Sealed birth records, as opposed to open records, refers to the practice of sealing the original birth certificate of an infant upon adoption. The original sealed birth certificate is replaced with an amended birth certificate declaring the adoptee to be the child of his or her adoptive parents. Many states, provinces and countries adopted this practice in the early to mid-20th century with the aim of protecting the adopted person from the shame of his or her illegitimate birth. Sealed or closed birth records are generally associated with closed adoption. Open records is generally referred to as the practice of opening original birth records to adult adoptees, and should not be confused with open adoption, which can occur with or without sealed records, depending on the laws of the state or province in which it is carried out.
Many nations have granted adult adoptees unfettered access to their original birth certificates. Mike Leigh's Oscar-nominated film Secrets & Lies (1996) revolves around a British woman who accesses her original birth certificate.
Adoptee birth certificates were first sealed in the United States in 1917 for the purpose of protecting adopted people and their adoptive families from the stigma of illegitimate birth. After World War II, the laws in most states were changed to permanently seal adoptees' original birth certificates to all parties. Kansas and Alaska never sealed adoptees' original birth certificates and many states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada have recently begun return the right of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates.
The history of sealed birth records in Canada mirrors that of the United States. It is complicated by the forced adoptions of Native American children.