Wisconsin Provides Online Information on Searching Adoption Records

Here at CourtReference, we are always on the look-out for new resources to help our users search for court records. These days, many courts provide online access to a whole range of records, from criminal cases to probate estates to divorce proceedings. What about records that are sealed from public view, though? Searching for information about sealed records can be endlessly frustrating unless you know where to look. Recently, we came across a link in Wisconsin regarding adoption record searches that we hope will prove useful to you.

The first thing to know about searching for adoption records is where to start. Generally, when looking for court records, it is best to start with the court where the case was heard. That is not true when it comes to adoption. Adoption records are handled by a statewide department, usually the Department of Health, or Office of Vital Records. In Wisconsin, it is the Department of Children and Families that handles adoption records searches. That department has put together a website to guide people in their search for adoption records. You can find a link to the site under CourtReference’s Wisconsin Self-Help resources. New York State and Illinois have also created websites to guide people through their adoption record searches. In New York State, adoption records are handled by the Department of Health. In Illinois, it is the Department of Vital Records.

Because of their sensitive nature, adoption records are not in the court record search systems available online. Almost all states “seal” adoption records after they are finalized. When records are sealed, they are withheld from public view and can generally only be viewed with a court order or, in the case of adoption records, by following the particular procedures of that state. Finding adoption records is generally a longer process than finding civil, criminal, or other court records. Information about adoption records is not usually linked from court websites because the searches themselves are not handled by the court. Each state has its own process to search adoption records, which makes things even more confusing. But do not get discouraged! The good news is that the Internet has made it easer to access information about how each state provides, or does not provide, access to adoption records.

Keep in mind that access to adoption records is often restricted to adoptees, birth parents, siblings, and social welfare agencies.

Many states have procedures whereby parties to an adoption can obtain non-identifying information from an adoption record. Some states provide Mutual Consent Registries. If both a birth parent and adoptee sign-up with the Mutual Consent Registry, then they can access records about each other. These records may include non-identifying information (such as hair color), identifying information (such as name), or medical information.

Although you will not be able to find adoption records online, sites such as those offered by Wisconsin, Illinois and New York will often provide forms so at least you can get started right from your own computer. Good luck in your searches and remember to check back with CourtReference for updated information on searching court records.

One thought on “Wisconsin Provides Online Information on Searching Adoption Records

  1. Patricia Shepard

    My mother was adopted from an agency in NYC in 1918. She is deceased. I am searching for information about her birth family. Her adoption was legalized in Wisconsin in 1920 in Milwaukee County Court. I applied through the Wisconsin Department of Children & Families, and they sent copies of the court proceedings, but any identifying information had been obliterated. The judge said, “…as soon as the proceedings are completed we will arrange for the sealing of the records and the removal to a place of safety in our vaults of the jacket, so the public never will have an opportunity of seeing them. I have never done this before, but I will do it in this case.” I am wondering if this is an unusual type of sealed record. Do I have any rights to information as the daughter? I see adoptees, their siblings and parents mentioned, but not children of adoptees. Since this occurred so long ago, both the adoptee and the birth mother are deceased. Does this make it easier to access information or harder? My mother was a suicide victim. Would this be sufficient to prove necessity to identify the birth family? Would I need to hire a lawyer to see the sealed records? Wisconsin is a “freedom of information” state. Would I be able to see the sealed records under FOI? Is there any hope that I might learn the identity of my mom’s birth mother?


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