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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Guest Essay: Adoptees need to know their roots

  • With the State Legislative Session scheduled to end June 20, which means things sometimes move pretty quickly as the session winds down, there is legislation pending in the New York State Assembly and State Senate, known as the Adoptee Bill of Rights.

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  • With the State Legislative Session scheduled to end June 20, which means things sometimes move pretty quickly as the session winds down, there is legislation pending in the New York State Assembly and State Senate, known as the Adoptee Bill of Rights.
    This bill (S2490A/A909), if passed and signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, would give adult adoptees more rights to learn about their past.  If enacted, adoptees would be able to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate when they reach the age of 18.  Also, the adoptee would receive an updated medical history that is submitted by the birth parents to the State Health Department. It finally creates a contact preference for the birth parents.
    The current law on the books since it was signed into law by Governor Herbert Lehman in 1935 and enacted in 1938, seals the original birth certificates. Adoptees only receive an amended birth certificate, listing the names of the adopted parents.  By the way, Governor Lehman and his wife the former Edith Altschul, adopted three children.   
    The bill has attracted 81 sponsors in the Assembly and 22 in the State Senate, but it needs to go to the floor for a vote.
    Why my interest in this subject? My mom, Rebecca Wilcox Barnhoorn and my Uncle Paul Watkins are adoptees and were given up for adoption shortly after they were born.  Mom was born in 1939 in Bath and my Uncle Paul was born in 1937 in Buffalo, to Orin and Helen Jane (Williams) Wilson.  After three months of research, I reunited them as brother and sister for the first time December 17, 1990.  Along the way, I learned a lot about the backgrounds of my grandparents, including their medical histories.
    When the 1940 US Census was released after 72 years in April last year, I located my Mom in the return.  My mother Rebecca Wilcox, age 1, was enumerated as "Adopted Daughter" to Robert and Isabelle Wilcox.  The family lived on 10 Delaware Street in the Village of Bath.
    Last fall, my Mom almost passed away due to serious health issues. Fortunately, from my genealogical research, I shared the medical history with doctors and nurses taking care of my mom. Having the knowledge of the medical histories of my grandparents was extremely helpful.
    I would like to see other adoptees and their families have the same opportunity, minus the hoops I had to go through, to learn about their biological blood lines and medical histories. Changing the law would be as American as Apple Pie.
    But time is running out.  Contact your legislators in their District Offices.  Please tell them to vote for the Adoptee Bill of Rights (S2490A/A909).
    With the advent of modern medical science, allowing adoptees to obtain their original birth certificate and medical histories of their biological parents would be a great start. Lives hang in the balance.
    Page 2 of 2 - Steve Barnhoorn,
    Honeoye, NY
     

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