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Adoptees flood state with requests for original birth certificates under new law

ALBANY — A new state law allowing adoptees to obtain their birth certificates went into effect Wednesday, and some 1,700 requests poured in within just a few hours, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

The deluge of requests was received in the first 12 hours the law was effective. For decades, adoptees had been unable to obtain their full New York birth certificates, which contain critical family and health history.

The total includes requests from Long Island, Westchester and upstate, but New York City numbers weren't yet available, a city health department official said.

“A 70-plus-year-old mystery may be solved when we find out the name of the mother on my birth certificate,” said  Angela Panza of Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County.

Panza, 73, said Wednesday she already had sent in her notarized application to the state after years of trying to piece together the puzzle on her own.

The new law, adopted last year by the State Legislature, allows adoptees to obtain their full, original birth certificates, including health histories and the identity of their parents.

The information had been denied to adoptees who were instead given abridged birth certificates that shielded their health information and parents’ identity.

The old law, which dates to 1936, was intended in part to protect parents — who in many cases had been unmarried mothers — from being approached by their children later in life.

Now, anyone 18 years old and older born in New York can obtain his or her original birth certificate from the vital records offices of the state Health Department or the New York City Health Department.

"After years of being denied this basic human right, adoptees will finally be able to obtain critical information about their origins, family histories and medical backgrounds,” Cuomo said.

Original birth certificates provide parents’ names, marital status, hometown and some critical health information that could point to hereditary diseases.

New York became the 10th and largest state to make original birth certificates available to adoptees.

Panza, who was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, said she knew at age 5 that she was adopted, but never knew the identity of her biological parents. All she knew from her adoption papers was that her mother was 21 years old and unmarried, with no data on her father.

In 2017, her children urged her to try a genealogical website, using the last name on her adoption papers, MacDougall.

Panza said she believes that through that effort she has found two half-brothers from the same mother. One of the men, whom she identified as Jim, saw a story about the proposed bill in Newsday and contacted Angela.

Their mother has since died, but it’s possible her biological father is still alive and his name may be on the birth certificate along with confirmation of her biological mother’s name, Panza said.

“It would be something to get my original birth certificate to see what the mother’s name was,” she said.

Assemb. Pamela Hunter (D-Syracuse), who was adopted, said she learned the value of her family information when she went to a physician's appointment in the last few days and had to draw a large “X” over the family health history questionnaire.

Also in the office was poster that asked if she knew her cancer risk. She didn’t.

“In some ways, it could mean everything,” Hunter said in an interview. “I think people are very excited … knowing I have the opportunity to do it, that’s amazing.”

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