Adoption law changes, sparks new connections

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By Devin Rose

Staff Reporter

Bob Brown, 47, has known from a young age that he was adopted.

Brown, of Winfield, said recently that, from the time he was told, he's been interested in finding out who his birth parents are. Unsure of his ethnic background, for instance, he was unable to fill out his medical history when he visited the doctor.

He knew from adoption papers what his given name was, and that his mother had been a minor when he was born. But because his birth certificate was sealed by court order, that was all he knew.

"There was this part of my soul that was just empty," Brown said.

Thanks to a law that changed last year in Illinois, Brown's life has taken a turn. Beginning Nov. 15, 2011, people adopted after 1946 are able to request their original birth certificates. Brown said he sent in the request form that same day.

He picked it up shortly before Christmas, and he said it told him more than he'd ever known before. Seeing his birth mother's picture and signature brought him to tears.

Through an organization that helps adoptees, Brown was able to track her down in Florida. His birth father and mother were students at Oak Park and River Forest High School when she gave birth to him at the age of 16.

Brown sent a greeting card to her through the organization, which included a baby picture, a current picture and a letter explaining the recent legal change. On the afternoon of Feb. 6, he received a call from Linda Elliott, his birth mother. In the months that followed, he and his son met her in Florida. He has also met a brother and a sister he never knew he had, and visited his birth father, Cosmo Mercurio, in Alaska.

"I had spent 47 years imagining what my birth parents might be like," Brown said. "This law was basically the one thing that allowed me to find [them]."

According to the Adoptee Rights Coalition's website — an organization that Brown has gotten involved in since being reunited with his family — laws regarding the release of a person's original birth certificate vary widely by state. In some states, the access is unrestricted. Others require intermediary involvement between the adoptee and birth parent, or only allow adoptees born before or after a certain year to get access.

In Illinois, birth parents of people born after 1946 can have their names removed from their child's birth certificate, which is something ARC is still fighting to change, said Barbara Thavis.

Thavis, who lives in Oak Park, met Brown at an ARC gathering earlier this month in Chicago. The group feels it's not fair that some birth certificates can still be sealed because it denies adoptees the right to find out about their family history, Thavis said.

"It's a civil rights issue," she said. "If you're born in the U.S., you should be able to get your birth certificate."

Three years ago, Thavis, 53, was reunited with the daughter she said her family coerced her into placing for adoption. She was a 21-year-old college student at the University of Illinois when she got pregnant. Her parents wouldn't allow her to come home with a baby, so she left school and moved in with her sister in New Mexico until the baby was born. Her daughter, who still lives there, petitioned the court and used an intermediary program to track Thavis down.

After the two met, Thavis said, a sense of grief that her family had effectively outlawed, finally surfaced. Seeing her daughter made Thavis wish she had the opportunity to take care of her. Now she's staying active in ARC to help adoptees who, unlike her daughter, are still unable to find out where they came from.

"The thing that's not fair is I could've just denied contact and she still would have no idea of her ancestry," Thavis said.

For more information about ARC, visit

Reader Comments

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Laura Hofmann from Kimberling City  

Posted: August 30th, 2012 1:06 PM

Thank you for shareing this story I hope I am as blessed as you with my search. God bless you! Thanks for the hope again that I had as a small child!!!!

Jim G. George from Hoquiam, WA  

Posted: August 29th, 2012 3:18 PM

I had one of the most public searches ever. In 1981 I was diagnosed with leukemia, a type with an average life expectancy of three years. The only known cure was a bonemarrow transplant from a blood relative. I went to court in Kansas City Mo. to get my records opened so as to be able to see if any relatives matched my blood. When the court would not even give me a court date, ABC News and then many media forces covered my case. Eventually I got a non-related donor transplant.

Elizabeth N from Hart  

Posted: August 27th, 2012 4:29 PM

I am an advocate of OBC's and I have never heard of them 'tearing a family apart'. I have however heard of reunions that didn't get or remain close BUT; the adoptee greatly benefited from the medical history and from closure. I hope someday there is ramifications for Dr's who falsified birth records such as mine. People do not realize how much more money and time we spend on medical tests because of all the rabbit trails we have to go down. And then there is THE PRIMAL WOUND.


Posted: August 27th, 2012 10:02 AM

Barbara said "Adoption is the culprit, not reunion." Hmmm ... often, not always. Sometimes a birth parent has not told current spouses/children about the baby placed years/decades earlier; that birth child shows up unexpectedly and, yes, can tear a family apart. Alternatively, a birth parent can rip apart a birth child's life when *they* show up uninvited. I know birth parents, adopted children and friends who have birth siblings adopted by others, and I've seen all these things happen.


Posted: August 25th, 2012 9:13 AM

I wish people would care more about these original families being torn apart, when the parents had in fact done nothing wrong and not ever been proven unfit, rather than worrying about the adoptive families quite so much. It is the risk you take when you CHOOSE to raise someone else's child--and an adopter has much more choice in that matter than the average relinquishing mother. Polite, helpful coercion is still coercion. Open all birth certificates of 18-and-older adoptees, I say.

Barbara Thavis from Oak Park  

Posted: August 25th, 2012 6:30 AM

My parents were not heartless just misguided. They acted out of love. I would love for Sandra to expound on her comment. No family was ever torn apart by a person receiving the documents of their birth. I'm quite sure you have your birth certificate unless you too are adopted. If families are torn apart from reunion that is because they were formed on secrets and lies. Adoption is the culprit, not reunion.

Bob Brown from Winfield, Illinois  

Posted: August 24th, 2012 9:31 AM

I believe that all adult adoptees have a right to his or her original birth certificate. Beyond that (searching and possibly finding birth family) does have some risks. In my case my adoptive parents encouraged me to search for my birth family. As I searched I knew that I may or may not like what I found. I might be welcomed or I might be rejected or any number of variations. It was scary but I felt compelled to search. In the end, I've been incredibly blessed by how I've been welcomed by my birth family and I've experienced a healing and wholeness in my soul as a result of my reunion with my birth family. It doesn't always go that well for all adoptees and it is a very personal decision on whether to search and having searched, weather to pursue reunion. I've read many stories of joy and many of heartbreak from adoptees who have searched for their birth family. As it relates to laws, however, I believe that it is wrong for governments to deny adult adoptees their original birth certificates. Everyone should have access to that basic information about themselves. What they choose to do with that information should be a personal and prayerful decision made by the adoptee.


Posted: August 24th, 2012 12:06 AM

doesn't anyone ever realize how it can tear a family "apart" when this happens? Yes, it's great to get your birth certificate but it also has many ramifications.

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