Sunday, March 30, 2008

SOUTH CAROLINA: Adopted Man Seeks Biological Parents, March 30, 2008

March 30, 2008

Adopted man seeks biological parents
Closed records keep 4 brothers from knowing their roots
By Kim Kimzey

Kelvin Eaker and his brothers are looking for their biological parents, who could live in the Spartanburg area.

Kelvin Eaker likes to imagine what it will be like when he meets his mother for the first time.

The 34-year-old has gone through many scenarios in his head. In one, an old lady answers the door. Kelvin tells her, "You need to sit down, 'cause I've got something to tell you."

Kelvin just hopes she's happy to see him.

The Myrtle Beach resident is searching for his birth parents and thinks they might live in Spartanburg. He was born here June 25, 1973, but has no memory of his birth parents or the five or six foster homes he lived in before his adoption at age 3.

"I don't even have a last name to go by," he said.

He wants to know why he and his three brothers were given up for adoption. He also wants to know his family's medical history. And the scar on his back - where did that come from?

"I don't know if I was shot or stabbed," Kelvin said.

The quarter-sized scar was there when he and his three brothers were adopted the day before Valentine's Day 1976 - they call it "Gotcha Day" - by Hershel and Annie Eaker.

Kelvin's first name used to be Joey. Chad, born July 24, 1974, is the next oldest. His original name was Tony. Then there are the twins, Jonathan and Jason, once named Ronnie and Donnie. They were born Aug. 10, 1975.

Kelvin said he was about 15 years old when his adoptive parents told the boys they were adopted.

"I was shocked," he remembered. "I think we all were."

They were raised in Marion and later moved to Mullins, and their family was a tight-knit one.

"We had a real, real good life," Kelvin said.

Growing up, he and his brothers were typical, rambunctious boys who enjoyed baseball.

Kelvin has always liked to fish. He fishes off the piers at Myrtle Beach, where he moved a couple of years ago. He's divorced and said he was recently hired as a driver and stocker for Pepsi.

Chad lives in Latta and is a general foreman for a tree company. He now has a son of his own.

Jason still lives in Mullins and is a father to three daughters. Jonathan lives in Nichols and has two sons, 2 and 4 years old.

"It's amazing. It's just wonderful, having someone, a part of you," Jonathan said of fatherhood during a phone interview.

After Jonathan learned he was adopted, he said he changed.

He became angry and upset, but as he grew up, he realized what the Eakers did for him and his brothers.

"It takes wonderful parents to take kids in that weren't their own and love them," he said.

He wants his biological parents to know that he appreciates their decision, too.

"You couldn't have given us a better life than we have now," he said.

"We don't have no regrets or anything," Kelvin said.

Kelvin said his birth parents probably thought they were adopted separately.

He wants them to know "we're all together. We're doing OK. We want them to contact us."

Their adoptive father, Hershel, died two years ago. Kelvin said his father handled the details of the adoption.

Jonathan remembers his adoptive father telling him that his biological parents were young when he was born and that they did not have much money. Jonathan said his biological dad might be a car salesman.

Kelvin said their closed adoption was through the Department of Social Services.

It was a very closed time for adoptions, explained James Fletcher Thompson, a Spartanburg attorney whose practice covers adoption law.

"But the fact that it was a DSS case makes it even more closed," Thompson said.

He said children who are privately adopted have been voluntarily placed, but 97 percent of children placed for adoption through DSS have been abused, neglected or abandoned, or one of their siblings has.

Thompson said that might not be the case for the Eakers.

Kelvin said the lawyer who handled his adoption did not keep any files.

Thompson would not be surprised if the attorney who handled the case no longer has the records, since many attorneys dabbled in different areas of law years ago.

The courthouse, however, would still have the sealed records.

People adopted through DSS can register for the reunion registry. The adoptee must be at least 21 and apply in writing to DSS for information, according to Thompson. Adoptees and their biological parents can be reunited if both parties are willing to reveal their identities to each other, but it's unlawful for someone, such as an attorney or employee of a private adoption agency, to release information in adoption records.

Another possibility is registering for the International Soundex Reunion Registry, a nonprofit that matches people with their next of kin-by-birth.

In order to have the records unsealed, Thompson said Kelvin would have to request that a judge open the records based on good cause.

"You can find someone without their birth certificate, and that's often true, but it's certainly not always true. If you have a genuine need to know and you can't find, then this access becomes really much more critical," Adam Pertman said.

Pertman is executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national nonprofit that is a research, policy and education organization.

The institute released a report in November recommending in part that every state amend laws to restore adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates.

Among the arguments against unsealing records is that it will increase the incidence of abortion and decrease adoptions, Pertman said in a phone interview.

"The thinking is, if you don't allow women this lifelong anonymity, maybe they'll have an abortion instead of carrying the child to term and placing them for adoption," Pertman said.

Eight states now have open records.

"In the states that have unsealed these records, the adoption rate appears to be going up, rather than down," Pertman said.

"People really do want to have this sense of fulfilled identity, to know that they started at Point A, and not at Point B, i.e., Point B being adoption, A, birth," Pertman said.

"I have way too many e-mails in my files of adoptees who really need medical information and they just can't get it," he said.

Thompson said South Carolina is trending toward openness in adoption.

A bill introduced last year in the state Senate would allow adoptees 25 and older access to non-identifying health and medical histories of their biological parents. That bill was sent to a Senate judiciary subcommittee on Jan. 11, 2007, and has remained there.

Meanwhile, Kelvin's search continues.

"I just don't want to give up," he said.

Despite all the questions about his past, of one thing Kelvin is certain: "Somebody's got to know something."

"You don't just give up four boys and forget about it," he said.

Kelvin welcomes calls from Herald-Journal readers who might be able to help him find his parents. Call Kelvin at 843-455-5738 or contact his friend Jason Layton at 843-602-3404.

Link to article

Saturday, March 29, 2008

NEW YORK: Letter from Joyce Bahr--Pending Bill Opens Records to Adoptees, March 29, 208

March 29, 2008

Pending bill opens records to adoptees

Adoptees will have the same right to the birth records and early health histories as every other person has always had, under legislation pending in the state Senate and Assembly. Currently, eight other states offer this right and several others are considering it. Adoption records in Kansas and Alaska have never been sealed.
New York began sealing adoption records in the mid-1930s to protect adoptive parents from possible interference from biological parents. Contrary to popular assumption, however, there has never been a legal guarantee of secrecy offered to birth parents who have given up their children for adoption.

Since the 1930s, social perceptions and medical research have evolved to the point where most professionals in the field of adoption agree that open adoption and background information is to the benefit of all concerned. For example, one of the first things a doctor needs to know is a patient's medical and psychiatric history. Currently, that potentially life-saving information is obtainable only by court order and at considerable cost to the individual. Unfortunately, it is usually not sought because of those deterrents, to a patient's serious disadvantage.

Other adoptees seeking their birth records believe that the matter is one of basic human rights, including the right to know one's heritage, something that is taken for granted by everyone else. Such denial of access consigns adoptees to second-class citizen status.

The proposed adoptee rights legislation strikes a balance between an adopted person's right to know and the confidentiality concerns of biological parents.

With the political fray in Albany this year, these bills need the attention and support of your elected officials. Please contact your state senator urging support of bill S235 and your assemblyman of bill A2277.

Joyce Bahr

Gracie Station

Bahr is president of New York Statewide Adoption Reform,

Link to article

Thursday, March 27, 2008

ARGENTINA: Babies of the Disappeared, March 27, 2008

March 27, 2008

Babies of the Disappeared
Chris Bradley

Details of the fates of many children of Argentina's "disappeared" - adopted and given new identities by military families - are only now starting to emerge

As a child, María Eugenia Sampallo Barragán had a fiery relationship with her mother, who chose unusual ways of showing affection. Outbursts such as "If it wasn't for me you would have ended up in a ditch" and "Badly educated brat - only a child of a guerrilla could be so rebellious" were common, but would not be fully understood until years later.

The truth was finally revealed in 2001 and María Eugenia, 30, is now demanding 25-year jail sentences for the couple who raised her, Osvaldo Rivas and María Cristina Gómez Pinto, and their associate Enrique José Berthier. The trio are accused of removing her from her parents, falsifying her birth certificate and erasing her true identity. The verdict is due in a Buenos Aires court on 4 April.

María Eugenia was five when a family friend told her she had been adopted after her real parents died in a car crash. Strange, then, that Rivas and Gómez were listed as her biological parents on her birth certificate. Other versions of her origins soon emerged: that she was the daughter of a maid who had given her up for financial reasons; that she was the daughter of an air hostess from Europe, who came to Argentina and became pregnant through an extramarital affair.

In 2001 María Eugenia became the 72nd grandchild recovered by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group that works to find the children of their children, who were tortured and killed under the military dictatorship of 1976-83. They calculate that among the 30,000 "disappeared", more than 400 were babies, either kidnapped along with their parents or born in captivity. Many were raised with new identities by the same military families that had had a hand in the fate of their biological parents.

Mirta Barragán was six months pregnant when she and her partner, Leonardo Sampallo, were kidnapped in 1977. There is no further record of either of them, but six months later their baby was delivered to Rivas and Gómez by Berthier, a friend in the military. With the help of a now-deceased doctor, a birth certificate was signed in their names.

María Eugenia has become the first child the grandmothers have found to seek justice against her appropriators. When she took the witness stand she could only answer "I don't know" when asked her place and date of birth. She also told the court that, when she left home after finishing school, "I didn't take any photos of my past, with them, as it was something I preferred not to remember."

Not all of the children had such unhappy upbringings. Many were sent to good schools and were treated with love and affection. Some couples claim not to have known the true origins of the babies they raised, and many of the recovered grandchildren choose to believe that, remaining close to both their biological families and their adoptive parents.

The right to an identity was enshrined in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child at the instigation of the Grandmothers, through what are known as the "Argentine clauses". However, as these children approach their thirties, most feel an instinctive bond with their adoptive parents and are reluctant to see them punished. Others prefer to keep a low profile and try to get on with their lives.

Not so María Eugenia. The Grandmothers hope that her case will encourage more to come forward, and that it will help speed up the process of justice for the children of their children.

Link to Article

Saturday, March 22, 2008

ENGLAND: He Was Always Nicknamead Crazy Geeoerge So It is No Real Surprise when He Married His Sister, March 22, 2008

March 22, 2008

'He was always nicknamed Crazy George so it was no real surprise when he married his own sister' - EX-WIFE MABEL YESTERDAY
Lottery winner George Wass married to his sister Alice
Dark secret of £5m George

By Laurie Hanna 22/03/2008

A married couple who won £5.3million on the lotto are brother and

George and Alice Wass share the same mother from different

The couple, who live in a caravan on an East London tip, met in 1983
when she traced her family roots. But the pair insist they had been
told at the time they were not related.

Alice, 61, said last night: "I showed my mother photos of George and
she said she'd never seen him before in her life."

They were introduced as long-lost brother and sister 25 years ago -
and ended up as husband and wife.

George and Alice Wass insisted they had disproved claims they were
related when they fell for each other at an emotional meeting in 1983.
But the £5.3million lottery winners' tangled love life was unravelled
when the Mirror yesterday confronted them with records that showed
they shared the same mum, Margaret Wass.

Alice, 61, who lives in a caravan on a rubbish tip with George said:
"This is all coming out now. What am I supposed to do?
"If I'm getting you right, we've got the same mother but different
fathers. You have learnt a lot more than I have." George, 63, walked
out on his wife Mabel and their three children after he met widowed

Mabel said last night: "He was always nicknamed Crazy George so it was
no real surprise when he did something like this."

Alice was introduced to George after she asked the Salvation Army to
look into her childhood history when her 19-year-old daughter Valerie
was murdered in 1983.

She said she never knew her mum - by then wed to Frederick Holding -
was married before and was shocked to learn she had a half-brother.
But her mother's marriage certificate shows she was previously known
as Margaret Wass.

Alice added: "The Salvation Army came back with the name George Wass.
We met and George thought I was his sister and I thought George was my
brother." They soon fell head over heels for each other and five
months later he moved into her house in Stratford, East London.
Alice said: "We started having feelings for one another so I told
George we had to part and never see each other again."

But she showed Margaret a load of photos he had given her of him and
his dad Lionel Wass with brother Joseph. She denied knowing them.
Alice added: "I said 'Mum, is that my father?' It was an elderly man.
She said, 'Alice, where have you got this from?'

"I replied 'I've been made to believe that is my father and if he is,
this man here, George, is my brother.'

"She said, 'I've never seen that man in my life before.'" George
added: "I don't know what my mother was and frankly I don't give a
damn. If that was my mother, my old man would have told me."

The couple, who won the lotto jackpot last Saturday, wed in 1987.
George was born in India where Lionel was in the Army. After his birth
the family moved back to England but his parents split. He was brought
up by Lionel and lost touch with Margaret. Two years later, she gave
birth to Alice in Ireland.

Nine years after that, in 1955, Margaret married Frederick, who Alice
lists as her father on official documents. No birth certificate exists
for George, who was born in a military hospital. And there appears to
be no record of Alice's birth. It is possible, in the absence of these
papers, that Alice was adopted which means they do not have the same
biological mother. But Alice said the only mum she has ever known was

Mabel, of Grays, Essex, confirmed he and Alice were introduced as
brother and sister.

She said: "The Salvation Army wrote to him in 1983, saying they had
tracked down a half-sister of his and asking if he would like to meet

"She came down to visit us. They had a connection but I had kind of
expected that because they were brother and sister after all.
"Then she kept inviting him round to hers, asking him to help her do
little things.

"That's when I thought they were a bit too close."

George and Alice, of Barking, East London, were thought to be staying
in a hotel last night.

Alice Wass is still grieving for daughter Valerie, who was murdered by
her dad before he committed suicide.

Heartbroken Alice told the Mirror: "I might have won £5.3m but it will
not give me back the one thing I want - Valerie."

Valerie, 19, was strangled and hidden under her bed in the family home
in East London in October 1983.

The gruesome discovery only came after Aubrey Playfair, Alice's first
husband, was found decapitated at a nearby railway line

Alice, who met George two months after the tragedy, said: "This money
will do me no good because the one thing I want is dead. Since Valerie
was murdered I've lived on tablets. I do not live the high life."

By Tom Pettifor
Half the people separated from relatives at a young age experience
strong sexual feelings when they are reunited.

Psychiatrists believe the natural repulsion brothers and sisters
experience for each other as children acts as a barrier to incest.
But those who miss out on this process can develop obsessive feelings
for their sibling in adulthood.

Research published in the British Medical Journal in 1995 found 50 per
cent of people seeking post-adoption counselling "experienced strong
sexual feelings in reunions" with their real family.

One example was Nick Cameron, 28, and his half-sister Danielle Heaney,
22, who were found guilty of incest.

The story of their bizarre relationship will be told in full in a
Channel 4 documentary next week - Sleeping With My Sister.

Heaney, who has one child, was raised by her mother while Cameron was
brought up in foster care. They had sex weeks after meeting in the
summer of 2006.

The pair, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, were each put on probation for a year.
But the court allowed them to continue their relationship as long as
they didn't have sex.

Link to article

Friday, March 21, 2008

ILLINOIS: Editorial--Adoptees and Their Records, March 21, 2008

March 21, 2008

Editorial: Adoptees and Their Records

A decade ago, a bid to open many adoption-related records for adult adoptees in Illinois failed in the General Assembly. Bombarded by fierce opposition from bar groups and adoption agencies, lawmakers backed off. In effect, they respected the wishes of birth parents who had been granted anonymity when they placed children for adoption.

Now there's a new effort to open one type of record for people who have been adopted.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) has introduced a bill that would allow adults who were adopted to obtain copies of their original birth certificates. The bill would allow adoptees who were born before Jan. 1, 1946, to get copies of their original birth certificates when the proposed law takes effect. Those born after that date would have to wait until April 1, 2009. That lag period would give each birth parent a chance to file an official document asking to keep his or her identity confidential.

At the moment, adoptees can't get their original birth certificates, which typically bear birth parents' names. When a child is adopted, an amended birth certificate is created, with the adoptive parents' names only.

Since the 1980s, more adoptions have moved toward openness—an ongoing relationship between a child and his or her birth parents, or at least an exchange of information as a child grows. That's a personal choice for biological and adoptive parents to arrange. Adoption agencies typically help them decide what their mutual degree of openness will be.

Parents who relinquish a baby to adoption and choose not to maintain contact essentially strike an agreement with the state and with the adoption agency. The agency and the state say they will honor the birth parents' privacy; the records are sealed.

This bill would break that agreement.

Many adoptees argue that they're the only Americans routinely denied such basic and vital information as their birth certificates. They say they often can't get family health histories. They know nothing about their ancestors.

If there were no other way for an adoptee to get such information, we'd be inclined to support this bill. But there are other ways. Illinois has set out a reasonable path that this page supports for adoptees to find biological parents or other relatives, if those blood relatives want—or with prompting, if they agree—to be found.

First, there's a state registry where adoptees and birth relatives can sign up to find each other. It's run by the Illinois Department of Public Health. As of last December, there were 10,034 people registered, including 6,719 adoptees and 2,391 birth mothers and 366 birth fathers, according to a department spokeswoman. The registry has tallied 618 matches since its inception in 1985.

A second program allows an adoptee to ask a court to appoint a confidential intermediary to try to make contact. These intermediaries are granted access to sealed court records to help them find birth parents or other relatives. Their track record is impressive. They locate a birth parent or other relative about 90 percent of the time.

But here's something to remember: Only about half the time do the birth parents or relatives consent to some contact. Some of that contact is anonymous, with birth parents and adoptees exchanging letters without identifying information. Some of the contact is more open, leading to meetings.

Deciding that original birth certificates should suddenly be open would be a reason for many adoptees to celebrate. But it also would raise the possibility that some birth parents could get an unexpected and unwanted phone call or knock on the door.

Under the proposed law, there would be a six-month general information campaign to let everyone know about the changes in the law. That would allow birth parents a chance to file the official requests to keep their identities private.

In effect, the legislation would shift responsibility for maintaining anonymity from the state to birth parents.

But that hardly guarantees birth parents will hear about the change in law; some will have moved out of state.

If those parents didn't hear about their new responsibility and react, the proposed law would presume their consent to release the birth certificate.

The possibility of a birth parent getting blindsided tips the balance against this bill.

Link to article

UTAH: Adotion "Mediator" Says She's Innocent, March 19, 2008

March 19, 2008

Adoption 'mediator' says she's innocent
By Ben Winslow

BRIGHAM CITY — Jill Ekstrom says she's innocent.

"I'm not going to plead guilty to something I didn't do," she said Monday, after appearing in 1st District Court to face 21 counts of altering public records, a class A misdemeanor.

Ekstrom is accused of stealing hundreds of sealed adoption records from Farmington's 2nd District Courthouse. But she told reporters outside of court that she did not take dozens of rolls of microfilm, and she questioned Davis County prosecutors' motives for charging her.

"Davis County had microfilm in a room that was unmarked as being off-limits. Records that were supposed to be sealed were left in a room that was unattended," she said. "Anybody could have taken them."

Ekstrom says she did know that sealed adoption records were in the room behind the clerk's counter at the 2nd District Courthouse. She was told that much when she was let in by a clerk to look up some other public records.

As a "finder," Ekstrom has made a career of helping reunite long lost relatives or adopted children with their birth parents. Ekstrom claims that in her career, she has arranged more than 9,000 reunifications.

"I was a mediator," she said Monday. "I never gave information unless all parties agreed to it."

Link to article

ILLINOIS: State Lawmakers Present Legislation Targeting Birith Records, Costs of Adoptions, March 20, 2008

March 20, 2008

State lawmakers present legislation targeting birth records, costs of adoptions
By KARTIKAY MEHROTRA, JG/T-C Springfield Bureau

SPRINGFIELD — About 5,000 children are adopted in Illinois every year, at a cost of approximately $25,000 per adoption.

Once the process is complete, the adopted child is severed from their birth records for life unless they go on a hunt for their biological parents.

“You’re forcing somebody to do something they don’t want to do or aren’t ready to do,” said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, House sponsor for legislation to make birth records available to adopted people in Illinois.

All of that could change in Illinois if two measures are approved this year. One proposed law would curb the cost of adopting a child. The other would allow adopted individuals the opportunity to freely gain access to their birth certificate.

“The right to one’s own identity is a basic and unalienable human right,” Feigenholtz said. “Existing Illinois law robs tens of thousands of Illinois adults of the right to know who they are.”

The law would nullify legislation approved in 1947, and would allow adoptees born before Jan. 1, 1946 to access to their birth certificate. Feigeholtz says current state law protects the interests of biological parents who wish to maintain secrecy. But her data, courtesy of the Illinois Adoption Registry, declares only 17 biological parents who have filed forms to keep their identities disclosed.

Even so, Feigenholtz says the new law would include a series of safeguards to ensure that birth parents seeking confidentiality may do so.

Birth parents whose children were adopted in 1946 or later will be protected by a six-month waiting-period when they can declare their wishes to remain anonymous. Those parents may also ask that their names be scratched from the original birth certificate upon their son or daughter’s request to view the document.

The legislation passed out of a House committee on adoption reform earlier this month on an 8 to 1 vote. It now heads to the full House for further debate.

“Whether I’m three-months-old or 51-years-old, they can receive the document that has my birth mother’s name on it,” said Feigenholtz, who was adopted as a child.

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, has proposed a tax break to encourage more adoptions by adoptive parents.

If approved, adopting parents could qualify for a $1,000 state income tax break.

“We don’t want to see these kids in foster homes,” said Luechtefeld. “It’s already terribly expensive and this isn’t a whole lot of money, but it is some sort of deduction to encourage the process.”

Luechtefeld said the discount would be more fruitful if the cash-strapped state wasn’t in dire need for every penny it can get.

“What I didn’t want to do was take a large chunk of revenue of the state’s hands,” he said. The proposal has advanced out of a Senate committee and awaits action in the full Senate.

The Feigenholtz legislation is House Bill 4623.

The Luechtefeld legislation is Senate Bill 2282.

Link to article

Thursday, March 20, 2008

TENNESSEE: Decades After Adoption Two Sisters Long for Siblings Left at Orphanage, March 20, 2008

March 20, 2008

Decades after adoption, two sisters long for siblings left at orphanage
By Michael Lollar

Adoption was like a "voodoo word" in Mary Lamb's family. She and her younger sister weren't allowed to ask questions about where they came from or why.

Nashville's Mary Ann Lamb is searching for her siblings who were separated after leaving the St. Peter Orphanage in their youth in Memphis. Mary Ann is shown with her husband, Chuck, and a photo of her when she lived in the orphanage.

Nashville's Mary Ann Lamb is searching for her siblings who were separated after leaving the St. Peter Orphanage in their youth in Memphis. Mary Ann is shown with her husband, Chuck, and a photo of her when she lived in the orphanage.

Mary Lamb, 55, of Nashville was 3 when she and her baby sister Teresa were adopted. After learning they'd left three older siblings at St. Peter Orphanage, Lamb has tried to find them but had no luck. "It's killed me," she said of not knowing the fate of her two sisters and brother.

Mary Lamb, 55, of Nashville was 3 when she and her baby sister Teresa were adopted. After learning they'd left three older siblings at St. Peter Orphanage, Lamb has tried to find them but had no luck. "It's killed me," she said of not knowing the fate of her two sisters and brother.
Loretta Williams in 1963

The two youngest children in the Williams family, Mary (left) and Teresa, were adopted by a Middle Tennessee couple. For years, the two girls did not know they had any other siblings. Bill Waugh Special to The Commercial Appeal

The two youngest children in the Williams family, Mary (left) and Teresa, were adopted by a Middle Tennessee couple. For years, the two girls did not know they had any other siblings. Bill Waugh Special to The Commercial Appeal

"When my adoptive mom and dad were alive, that was constantly embedded in us, and we learned to stay away from it, not to upset them."

Mary was 3. Her sister Teresa was 1 when the nuns of St. Peter Orphanage here delivered them to a childless family in Madison, just north of Nashville. The family owned restaurants, and the girls would grow up comfortably, but with questions that grew as they did. At first, they were too young to understand adoption or to know what to ask, says Mary. As teenagers, there were questions but no answers.

It has been more than 50 years since their childhood journey began. It led recently to the classified advertising section of The Commercial Appeal with a 2-by-4-inch ad that displayed little of the emotion Mary has harbored since learning, little by little, that she and Teresa left behind two older sisters and a brother who remained in the Memphis orphanage until they "aged out" at age 18, then, seemingly, vanished.

"It's killed me," says Mary, 55, who now operates a trucking and freight company with her husband in Nashville. "We tried for many years to get information -- when we were in our 20s and 30s -- from our adoptive mom and dad. They said we didn't need to know. Even before dad died in 2001, I tried to get him to tell me and he wouldn't. They probably just didn't want us hurt."

As adults, Mary and Teresa, who now lives in Idaho, began their search. It was before Tennessee's adoption records were opened to children seeking the identities of birth parents or lost siblings. The hitch was that if the state found those relatives, it would be up to the relatives whether they would agree to be contacted. Mary and Teresa were determined to find their brothers and sisters without the state being able to tell them what they couldn't do.

As they grew up, Mary and Teresa married and had lives of their own. Mary and her husband, Chuck Lamb, a former Army intelligence officer, have been together 30 years, devoting much of their lives to building their trucking company. Teresa had children and moved from Tennessee. They were occupied with the toil of living.

Still, they couldn't let go of the past. "We didn't really know how to go about it," says Mary, but they asked around. They wrote to the state. They contacted the orphanage. Each time, they hit a dead end, says Chuck Lamb.

Recently, though, Mary developed a mild case of multiple sclerosis that sometimes causes her to walk with a cane. She wonders about her family's health history, says Chuck. "But, more than that, she just wants to know something about her family," he says.

As Mary and Teresa became more serious they dredged up as many memories as possible. The biggest break came when one of them remembered their adoptive parents telling them once that they were baptized as infants. It was an unguarded moment for the secretive couple who saw no harm in telling their girls it was in a Catholic church in Dyersburg, where their birth parents had lived. Mary and Teresa contacted the church, which sent baptismal records to them as confirmation of the adoptions. On the records was a revelation -- the names of birth parents "Delbert Williams and Margaret Estes."

"I don't know why they had different last names. I just don't know how that pans out," says Mary, who was even more mystified when she and Teresa were unable to find any definitive clues about the couple. "They may have moved from somewhere else to Dyersburg. One person thinks my father may have worked a farm for someone else, and my mom, I guess, took care of us (the five children)." The father may have contracted tuberculosis and been unable to work, someone suggested.

Again, Mary and Teresa receded into their own daily lives, letting the search grow cold until, finally, there was another breakthrough. Their calls to St. Peter did not go completely unheeded. A woman, a social worker who once worked at the orphanage, agreed to talk to them. The woman, like Mary and Teresa, grew up in an era in which adoption rules were supposed to be inviolable. Mary slowly gained the social worker's confidence and promised her confidentiality. It led to names of the lost siblings and to the schools they attended in Memphis. That led to high school annuals and to photographs that to Mary were like looking into a mirror.

"There's no doubt it's them. The noses, the chins, the hair, their foreheads. We all look alike. We are all small-framed people, even the brother," she says.

The brother's name was James Thomas Williams. He attended Catholic High School. The sisters' names were Rose Marie and Loretta. They used their birth father's last name, Williams. The smallest details now are tantalizing links that Mary hopes will lead to a reunion. Rose Marie graduated in 1960. She was in the Sacred Heart business education club and Quill and Scroll. She was class treasurer, home room president, a member of the glee club. She played basketball and volleyball. She acted in a school play and had perfect attendance. Loretta graduated in 1963 and had been a member of the student council, the French club, athletic club and business education club. There was less detail about James, who used the nickname "Jimmy" and graduated in 1968.

"It's just me and my sister now. We don't have any of the blood family. We just think that before we get too much older or aren't able to get around we want to know about them," says Mary, grateful for the one sister she has always known.

It was Chuck who placed the ad with Mary's brother and sisters' names in large letters at the top and the simple message: "Mary Ann & Teresa Searching for you. Call Chuck ."

Contact reporter Michael Lollar at . To read more stories by him, click on Contact Us at and click on his name.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

UTAH: Woman Accued of Stealing Adoption Records, Investigation Said Unethical, March 19, 2008

KUTV-TV, Salt Lake City
March 19, 2008

Woman Accused Of Stealing Adoption Records, Investigation Said Unethical

A woman who helps adopted people find their birth parents is now facing charges for stealing sealed adoption records. The woman claims innocence and adds that police were unethical in the investigation.

In an emotional interview, Jill Ekstrom tells 2News reporter Jennifer Stagg of how police used another man’s identity to have her notify the real birth mother that she would be able to see her birth child.

“A Davis County detective had me call a birth mother, and tell her she was going to get to meet her child!” Said Ekstrom, with tears streaming down her face. “They stole a man's identity, they had me call his birth mother,” she briefly pauses to regain control of her emotions and says, “imagine if it were your mother!”

It all started when a man named “Chris” contacted Ekstrom through an e-mail.

Chris, who was in fact a Davis County detective, told Ekstrom that he was an adopted person looking for his birth parents.

As she has done for thousands before, Ekstrom agreed to help find the birth parents.

For the past ten years, Ekstrom has made her living reuniting families as a confidential intermediary. This is someone who, for a fee, tracks down birth families and adopted children.

“I would go to court, I would be given the birth mother's name, she would need to be located, she would have to give permission, the adoptee would have to give permission, and the adopted parents would have to give permission,” says Ekstrom.

This time, Davis County Police say that Ekstrom broke the law when tying to help the undercover detective find the birth parents.

Authorities say that Eksrtom went to the Davis County courthouse to conduct research. There she allegedly stole three to five rolls of microfilm.

Ekstrom denies the claims.

“I never stole them. I never stole adoption microfilm,” says Ekstrom.

Police say that they are confident that Eksrtom is guilty because she was in fact able to contact the birth mother.

But what about the overjoyed birth mother who was lied to, when told that she would be able to see her birth child?

Davis County Prosecutor Rick Westmoreland says that officer did not foresee the potential ethical problems when planning the investigation.
“There's certainly things that could have been done that weren't. We live and learn in law enforcement all the time,” says Westmoreland.

Jill Ekstrom is now facing 21 counts of altering public records.

The adoptee and birth family whose information was used in the sting, without their consent, has reached an agreement with Davis County. The specifics of that deal are being kept confidential.

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UNITED STATES: In Juno, Adoption Pain is Left on Cutting Room Floor by Jean Strauss, March 19, 2008

March 19, 2008

In Juno, adoption pain is left on cutting room floor
By Jean Strauss

Ever since I watched it, the film Juno has kept me up nights. I know millions of people love this film about a pregnant teen and would skewer me for my concern about it. Yes, it's witty and Juno is a unique character. But the film doesn't portray important realities about adoption. Juno is a modern-day Pied Piper that could lure many young women to a far different reality than the one implied on screen.

(Photo - Girl, interrupted: Ellen Page was nominated for an Oscar for her pregnant Juno. / Reuters)

Supposedly representative of today's generation, wisecracking Juno's solution for her unwanted pregnancy is strangely wrapped in pretty paper from a half-century ago. When she decides to have a closed adoption (meaning that she'll never have any contact with her child again, nor will the child ever be able to know her), the film reflects not current adoption practices but a bygone era. When the adopting parents' lawyer suggests they're willing to negotiate an open adoption (with at least some contact between the parties), Juno responds, "Can't we just kick it old school? … You know, like Moses in the reeds."

The adopting parents and the lawyer share a glance, like antique hunters at a swap meet about to make off with a treasured heirloom for pennies. Asking whether Juno means she wants a traditional closed adoption, she responds, "Sh— yeah. Close it up." Toss in a sweet ending where the audience is assured that Juno will be just fine as she strums her guitar on the curb, and she becomes a dead ringer for all those birth mothers of the '40s, '50s and '60s who supposedly gave up their babies and got on with their lives. The problem is, those mothers who relinquished children long ago would tell you there was never a "happily ever after."

My experience

After a quarter-century of listening to and writing about birth mothers' experiences, I am comfortable suggesting that Juno is pure fiction. No woman, whether 16 or 36, gives up her own child with the words, "He didn't feel like ours. … I think he was always hers." This is simply dialogue made up by screenwriter Diablo Cody, a former stripper who has never relinquished a child nor even given birth.

In the film, Juno's baby is called "the thing." As an adoptee myself, I identified a bit with "the thing" and its impending closed adoption. I grew up with no knowledge of my birth family, no medical history, no past — and no right to ever know these things. Like anyone who feels she understands something from "inside" an experience, I cringed at the film's implication that preserving a lifelong connection between Juno and her son was somehow less important than the adoptive mother's desperate need to have a baby, any baby. I cringed as the audience laughed at lines such as, "You should have gone to China. I heard they give away babies like free iPods. They shoot 'em out of those T-shirt guns at sports events."

But whether Cody got it right or not, my real concern is the influence this film might have on teenage girls and young women. They believe that Juno is a hero who blissfully returns to her young life, unaffected by giving up her son. This same myth was promulgated to Baby Boomer-era birth mothers. They were convinced by agencies, lawyers, social workers and even their own parents that they would forget about their babies and move on. But they didn't. As a birth mother in a recent USA TODAY article said, "We hoped the pain would go away, but it never did." Her experience is echoed in the stories of hundreds of thousands of birth mothers.

Painful secrets

Juno would have us believe that a birth mother's offer of a closed adoption is a sign of the character's generous spirit. But openness doesn't imply selfishness. Openness exists in adoption today because the secrets caused too much pain. Today's birth mothers want openness — as do many adoptive parents — because they feel it is in their own best interests and their child's.

Don't misunderstand — I am not against adoption, nor am I against finding humor in painful situations. What I am against is the idea that secrecy benefits anyone, and I'm deeply concerned about the misrepresentation of adoption's realities. Juno makes an unwanted pregnancy look like a great experience, akin to a year in the Peace Corps. The film's light finale, with Juno unchanged by what she has gone through, is harmful fiction of the worst kind. She is seducing girls and young women into believing that they could — and even should — give away their own child, as if they were giving away a favorite toy, just to be nice.

Jean Strauss is a writer and filmmaker from Bainbridge Island, Wash. Her work includes Penguin's Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion and the award-winning short adoption film The Triumvirate.
Posted at 12:15 AM/ET, March 19, 2008 in Family - Forum, Forum commentary, Lifestyle issues - Forum | Permalink

USA TODAY welcomes your views and encourages lively -- but civil -- discussions. Comments are unedited, but submissions reported as abusive may be removed. By posting a comment, you affirm that you are 13 years of age or older.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

UTAH: Adoption "finder" proclaims her innocence, March 17, 2008


March 17, 2008

Adoption 'finder' proclaims her innocence
By Ben Winslow

BRIGHAM CITY — Jill Ekstrom says she's innocent.

"I'm not going to plead guilty to something I didn't do," she said Monday, after appearing here in 1st District Court to face 21 counts of altering public records, a class A misdemeanor.

Ekstrom is accused of stealing hundreds of sealed adoption records from Farmington's 2nd District Courthouse. But she told reporters outside of court that she did not take dozens of rolls of microfilm, and questioned Davis County prosecutors' motives for charging her.

"Davis County had microfilm in a room that was unmarked as being off-limits. Records that were supposed to be sealed were left in a room that was unattended," she said. "Anybody could have taken them."

Ekstrom says she did know that sealed adoption records were in the room behind the clerk's counter at the 2nd District Courthouse. She was told that much when she was let in by a clerk to look up some other public records.

As a "finder," Ekstrom has made a career of helping reunite long lost relatives or adopted children with their birth parents. Ekstrom claims that in her career, she has arranged more than 9,000 reunifications.

"I was a mediator," she said Monday. "I never gave information unless all parties agreed to it."

Ekstrom said she remembers complaining to a relative about the sealed records being in a publicly-accessible room, and that's what led to the charges against her. That relative, she claims, was under investigation for raping another family member. When she sided with the family member, she claims the man then ran to prosecutors with the allegation that she had stolen the microfilm.

Meanwhile, she said, Davis County sheriff's deputies posed as an adopted child searching for a birth mom and "pressured" her to find them.

"Defendant charged $850 to find the natural parents and was able to locate the mother of the adopted child," Davis County sheriff's detective Jon West wrote in a probable cause statement filed with the charges.

It was that sting operation that led to her being charged, after dozens of microfilm records came up missing. Prosecutors have said the microfilm has never been found. Initially, Ekstrom faced felony level theft charges. Recently, the case was amended to the misdemeanor counts.

Davis County prosecutors deny Ekstrom's allegations.

"It's asinine," Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said Monday. "We did not pursue that (rape) case because there was a lack of evidence. These cases are totally independent."

In court, Ekstrom's court-appointed defense attorney told Judge Ben Hadfield they may be able to reach a plea deal.

"We're hoping it's something we can resolve," said Bernie Allen, scheduling a March 31 hearing. Davis County prosecutors said they were also hopeful for a resolution, but said nothing specific had been discussed.

Outside of court, Ekstrom vowed to fight the case all the way to trial to prove her innocence. She was surrounded by a small group of supporters.

"The truth will come out," said Pat Cory, who escorted Ekstrom in and out of court. Ekstrom carted an oxygen tank with her and said she was scheduled to undergo surgery for a broken neck.

Meanwhile, the 2nd District Courthouse has upgraded its security in light of the criminal case against Ekstrom.

"The court has now put a (keypad) lock on that door," said deputy Davis County Attorney Rick Westmoreland. "It's not as readily accessible. No one can get in there without a clerk."


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MICHIGAN: Release of Adoptee Medical Records Could Expose Birth Parents, March 17, 2008

March 17, 2008

Release of adoptee medical records could expose birth parents
Posted by Kyla King | The Grand Rapids Press March 17, 2008 07:51AM

ALLENDALE -- Until she was reunited with her birth mother three years ago, Karen Kemme never knew the hereditary disease cystic fibrosis ran in her biological family.

Even so, the Allendale Township mother of three has serious concerns about a proposed state law supporters say would help adult adoptees in her situation.

A bill that soon could be voted on in the House would allow some adult adoptees to get information about their biological family's medical history, and possibly copies of their original birth certificate.

The proposal is controversial because, as written, it could also allow access to the names of birth parents even if they wish to remain anonymous.

"I think there should be consideration on both sides because it's a very emotional thing -- my (biological) brothers and sisters didn't even know about me. (My biological mother) had to sit down with her family and say, 'Listen, I had a baby I released for adoption when I was 16,'" said Kemme -- who, it turns out, does not carry the trait that causes breathing and digestion problems.

Bill sponsor Rep. Lisa Wojno, D-Warren, says the legislation is aimed at helping adoptees learn if they are at higher risk for cancer, hereditary diseases or illnesses.

But the bill has raised concerns at Grand Rapids-based adoption assistance agency Bethany Christian Services because, as now written, it could allow access to birth certificates that previously could not be accessed without the consent of the biological parent.

Adoption advocates worry pregnant women will be discouraged from choosing adoption because of privacy concerns, said Bethany spokesman John VanValkenburg.

"In many cases those records have been sealed for decades," VanValkenburg said. "That confidentiality has been there for sometimes very valid reasons."

Michigan law allows some adopted individuals to get birth certificates once they become adults. But for those adopted between May 1945 and September 1980, a copy of the original birth certificate showing the names of biological parents is available only with a court order. Otherwise, the documents are sealed.
Adapting adoption

A look at legislation that would let adopted individuals get a copy of their birth certificate when they turn 21:

Why: To help adoptees get information about their biological family's medical history.

What is the concern: Birth certificates of children adopted between May 1945 and September 1980 previously have been accessible only with a court order. The proposed law could identify birth parents who may wish to remain anonymous.

Changes being considered: Lawmakers are considering revisions to protect privacy concerns.

State Rep. Fulton Sheen, R-Plainwell, opposed the bill when it passed out of committee saying it could violate confidentiality promises made to birth parents years ago. Sheen said the legislation is undergoing revisions he hopes will address privacy concerns before it comes for vote before the full House.

"I don't think we should be choosing whose rights are more important," Sheen said. "For those parents who don't want to be found, they ought to be able to give them the health information but have their names removed."

In Kemme's case, the 42-year-old used a confidential go-between at Bethany to make the initial contact with her birth mother, even though her birth mother had signed a form letting the state release her identity.

But even if her birth mother had not wanted to be identified, Kemme said she could have used the same confidential process to exchange medical history information.

"There was no law stopping me from doing that," Kemme said. "It would have happened the same way."

Bonnie Baker Harris, a post-adoption specialist at Bethany, said the agency regularly helps adult adoptees and their biological parents confidentially share medical histories about allergies, heart disease and other conditions.

"Birth moms are usually very relieved to find out that is an option for them to help that child access that information without having to jeopardize their need for confidentiality," Baker Harris said. "Usually, that's because the birth mother never shared with anybody the fact that she did have a child and released this child for adoption."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

NEW JERSEY: Commentary--Adoptees Back Action by Legislators for Right to Learn Who They Are, March 16, 2008

March 16, 2008

Adoptees back action by legislators for right to learn who they are
By PEGGI STURMFELS March 16, 2008

Our state legislators are considering legislation to restore to more than 150,000 citizens their right to know who they are. Adoptees over the age of 18 would have access to their original birth certificate, or access to their family history, including medical, cultural and social information.

As these deliberations take place, I would ask that the legislators take a moment to see a moment (or many moments) of my life. Sometimes it is a seemingly benign comment. At a lively discussion with a group of friends, one member decries what the "bastards" did. While others laughed, I cringed a little. Bastard was the offensive word and bastard is what I am.

I have lived for more than half a century in a world that defines me as less than — or must prove myself as worthy of personage as — my friends, my neighbors, strangers and my family.

Our culture diminishes adopted children in many subtle ways most folks don't even think about. In words and laws, adoptees have been thrown into a caste system that encourages secrecy and shame. And somehow we have allowed the children who have had no say in the causative circumstance or the behavior to be the bearers of that secrecy and shame.

For centuries, bastard children could not inherit from their biological parent, unless that parent acknowledged them. That acknowledgment often happened by adoption. Then and even today, adopted children have to be specifically acknowledged in some wills.

"Orphans" are thought of as poor souls, conjuring up images of Oliver Twist, malnourished children and rat-infested living quarters. Adoption became a way of rescuing them. But with the rescue, we often put upon them the burden of showing they are worthy of that effort.

We feel that they should be grateful for the chance of being adopted. And we question the appropriateness of their behavior should they ask the questions that all people have a birthright of knowing the answers to.

Have you sat with your kids, looking through the family album or old pictures, telling them the stories of their history? The stories passed down through generations that completes their legacy and gives them a past to build their future.

I've got that, too. But the nagging truth is that mine is borrowed. So who am I really? The agency said I was the shame of a one-night stand. I preferred my version of the love child of two people torn apart by circumstance and time. Newfound family members share different facts that bear no resemblance to the ones my adoptive parents were told.

Critics of these bills talk about a presumed pact made with birth mothers to protect them from public scrutiny.

But who protected the children from public ridicule? Who went and stood beside the children in the school yards as kids taunted them, telling them that something was so horrible about them that their own mothers didn't want them?

Who benefited from the incomplete grade received on the seventh grade science project requiring students to trace their family tree? What pact held these kids in their arms at family reunion gatherings that made them outsiders? What regulation explained away the fear and hurt of hearing your cousins being referred to as the "real grandchildren" by your grandmother?

What document gave comfort or support every time a doctor asked about family medical history and the answer is always "I don't know"? And who was served when polite people and the state decided that bastards were to be labeled illegitimate.

Protecting the privacy of one family so often abused the everyday living of the child given away. And their family, too.

Tell me what day you were born? Me? On or about Dec. 10, no one is sure. Tell me what ethnic background you claim? Me? I've been told either Irish or Scottish, maybe some English. Recently, I might be Swedish.

When did you take your first step? What were your first words? Where did you spend the first three years of your life? Whose eyes do you have? Whose smile? Nose? Me? Again, nothing.

One of my quirky little "adoption" phobias? I refused to date anyone with red hair, because I was afraid he might be my brother.

How was your parents' health? Arthritis, strokes, breast cancer, Alzheimer's, etc.? And your children, who do they look like? Do they have a heart condition? Hearing loss? Kidney disease? Allergies and asthma?

And their children, a new generation now faced with having to have genetic testing because there are no answers to basic questions. My decades-long search for answers has revealed half-sisters and half-brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles and stories that didn't match the agency's "unidentifying" information. But only possibly — because absent my birth certificate — there is no verification, no certainty that I belong to these people.

Let me say one more thing about this need to protect the birth mothers, or the adoptive mothers from this horrible secret pain (their child) that they have had to endure. As a mother, both biological and adoptive, it is my obligation to do everything I can to ensure the emotional health of my child. When my daughter needed to find answers, my husband and I did whatever was needed to help her make that journey, even though we were frightened by what she might find.

Passage of open records for adoptees will restore to hundreds of adoptees in New Jersey and their families the basic human right to know who they are. It's what you've known all along. Why can't we?

Peggi Sturmfels, Jackson, is a member of NJCARES, a network of volunteers, donors, service groups and charities.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

UNITED STATES: States that Provide Certificates for Stillbirth, March 15, 2008

March 15, 2008

States that provide certificates for stillbirth

The Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nebraska lawmakers have given first-round approval to legislation (LB1048) that would create a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth.

Twenty-one states already have laws allowing such certificates. They are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin.

An additional 12 states - Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Wyoming - have laws that provide for certificates of stillbirth.

There are 17 states without laws on birth certificates for stillborn babies. Legislation is pending in Alaska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Three states - Georgia, Iowa and Kentucky - have no formal laws on the certificates, but allow the documents to be granted upon request.

Sources: National Conference of State Legislators, The MISS Foundation


On the Net:

National Conference of State Legislators:

The MISS Foundation:

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Friday, March 14, 2008

NEW YORK: No Jello-o Fortune for Longview Woman, March 14, 2008

March 14, 2008

No Jell-O fortune for Longview woman
Friday, March 14, 2008 8:41 AM PDT

A Longview woman born out of wedlock to a direct descendant of the family that struck it rich marketing Jell-O more than a century ago has been denied what she considers her just desserts.

The Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, ruled Thursday that Elizabeth McNabb of Longview cannot share in the multimillion-dollar estate of her late mother, Barbara Woodward Piel.

Thursday afternoon, a receptionist at Northwest Psychological Resources in Longview, where McNabb works, said McNabb had no comment. McNabb and her husband, Duke, a Norpac operator, are licensed foster parents who have sheltered more than 160 children at their Longview home since 1993. They have two adult children of their own.

Piel's grandfather, Orator Francis Woodward, bought the Jell-O trademark in 1899 from inventor Pearle Bixby Wait. Within a decade, he turned it into a million-dollar business.

Piel became pregnant in 1955 after a liaison with a married man and put the child - later named Elizabeth McNabb - up for adoption in Oregon. Piel soon married and had two other daughters.

At age 19, McNabb embarked on a long quest to find her birth mother. She finally traced her birth certificate through a court order in 1988 and learned about her family history during a four-day visit with Piel in rural Genesee County near Rochester.

In March 2007, McNabb told the New York Law Journal the case wasn't about the money -- it was about establishing her relationship to her family. When she began looking for her birth mother in 1974 at age 19, she half-expected to find a "bag lady" because many women who choose adoption are poor, she said.

A story about McNabb's quest appeared in The Daily News a year ago.

After Piel's death in 2003, McNabb was told two trusts established in 1926 and 1963 barred her from sharing in the family fortune. A county surrogate judge decided in December 2005 that, as an "adopted-out" child, McNabb was not a descendant or child of Piel under the terms of the trust.

An appellate court in Rochester reversed that decision a year ago, effectively awarding McNabb a one-third share. It determined the trusts predated amendments to New York law dictating that an adopted child could not inherit from a biological parent unless it was clear the parent planned to include the child among descendants.

The appeals court in Albany disagreed, saying there's no evidence in the legislative history, even before the amendments, indicating that a child put up for adoption should share in an inheritance.

"The amount involved here is about $12 million," said attorney A. Vincent Buzard, who represented McNabb's half-sisters. "If Elizabeth McNabb had been specifically named in the trust, even though adopted-out, she could have shared in this, but she wasn't named."

Wait, a carpenter in Le Roy, N.Y., mixed fruit flavoring into gelatin and began selling the sweet concoction door-to-door in March 1897.

His wife christened it Jell-O. Door-to-door sales never picked up, so Wait sold Jell-O to Woodward for $450. When Wait died in 1915 at age 44, his widow had to take in sewing jobs and boarders to feed the family.

The Jell-O brand is now owned by Kraft Foods Inc.

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NEW JERSEY: NJ Bill Would Open Birth records to Adoptees, March 14, 2008

March 14, 2008

N.J. bill would open birth records to adoptees

By Adrienne Lu

Inquirer Trenton Bureau
Like many adoptees, Heather Mulford goes through life with questions she may never get answered.

She wonders why her blond hair started turning gray when she turned 18. She worries about passing hidden genetic problems on to her three young children. And she would like to know which country or countries she could trace her roots to.

But unlike some adoptees, Mulford - a 38-year-old high school social studies teacher from Chester Springs - says she spends very little time pondering such questions.

"I'm not a huge believer in genetics," says Mulford. "Being a mom is getting up in the middle of the night and dealing with the fevers and kissing the scraped knees and rushing to the hospital to get stitches."

"Giving birth," she adds emphatically, "is just biological."

Even so, a TV program broadcast recently about another state giving adult adoptees access to their birth records caught Mulford's attention enough to send her to the Internet to look up information about a similar bill pending in New Jersey.

If signed into law, that bill would allow adult adoptees from New Jersey, such as Mulford, access to their original birth certificates, including their birth mothers' names - assuming the birth mother does not notify the state otherwise within a set period. The bill has cleared the Senate and is headed to the Assembly.

The issue is a sensitive one, given the delicate balance between an adult adoptee's right to know more about his or her origins and a birth parent's right to privacy.

In some cases, birth parents were promised by adoption agencies that the records would be sealed forever. According to the nonprofit Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the courts have typically found that such promises contradicted state law and are not legally binding. But no matter what the law says, some remain uncomfortable with the idea of the state breaking a promise made by someone else.

In New Jersey, some adoptees and advocate groups, including the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education, have been fighting for years to give adult adoptees access to information about their births and adoptions.

Few with firsthand experience on the other side of the issue are willing to speak out, however, because in many cases to do so would mean revealing secrets they had hoped to keep hidden for life.

Search for information
David Brodzinsky, a clinical and developmental psychologist who taught at Rutgers University for 32 years and now lives in California, said all human beings search for themselves, at some level. An adoptee's search for information about birth families, he said, is simply an extension of that search.

In addition, adoptees can feel emotionally undermined by the lack of control created when a state bars them from information on their own backgrounds, he said.

Mulford, who was adopted from New Jersey, says her parents never made her adoption - or those of her brother and sister - an issue.

Their parents answered questions about their adoptions much like any other parent would answer questions about their children's births, she says. In Mulford's case, the adoption story included an account of a ride home on a corporate jet when she was just three days old, an account that made her, as a child, feel important and wanted.

No grudges
Mulford holds no grudges against her birth mother, she says. Instead, she's grateful that woman made the decision she did so that Mulford could grow up in a loving family.

"If anything, I've felt overloved, because if you think about it, adoptees are wanted," she says. "The parents go out of their way to have their child."

Still, Mulford says, becoming a mother herself prompted her to start thinking about how nice it would be to be able to answer some of the questions at doctors' offices - whether this or that disease or condition runs in her family, for example.

Even so, Mulford says she would never demand to learn her birth mother's name if she would rather not be known.

Such mixed feelings are not uncommon among adoptees, Brodzinsky said.

"It's natural to have some degree of ambivalence," he said. "It may be about many things. You may be curious but anxious about what you'll find out or how you'll be received. We're always anxious about the unknown."

In his experience counseling adoptees, Brodzinsky said, most who do undertake a search are glad they did, even when it doesn't go as well as they had hoped.

"Most people are glad that they searched because it has helped them to answer questions," he said.

Some adoptees develop a compulsion to find their birth families.

Mulford, though, is not one of those people. She is not sure she would want to meet her birth mother, if given the option, although she would like to reassure her that she made the right decision.

Mulford imagines her birth mother was an unwed teenage girl who might appreciate knowing that the baby she gave up is now a mother and a teacher, a productive member of society.

She also worries that she could hurt her parents' feelings by seeking out her birth mother. She takes offense when some people refer to them as her "adoptive" parents. To her, she says, they are simply her parents - no qualifier necessary.

Mulford says she doesn't understand the adoptees who talk endlessly about the emptiness they feel inside because they were adopted.

"Live for what you have," she says. "If you spend your life feeling a void, how about appreciating what you have?"

"I guess," she concludes, "that's the way my parents raised me."

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

GERMANY: Sibling Sex Prosecutable in Germany, March 13, 2008

DER SPIEGEL March 13, 2008

Sibling Sex Remains Prosecutable in Germany

Germany's high court ruled on Thursday that laws against incest do not violate the constitution. The ruling means that a man in a high-profile national incest case will soon be sent to prison for siring four children with his sister.

Siblings Patrick und Susan K. have had four children together. Patrick now faces an extended prison sentence.

Germany's Constitutional Court, the country's highest judicial body, ruled on Thursday that incest in Germany violates the country's Basic Law. The judges rejected a petition by Patrick K. to overturn previous incest convictions

According to paragraph 173 of the German Criminal Code, sexual relations between siblings is punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison. That law, the Karlsruhe court ruled on Thursday, is in accordance with the federal constitution.

In its ruling, the court stated legislators had not overreached their jurisdiction with laws that "protect the family order by punishing the damaging effects of incest." The inferior partner in such cases, the court said, must be protected. The court also stated that children spawned through incest had an increased risk of suffering from severe genetic damage.

The court's vice president, Winfred Hassemer, offered the sole dissent -- saying he felt the punishment must be commensurate with the offense, and that this went too far. "Much speaks for the fact that the regulation in its current state is based exclusively on moral beliefs rather than with the objective of legal protection."

Thursday's decision marks the end of an appeal by 30-year-old Patrick K., a resident of the eastern German city of Leipzig who fathered four children together with his sister. With the ruling, he will now have to serve a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.

Patrick S. and his 23-year-old sister Susan K. grew up in separate households. Patrick, seven years her senior, grew up in orphanages and foster homes, and the two first became acquainted after he had sought out his birth mother in 2000. At the time, Patrick was 23 and Susan 16. Susan would later give birth to the pair's four children, sparking investigations that resulted in several incest convictions.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

UTAH: Prosecutors Amend Charges in Adoption Records Theft, March 12, 2008

March 12, 2008

Prosecutors amend charges in adoption records theft
The Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 03/12/2008 12:41:02 PM MDT

FARMINGTON - A North Ogden woman who prosecutors say stole hundreds of confidential adoption records from the 2nd District Courthouse is facing new charges that could result in more prison time.

Jill Ekstrom, 43, was charged with second-degree felony theft in January. Prosecutors say she stole the records to sell them to adopted children who hoped to identify their biological parents.

Instead of a felony, prosecutors have amended that charge to include 21 counts of altering public records, a class A misdemeanor. Each count of altering public records is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, making Ekstrom eligible for as many as 21 years in prison if convicted.

Under the original charge, Ekstrom would have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years if convicted.

"How do I put a value on somebody's privacy?" deputy Davis County attorney Rick Westmoreland said Tuesday. "There's a reason those records are sealed."

Ekstrom's attorney, Dee Smith, said Ekstrom will plead not guilty to the charges. Smith said he's pleased that the felony charge has been dropped in favor of the misdemeanor charges.

"If she was convicted, it's better to be convicted of a misdemeanor regardless of then number than a felony because of the special consequences that go with being a convicted felon," Smith said

According to a probable cause statement filed with the criminal charges, Ekstrom is accused of going through microfilm records at the courthouse in February 2006.

Shortly thereafter, clerks found microfilm involving several hundred cases concerning adoptions were missing, which were in the same area defendant had been seen," Davis County sheriff's deputy Jon West wrote.

"Defendant was found to have a business which helped people locate natural parents of adoptive children. A sting was set up where defendant was contacted on behalf of one of the missing files. Defendant charged $850 to find the natural parents and was able to locate the mother of the adopted child."

The charging documents say Ekstrom's daughter told police that her mother had between a dozen and 50 rolls of microfilm in her possession from the Farmington courthouse and the LDS Family History Center.

Ekstrom's work is not illegal, if both parties agree to it. She could also petition a judge to unseal part or all of an adoption record on behalf of one of her clients. Under Utah law, adoption records are sealed for 100 years. The Utah Department of Health's vital statistics bureau operates a "mutual consent voluntary adoption registry" which releases information only when both sides register and both sides are over 21.

Ekstrom is scheduled to appear in court on the charges on Monday in Brigham City's 1st District Court. The case was transferred there because of the Farmington courthouse's involvement in the case.

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NEW JERSEY: Birth Records Focus on Debate, March 12, 2008

March 12, 2008

Birth records focus of debate
March 12, 2008
By Trish G. Graber

TRENTON | Amy Lerke-Gonzalez always wondered whether she looked like her birth mother.

But the Washington resident, adopted at 2 days old, never sought out her birth mother.

"I always felt like my mother who adopted me was my mother," said Lerke-Gonzalez.

At 40 years old, Lerke-Gonzalez is still unsure whether or not she will ever contact her birth mother.

But Lerke-Gonzalez, herself an adoptive parent, is sure of one thing: She and other adoptees should at least have the opportunity to learn about their roots.

A state proposal, which has been debated for more than 20 years, is again making its way through the Legislature and would give adoptees the ability do so.

The bill would unseal state adoption records, providing adoptees access to their original birth certificate at the age of 18. It would also allow the adoptive parents of a minor access to the information.

Advocates who have pushed for the measure say that adoptees have the right to know their cultural background as well as their medical history.

"We've done nothing to get born at a time when our parents either believed or were persuaded that they couldn't care for us, and we get punished," said Pam Hasegawa, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education.

According to Hasegawa, about 150,000 adoption records remain sealed in New Jersey.

Seven states allow access to records

Only seven states allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates, according to NJCARE. They are Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee.

Typically, an amended birth certificate is issued for adopted children, naming their adoptive parents and oftentimes giving the child a new name.

The legislation to provide adoptees with their original records has remained controversial because opponents believe a birth mother was guaranteed the right to privacy when she gave up her child.

"Some of these cases are sad; they involve people being raped by family members," said Patrick Brannigan, director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference. "And they were told that they can go on and live their lives and the child will be nurtured and comfortable."

Brannigan has advocated for amending the measure to allow the information to be distributed only when both the birth parents and adoptive parents agree to it.

Advocates for opening the records to adoptees have shown no signs of making such a concession. And supporters, like Lerke-Gonzalez, remain adamant.

"I think that once a child is 18 that they should know," Lerke-Gonzalez said. "I think it helps in a lot of ways, not just health-wise but for their own heart."

Lerke-Gonzalez learned of her mother's background after receiving a letter 17 years ago from the New York state registrar. It said her mother was trying to contact her and included a phone number for her biological brother, Max.

Lerke-Gonzalez made the call and spoke to Max's wife.

She never called her birth mother.

"I just really didn't feel that I had anything to say to her," she said.

Lerke-Gonzalez never sought out her medical information -- but, advocates believe, at least she had the ability to do so.

Advocates hope bill finally passed

Advocates are hoping that this year a law will be enacted to give others the same opportunity.

The state proposal was approved by the Senate last week.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, would unearth original birth certificates for adoptees.

However, it would allow a one-time, one-year window from the time the law is signed for birth parents to contact the state to specify that they want their identities kept private.

If their identities are withheld, birth parents would have to disclose their medical, cultural and social history, which would be provided to the adoptee upon request.

Birth parents could also stipulate if and how they would like to be contacted.

"This bill has been around in the state Legislature for a long time, and I believe we've been successful in crafting a measure which gives birth parents ample protection, should they desire it," said Vitale.

The measure must still be considered by the General Assembly.

Trish Graber is Trenton correspondent for The Express-Times. She can be reached at 609-292-5154.

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GERMANY: Dangerous Love--German High Court Takes a Look at Incest, March 11, 2008

March 11, 2008

German High Court Takes a Look at Incest

By Dietmar Hipp

Must consensual sex between close relatives be punished? Germany's highest court is

Brother and sister, and lovers with four children. Patrick and Susan from Leipzig.

At first sight they look like an ordinary couple, strolling through the park withtheir child and their dog. But when the two adults hug each other their physical similarities are unmistakable. They have the same pronounced nose, the same blue-green eyes, and the same thin lips. Patrick S. and Susan K. are brother and sister. They are an incestuous couple.

Since Susan became pregnant with Patrick's child and their relationship became known to the authorities, they have been prosecuted repeatedly. Their case touches an age-old taboo, it's exotic and tragic at the same time. "Coitus between relatives" is illegal in German law and punishable with a fine or a jail sentence.

Patrick S. has served a jail sentence of more than two years because of his love for his sister, and he may have to go back to jail for at least another year, unless Germany's Federal Constitutional Court rules in his favor. The verdict is expected soon.

The key issue is whether the protection of a powerful moral taboo is sufficient justification for punishment. And whether there are reasons beyond that taboo for locking someone up, for depriving children of their father, a woman of her partner.

Some 2-4 percent of the population have "incestuous experiences", according to an estimate by the Freiburg-based Max Planck Institute. There are fewer than 10 convictions for incestuous sex in Germany per year.

Incest trials usually involve a father's abuse of an under-age daughter, which is punishable under a separate law on abusing minors. Even cases of incest between siblings that come to trial are usually based on sexual abuse charges.

Consensual Incest

But in cases of incest between two consenting partners like Susan K. and Patrick S. there is no victim to be protected. Theirs is a rare case. Patrick S. was born in Leipzig in 1976, the second of five children. His sister Susan K. was born eight years later, and he didn't meet her until he was 23.

The father was a violent alcoholic. When Patrick was three years old his father grabbed him and held a knife to his throat. Neighbors called the police and Patrick was taken into care before being handed to foster parents near Potsdam. His new family adopted him, but they eventually told him they weren't his real parents.

Patrick is a shy man. When he speaks, he frequently looks down at the floor, tells his story with few words and a soft voice. When he was 23 he went to the youth welfare office to find his real mother. A few days later she contacted him.

On May 20, 2000 he travelled to Leipzig to see his mother again for the first time in 20 years. His parents had separated long before and the mother had a new partner. The three other siblings have since died, and the 16-year-old girl staring at him wide-eyed across the living room table was his sister.

Susan K. is a bit slow mentally. She looks up to her brother because he seems so capable and experienced compared to her. He was only meant to stay for a week but Patrick's mother asked him to stay longer. He said yes. "I felt drawn there," he recalls. He gave up everything. A job in Berlin, a relationship with his girlfriend at the time, and moved into a four-room flat in an apartment block near Leipzig.

There was a stepbrother who had his own room, and Patrick and his sister shared a room. No one thought anything of it and the relationship at that time was still platonic, says Patrick. Suddenly, on Dec. 12, 2000, their mother died. She had heart problems but the exact cause of death was never found.

"We couldn't cope with losing our mother," says Patrick. Before her death his relationship with his sister was "quite normal," says Patrick. Afterwards "the connection between us grew stronger because we were the only remaining children of our parents." Initially no one appeared to notice that the relationship between the two had become intimate.

Incestuous Desire Is Ages Old

The phenomenon of incestuous desire is ages old, as is the taboo surrounding it. Napoleonic France stopped punishing incest in 1810 in the wake of the declaration of civil and human rights during French Revolution that the law only has the right to prohibit such actions that are damaging to society. It's impossible, or at least very hard to prove that consensual incest does such damage.

German law since 1973 has stated that punishing incest serves to protect families from destructive influences. But social research shows that incest is more likely to be the result of family problems than the cause. Eugenic aspects, which the German statue book cites regarding sibling incest, are a poor justification for punishment. The risk of hereditary disease for offspring also exists with other people with genetic defects. Yet the German constitution would scarcely forbid such people from having children.

It's the physical proximity of siblings as they grow up that helps to suppress sexual desire between them. But if close relatives only get to know each other as adults, this no longer applies. Patrick S. and Susan K. probably wouldn't have fallen in love if they hadn't grown up apart from each other.

Endless Trials

In October 2001 Susan gave birth to their first child, a boy. A social worker suspected that her brother was the father and reported them to the police. In 2002 Patrick was first taken to court. He got a one-year suspended sentence. Then, they had a second child. The first two children are slightly physically disabled and are a little slow mentally as well. They were both taken into foster care. They then had a third child which had a heart problem, but which is now completely healthy after a heart operation.

In 2004 there was a second trial in which Susan K. was a co-defendant because she was 18 when the second child was conceived. Neither of them was assigned a defense lawyer. Patrick was sentenced to 10 months in jail. Susan was put under the supervision of a social worker for six months.

After his second conviction Patrick approached a lawyer who appealed against the verdict. Meanwhile Susan gave birth to a fourth child. It's healthy and she was allowed to keep it.

Both were put on trial again. Patrick got sentenced to one year and two months in jail, and his sister was again placed under supervision. An experienced lawyer then took over the case and managed to bring it before the Federal Constitutional Court. By November 2006 Patrick had served his second sentence. Only if the court now rules against his third sentence will he be spared a further jail term.

"One can't put this poor person in jail again," said his lawyer Endrik Wilhelm.

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