Matter of Ann Carol "S.", August 13, 1974, N.Y.L.J., p. 12, col. 6

Surrogate Gelfand
—Petitioner was adopted pursuant to an order of this court rendered on March 30, 1937.  In this proceeding she seeks to unseal the records with reference to said proceeding; to gain access to the records of the New York City Department of Health with reference to her birth record, and to gain access to the records relative to her which are in possession of the authorized agency that placed petitioner for adoption.
    Petitioner contends that the releief sought should be granted pursuant to the provisions of Domest- [12:7] ic Relations Law section 114 for good cause shown; or, in the alternative, upon the ground that any statutory provisions which prevent an adopted child who has reached majority from examining the records with reference to that child's own adoption is offensive to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  By order of this court, the New York City Department of Health, as the custodian of birth records, the authorized agency, and the Attorney General of the State of New York were joined as respondents.  The attorney general appeared and reserved his rights on appeal but did not participate in the hearing.  The other respondents participated in opposition to the application.  The adoptive parents who otherwise would be necessary parties to this proceeding (DRL sec. 114) are both deceased.
    The testimony adduced at the [sic]
    The testimony adduced at the hearing establishes that the petitioner is approximately forty years of age, never married, and has a history of gainful employment throughout her adult life.  Until their death, petitioner maintained a normal parent-child relationship with her adoptive parents.  Although petitioner testified that she has suspicions that she was an adopted child, this fact was not confirmed to her until she obtained a copy of her amended birth certificate from the New York City Board of Health in December, 1971.  At that time petitioner was furnished with a photostat of her ful [sic] birth certificate which contained the statement "Certificate of Birth, By Adoption."  The testimony indicates that since that time petitioner's previously latent concern over whether she had been adopted has heightened to her being preoccupied with an overriding desire to find out the identity of her natural parents.  Expert testimony suggests the possibility that this preoccupation has had an adverse impact on the social adjustment of petitioner.  Among other suggested ramifications of petitioner's preoccupation with ascertaining her natural parentage the testimony implied that the lack of information motivated petitioner to terminate an engagement to be married.
    Curiousity as to one's forebears, understandable as it may be, if it is mere curiosity, does not fall within the bounds of good cause.  In evaluating the sufficiency of good cause, due consideration should be given to the benefit which would accrue to the petitioner as against any possible adverse impact upon any other party.  In this case, the court has examined both its own file, the records of the Department of Health and the records of the authorized agency.  The adoptive parents are both deceased.  Petitioner has no adoptive siblings, nor doe [sic] the record indicate the possibility of any natural siblings.  The miniscule information contained in the records of the agency and the Department of Health with reference to her parentage would in no way lead to the identity of the petitioner's natural relatives.  While petitioner has not succeeded in establishing the strongest case of good cause, she has established that some emtional [sic] benefit may accrue to her by revealing to her what little information is available.  Upon the facts in this matter this relief can ge [sic] given to petitioner without it in any way af- [12:8] fecting the rights of any living identifiable person.
    Accordingly, it is concluded that for good cause shown the records of thi scourt [sic] and the New York City Department of Health with reference to petitioner's adoption are unsealed to the extent that they may be inspected by petitioner or her duly authorized counsel.  The authorized agency has offered to open its records and furnish all the information in its files with the exception of the identifying data of the petitioner's biological parents.  The court's examination of the agency's full file indicates that it contains no information as to the identity of petitioner's biological parents that would not be reflected in therecords [sic] of the court and the Department of health.  Accordingly, no necessity exists for a direction that the respondent agency open its files to petitioner.
    Petitioner having established her right to statutory relief, a determination in this proceeding of the constitutional issue presented is not required.
    Settle decree.

Petitioner called Dr. Robert J. Lifton, a recognized expert in the area of adolescent psychiatry and a close associate of Erik Erikson, as a rebuttal witness.  Mrs. Gertrude Mainzer of New York City represented the petitioner in the action.  The following exchange between Mrs. Mainzer and Dr. Lifton is found in the record at 554 et seq.:
Mrs. Mainzer:
In your opinion, what happens to an adult who wants this knowledge but doesn't get this knowledge about his or her historical origin or historical connectedness?
Dr. Lifton:
From my own experience with adopted people and from the literature, it apparently seems as though every single adopted person has some significant degree of curiosity about this.
Some are blocked from further effort by that layer of guilt, others make the effort.
The desire to find out is probably universal.  Where it is blocked, one remains locked in more extreme fantasies.  The fantasies that adopted children seem to have are at either extreme: Most characteristically, for instance, the mother is either imagined to be a prostitute in the gutter of society—otherwise, why would they keep this dirty little secret—or, at the other extreme, a great queen that will lift one out of one's ordinary existence into something noble.
Neither extreme of fantasy is healthy or real.  So, I think that one is locked into conflict and there is enormous frustration in not being able to find one's identity.
I would sum this up by saying a gap in one's sense of identity will always remain if one cannot find out this information about one's heritage.

Stephan A. Gorman, Note, Recognizing the Needs of Adopted Persons: A Proposal To Amend the Illinois Adoption Act, 6 LOY. U. CHI. L.J. 49, 49 n. 67 (1975).

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