December 12, 2006Opening records opens eyes, too
Adopted woman seeks answers about her past
By DEEDEE CORRELL THE GAZETTE
Room 105 in the El Paso County Courthouse is the first stop on the route to Lucy Powers’ past. This is the room where people come to file for divorce, pick up booklets about child custody or find out how to get a criminal record expunged. Powers, though, is here seeking the answer to a question that has persisted since she was a child: Who gave her up and why? Only a judge can help answer those questions — by unsealing the record of her adoption 57 years ago. Powers shifts in line, nervous. “It’s funny how much it stirs up inside you,” she says. The Denver woman is among hundreds
of Coloradans seeking to trace their roots. Such searches have become more common in recent years, partly because of tools provided by the Internet, said Rich Uhrlaub of Adoptees In Search, a Denver-based group whose members support and advise each other in their hunts. Another reason, he said, is that “people from the closed-records generation are coming of age and giving themselves permission to do it.” “The biggest reason they search is they’re looking for themselves. I’m not looking for a new family. I have a family. But my family can’t give me my ancestry and story before they knew me,” he said. They’re often seeking medical information, said Pat Lubarsky, president of the American Adoption Congress, a volunteer group that advocates openness in adoptions. “Adoptees aren’t looking for a new set of parents. They’re looking for information,” she said of the movement that began in the 1970s and is opposed by those who say that some birth parents don’t want to be identified and that there are other ways to provide necessary medical information. Several states allow adoptees to access their original birth certificates, Lubarsky said. Colorado law allows those adopted after 1999 to view their records once they turn 18. But records sealed before 1999 remain sealed, and it takes an agreement by both parties or a court order to open them. Colorado has a voluntary registry where adoptees and biological parents can try to find each other. Since its creation 24 years ago, 4,058 have registered, and 128 matches have been made, state officials said. But Powers, who regularly visits Colorado Springs to attend New Life Church, wants to take a more active approach — by getting her hands on the 1949 file on microfilm in the courthouse basement. A medical exam after a recent car accident led to the discovery that she has a cyst growing in her brain. That health scare has made Powers more anxious than ever to learn about her medical history. The overarching question of her ancestry has persisted throughout her life. Powers, who learned as a child she was adopted, said her parents often reminded her she was there by invitation. “If I did something they didn’t approve of, they’d ask me to call them ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’,” she said. “It was a feeling I could be disposed of at any time.” Yet they didn’t reveal the details of the adoption. “They just didn’t volunteer information, and I didn’t ask,” she said. It wasn’t until Powers was an adult that she began to learn bits and pieces of the story from her grandmother. Although she was born in Denver, the adoption record was filed in El Paso County. She suspects her biological mother is — or was — from here. The woman went to live with a doctor’s family in Denver for about six months before she gave birth, and the daughter of the doctor’s colleague adopted the infant. Some paperwork found in her grandmother’s belongings after her death suggested that Powers’ biological father was a minister. In the early 1990s, Powers decided she wanted the full story. The state had recently passed a law allowing adoptees to hire an intermediary to view the record and try to contact the birth parent. If the parent could be found and was willing, the intermediary would arrange for the two to meet. Powers’ intermediary looked at her file but concluded the family couldn’t be tracked down. Such efforts often come to naught because of fictitious names on the birth certificate, Uhrlaub said. Now, Powers wants to look at the record herself, in case there’s a trail she can pick up that the intermediary didn’t. “From what I know about Lucy’s situation, I think she came from highly connected people trying to hide it,” said Uhrlaub, who helped Powers draft her plea for access. The request will go to the juvenile judge, an irony not lost on Uhrlaub. “You have a 57-year-old going back to juvenile court, saying, ‘Please let me find out who I am,’” he said.
For more information about Adoptees In Search, visit the Web site at www.geocities. com/aisdenver.
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