend submitting (and notarizing) the online form you provided if the request is only for non-id information? Several calls to Child & Family Services have NOT been returned. The adoption was finalized in 1952…and the agency is not known.

    • If finalized in 1952, the court records would very likely be in U.S. District Court, which would handle court inquiries. I have more information about the procedures for contacting that court at the bottom of this post. Also, you should try emailing Mary Hembry at [email protected] to inquire about finding out the name of the agency now holding the records. As you have found out, the lack of return calls can be frustrating.

  • I was adopted in 1965, through Family and Child Services of Washington D.C. I have found some family, 1st cousins etc, through I am excited to see IF I can get my records unsealed. I don’t know where to start? What is the best way to move forward? What do I file first? Where do I send these things and then what? The info I found online about breaking a seal of adoption is from 2005…is this still valid? hit asks for $80 money order, no problem, but I sonnet want to send this and have it bounce around for months and come back undeliverable. Can you assist me with this??? PLEASE?

    • Dana:

      This post (above) walks people through the process of trying to unseal the records and obtain information. It still costs $80 for the filing fee. That fee MUST be paid by money order

  • This is an unusual question . My adoptive mothers brother was able to petition and unseal my adoption records very easily over a case of inheritance prior to his death he would not disclose the findings. This was in 2000. This angers me to no end that he could petition the court yet it is difficult for me the adoptee to get my own birth record. How is this even possible?

    • That’s highly unusual, though it is tough to determine if the uncle received any information. It is not hard to “break the seal” of the adoption. Getting information once that seal is broken is much harder.

  • I am a birth mother. I found my birth daughter a few years ago through social media. She did not know she was adopted. Her adoptive parents never told her. We would both like to see the original birth certificate as well as the adoption records. It was a private adoption, not through any agency. What would she/we need to do?

  • Thanks! I used your advice and verbiage and received notice today of a break the seal case number and BKS#. What should I expect next?


    • You will likely next hear from the adoption agency that handled the adoption. They will tell you what services they wish to provide, possibly for a fee, and how long it may take. The DC system, at least still for now, relies on the agencies to “search” for birthparents and notify them of the petition and whether they want “contact.” It’s a backwards system if you only want information, not contact. But I would expect a letter from the agency that handled the adoption (or another agency if the old agency is no longer in business). Do you know what agency handled the adoption?

      • Jewish Social Services in rockville, md. The DC court has ordered a response from them by January 3, 2019 to include my original birth certificate. Thanks for your verbiage!

  • My name is Adrian Johnson, and I was adopted in 1961, and for medical reasons, and personal knowledge i need info. However I am confused about the original birth certificate? are you speaking of the one with my parents name who adopted me? or is there another one, and where do I get that from?

    • Yes, there is another birth certificate, unless your adoptive parents did not request a new one. The other one is your original birth certificate and it is on file with the Washington DC department of health. It is available only by court order.

  • I petitioned the court in September 2018 and received notice from the court approving my request today. Took less than a month.

  • Hello,
    So pleased to have found this site! I have a more unusual issue that I didn’t see covered under other questions.
    I was born in 1964, Columbia Hospital (closed), through Pierce Warwick Agency (also closed).
    I was very fortunate to find my birth mother back in the mid-90’s in the “wild west” days of the internet after a long complicated search, facilitated by online angels.
    I work for an airline, and my parents are allowed on my benefits. My Dad is on there (the father who raised me), but my Mom passed away years ago, so I have my bmom on my benefits. My company is now vetting all persons on benefits, so I find myself in need of some legal written document with my bmom’s name.
    Years ago, during my search, I was able to obtain a redacted version of my OBC in person at Columbia Hospital, when I had a birth last name but did not yet know my bmom’s first name.
    Do you know if there’s a way to get OBC if I now know all names, without going through court proceedings?
    Thank you again for your wonderful site. Sorry for the long post.

  • Hi Gregory
    My request to have my adoption records seal opened was granted in 2017. The case was sent to an intermediary CFSA my birt mom passed in 2008, birth father unlocatable (may be deceased) based on age per investigator. However DOB and names of parents were not provided. I need my OBC. Social Workers recommendation through intermediary is to reseal records. What can I do at this point. They are saying since deceased and unlocatable no consent and I cant have access to birth certificate. But why break the seal if I get no information. Please help.

    Thanks so much

  • Thank you for providing so much great information! I was adopted when I was 6 weeks old through a DC agency. My adoptive parents were given minimal information about me which included the race of both biological parents, their ages and information about their parents. I have been doing some searching on my own for quite some time. I have gone on an adoption registry site that helps search for birth parents and have also hired a private investigator. Both of these provided some additional information about my potential biological mother(i.e. DOB, name…) A ‘search angel’ from the registry was able to find out that she came to DC from Louisville, KY to a home for unwed mothers. I have also been able to get some additional non-identifying information from the Dept of family and Child Services but that wasn’t much more than what my adoptive parents already had. I have done my DNA on both and 23andMe and was able to find some 1st and 2nd cousins but am not able to find how we are related and to whom. I am just now starting the process to petition the courts to break the seal and get my information. I have the original adoption decree with the case number listed. I also have copies of the initial physical exam, an agency photo of me and a note from my foster mother who refers to me as ‘Stephanie’. My name was changed but I do not know if that was a requirement or optional at that time. I am curious to know if I should enter ‘Stephanie’ as my name at birth or my current name.

  • I think I will try to complete the petition on my own. I know who my birth mother is although she is now deceased. I have met my siblings who were born after my birth mother was married. I don’t believe their father is the same as mine. However I was told that my oldest sister always believed that they had an older brother. I guess they did. I am 73 years old so I imagine that my birth father would also be deceased. I know who my adoptive parents are since they raised me and I have a certificate of live birth from the District of Columbia. No information about what hospital, only a doctor’s name. I have no clue about any adoption agencies. Both of my mothers were in the Army at that time, birth mother not married, but my adoptive mother was.

  • What exactly does “To break seal on adoption records and divulge confidential information” mean? What (all) information am I entitled to receive? (My petition for Break Seal has been granted from District of Columbia courts).

    • It only means that the court will now refer the case to the adoption agency that handled your adoption or that has the records from that adoption. It will offer services to search for a birthparent and request a fee to do so.

      • Thank you. I petitioned August 2018 and was granted approval by the courts. The DCFS caseworker handling my case stated that she hasn’t received a response back from her attempts to contact my biological mother. She stated that due to that fact she will be submitting information to the courts to close / reseal my adoption records.

  • Thank you for this wealth of information. I was born at a private hospital in DC in 1952. On the ‘birth certificate’ I have, my adopted parents are listed as my birth parents. I was born on the 17th of March and that certificate was signed off on March 23. There was no six month waiting period nor was I adopted through an agency.
    With very little information and the birth certificate I had, lost, is there even a chance I could petition the courts? I know the doc’s name as he signed the certificate. It was also the name of the hospital. I doubt the doctor is still with us.

  • Dear Gregory, I read thru your article and found it rather informative. My mother got pregnant with me by a married man. She kept her married name from her first marriage. After she remarried, the man she married adopted me and I have my DC birth certificate with the date that my adoption became final. I did a DNA test with Ancestry and found my half sister (alive) and my half brother (passed away), along with my nephew and 2 nieces. I just want to see what name is there for “father”. My Mom continually lied to me from the time I found out my Dad adopted me at the age of 13 (1971) until she died in 2008. She never told me the truth or our family. I feel so lied to and hurt by my Mom. I just could never forgive her because she made me not trust people because if your Mom lies to you, everyone else will. I don’t know exactly how to proceed but I did print out the 1979 Judgement and all your pages to reference. I basically want to know where to go from here since there was no adoption agency involved. It was private since my Mom was my biological Mom. Any advice?

  • Hi Gregory,
    Thanks for blazing a trail for adoptees by sharing this information from a legal perspective. I found my birth parents & 3 siblings on my own (pre-internet/pre-DNA sites), but it took 10 years. After many overseas calls & AirMail letters, hotmail email, on-site work at the Library of Congress, Embassy of Australia & the Barker Foundation Adoption Agency, Concerned United Birthparents, etc…ultimately I found them by contacting print media in Australia (my birth father was an expat stationed in DC with the Embassy of Australia). I met my biomom in 2013 and she died in 2018. My biodad died years ago. In short, I plan to petition the DC Superior Court (1969 birth year) for my OBC and court/adoption records to support a valid claim I have for dual citizenship. Medical records are important, but not an acute matter, but I intend to include both in the petition. Do you know who in DC can enact change in the laws? Is this under the jurisdiction of the Mayor or another body? I’m in CA now, but when I lived in Maryland I was active in lobbying the legislature in Annapolis. Thanks, Emily –

  • great info.i recently had my dc file unsealed,only to have the judge reseal it after sending me a 34 page copy of the obc or parents names were birth name however was in the adoption birth cert. shows walter reed hosp. as birth place with a dr.s signature.process took about 21 mos., if you want i can be more specific about my experiance.thanks

  • Hi – I recently petitioned the court (for the 2nd time) and specifically stated that I did NOT want to establish connection with my birth parents but wanted my OBC and adoption records. I’m now in a waiting pattern. According to the order, CFSA was supposed to provide a status as of 6/23/23. I’m not sure if that occurred or not because I haven’t had any more updates from them. Should I inquire? Or, just continue to wait? I’m okay with doing either, just wondering. Oh and my judge is Robert Salerno.