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  • Writer's pictureMary Ellen Gambutti

South Carolina: The Long Road to Recovery of Adoptees' Identities

My Birth State, Birthright, Adoptee Rights

My adoptive parents never told me so directly, but Catholic Charities as

sured their privacy; no contact with my natural mother. I heard the word "adopted" about age two. At six, my parents formally introduced me to the adoption = love fairytale, the you had nobody, and we wanted a baby to love story suggested by the professionals. When my parents and I brought an infant home in 1959, I was eight -- a baby sister for me. The process and sanctity of the word adoption became tangible. Made flesh.


An article published April 13th, 2014 in The Greenville (S.C.) News by Lyn Riddle, S.C.'s Sealed Adoptions a Roadblock in Quest for Truth

"Increasingly, states are revamping their laws to do away with that condition. In those states, adoptees can walk into a state office and obtain the birth certificate issued on the day they were born, which lists the names of the birth parents. South Carolina has sealed those records since 1964..."

I was thirteen in 1964 when my dad sat me down for what began as a facts of life lecture and devolved into, at best, his cringeworthy, then tearful story of adoption as remedy to his infertility. I was dumb-struck. Wanted to flee. Looking back, I wonder if he had gotten wind of the impending sealing of South Carolina's adoptee birth records.

Six years earlier, his story was that my mother and family were deceased by an accident. It was sad, but it was over, and I was lucky, as were my new parents. No one cried for the loss. Now, I felt somehow guilty for his grief -- my parents' loss of the child they couldn't have. How sad for him! And me? A feeling of shame of my origins: What am I doing here? was transferred to me. The crushing unworthiness of a changeling adhered as loss, sadness, and low self-esteem. I was too shy -- had no right -- to ask the questions that might make my parents' pain worse. I only allowed myself a fantasy, a ghost family.


The records I retrieved from Dad's old Samsonite suitcase after his death trace their worries and concerns about their difficult, moody, secretive child. My identity confusion, depression, lying, and eventual alcohol and street drug use took their toll on us. And the counterculture influences of my late adolescence combined with my Air Force father's absence, at it's worst during '67-'68. But his presence exacerbated my angst. I left home for a young first marriage, and motherhood at eighteen. Many years later, I would learn how my own low self-esteem mirrored my poor, sad mother's. Through my search and discovery of kin, I could begin to heal.


At forty, I sought my birth certificate from Catholic Charities, and received an apologetic letter with my mother's non-identifying information. I was told that she knew she could never have contact with me after relinquishment. My new husband encouraged me to keep trying. I was introduced to the Adoptee Rights community through Joe Soll in New York, and Adoption Forum in Philadelphia. After two years of research, I met my mother in 1993. This joyful reunion, one year before she died at age sixty-nine, weak and widowed, but for my half-sister's kindness in bringing her home from Texas to South Carolina, would not have happened.

Adoptee FAQS Charleston, SC Vital Records, Department of Environment and Health:

Effective July 1, 2019, Section 44-63-140 of the South Carolina Code was amended to allow adult adoptees, age 18 or older, who were born in South Carolina, to obtain a copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate, and any evidence of the adoption held with the original birth record, if the biological parent has completed the necessary forms consenting to the release of the certificate. A biological parent may also indicate their contact preference and consent to release medical history information.

In January 2022, Greg Luce, Minnesota lawyer, DC-born adoptee, and the founder of Adoptee Rights Law Center and Executive Director of Adoptees United, informed us of a development in the South Carolina law -- an amendment of the bill passed in 2018.

SC HB4566: A consent-based bill, applied retroactively to all adoptions in the state, no matter the date the adoption was finalized. Representative R.J. May had pre-filed a bill that would amend Section 44-63-140, which was amended as recently as 2019, but at the time, the enacted law applied to adoptions finalized after July 1, 2019. HB4566 effectively made the 2019 law retroactive to all adoptions, no matter when finalized, stating that adult adoptees may obtain a “copy of their original birth certificate and accompanying evidence of adoption with the consent of the biological parent and applies retroactively, regardless of the date on which the adoption was finalized.”

Greg's review and update, November 23, 2022

South Carolina enacted legislation in 2018 that will provide access to the OBC only for adoptions finalized after July 1, 2019. The new law also requires a birth parent’s written consent to release the OBC. Pending Discriminatory Law -- South Carolina enacted two laws in 2019 and 2022. Together, they make the release of the original birth record dependent on consent of any listed birthparents. The 2019 law applies only to adoptions finalized after July 1, 2019. The 2022 law is not effective until May 16, 2023, though it will apply to all adoptions no matter the date of finalization. It will still require birthparent permission to release the record but it will require redaction of birthparent names if two birthparents are listed on the birth record but only one gives permission to release the record. The record will be released unredacted if all birthparents listed on the birth record are deceased.

The new Amendment, as passed, allows those who were adopted prior to the act’s effective date and whose birth parents are deceased, to obtain our OBC. (A200, R226, H5000) Time effective: This act takes effect twelve months after approval by the Governor. Ratified the 12th day of May, 2022. Approved the 16th day of May, 2022.


I connected with Patsy Knight, an adoptee, retired SC Congressperson, and advocate/sponsor, through mutual friend and fellow SC adoptee, Joe Comeaux. Joe and I have a strikingly parallel adoption experience, and met on a Facebook DNA search group several years ago. We both were born in St. Francis Hospital, Greenville, SC in 1951, he in August, and I in September, and were transported to Rock Hill, SC's St. Philip's Mercy Infant Home via Catholic Charities. The hospital administrator was our mutual Guardian ad litem, and our adoptions were finalized by the same Rock Hill Law Firm. Both our adoptive fathers were stationed at Shaw Air Force Base.

Recently, we met another St. Phillip's Infant Home adoptee, Kathleen. I invited her, Patsy, and Joe to share their thoughts here.


Since I knew who my birth mother and birth father were when I was very young the quest for an Original Birth Certificate didn't play a part in my life. My curiosity was wanting to meet them personally. I had an older sister and younger brother. My brother and I were adopted by the Gleaton's. My sister was adopted by our adopted mother's sister in California. My birth father remarried, had 3 children -- 1 girl and 2 boys. The girl was inquiring and wanting to meet me. My biggest concern was wanting medical history/records. Every time I went to doctors, first thing they ask is my family medical history. My reply was I don't know "I was adopted".
During my life I have heard all kinds of positive and negative sides therefore I set sail to help adoptees. But, both sides of the coin needs telling. Joe was involved in my bringing together different sides in June 2018. Joe Comeaux made a trip to Columbia June 12, 2018 to talk with us about my adoption bill. Those in attendance were Joe (adoptee), SC Health Department representative (record keeper), Virginia, my legal person who wrote the bill, Jeanette Hornsby, a mother that adopted her son out. Inroads were made, and we got my OBC bill done, and although we didn't get all we would have liked, considering the personalities of the House members at that time, we got a clean bill with nothing piggybacked. This made the bill easier to address and make changes later, as it has now been done.

Joe (note: I relate to Joe's early, pre-internet search efforts.)

I started searching in 1981 just after our son was born. Initially, it was a struggle with Catholic Charities, as continued to submit OBC requests through the system. No luck. The USAF sent me overseas for seven years, and I didn't get a chance to do anything. When I came back to the Continental United States in '94, I started trying again, and as before, met with resistance from Catholic Charities and State Dept. of Vital Records, the owner of all birth certificates. In the late '90s, I sent a letter to the York County Clerk of Probate Court explaining my situation, and received the entire certified, unredacted Adoption Case File. I visited Catholic Charities in Charleston in person to plead my case - no luck.
Several weeks later, a large manila envelope arrived containing my entire case file, including a personal letter from my birth mother on my first birthday! This allowed me to track down my family. She was deceased. She had developed an elaborate ruse about who my birth father was, and their non-existent marriage. Since my mother's sister was still alive and supported the story, I assumed it was true. I tried one last time, submitting a birth certificate request, using all the actual information concerning my birth. I received a letter threatening legal action if I kept pursuing it. By then, I had retired from the USAF and was heading back overseas for what turned out to be 10 years.
When I returned to the CONUS in 2012, I started searching again. By then I was able to use DNA in my search, and I discovered my birth mother's lies; they were all over the State paperwork. Even though I strongly suspected my OBC would contain the same lie as the rest of the State records, I decided to pursue access. I eventually found someone on the State staff that would help me through the process which hadn't been revealed. I learned that the adoption records belonged to the court, the OBC belonged to the State DHEC. I had to start in the Court of Original Jurisdiction - where my adoption had been finalized. I finally found a lawyer in Rock Hill, York County, who would take my case -- never done before. I sent her everything I had: Court records, Catholic Charities Records, DNA, research, summaries of my Bio-family, death of both adoptive and birth parents, even though my birth father was unknown. It took over a year and $1000+ dollars. I finally got a court order.
With that Court Order, I made an appointment with DHEC, on Bull St in Columbia, and went to visit them. I was to be allowed to view the record in the presence of 2 State employees. I couldn't take any pictures or make a copy - only look and take notes. At the end, they put it back in the envelope and took it back to wherever they kept it. As expected, it was more of the same lie that was on everything else - but at least I knew. I eventually located my birth father's family - but with no involvement of SC.


Alumni of St. Phillips


"Baby Sherry"

Adopted 1952-1953

Saint Phillip's Infant Annex, Rock Hill, SC

We came one by one, occasionally in two's.

All sizes from exceedingly small to chubby little Angels.

Some with Blue Eyes, some with Brown, a few with Green.

The ones with curly blonde hair were prized, but brown hair was more prevalent.

Occasionally a red-haired little one appeared.

We came from all over the country.

Some came by Train, and some came by Automobile.

Some came with their mothers before they were born.

Some mothers were Hollywood Starlets and others were unknown.

Some mothers were rich, poor, young and even older.

Some mothers were of good character and well educated and others were not.

This was not to be discussed.

We were special,

worth a lot to the lovely people who would give large donations to Catholic Charities.

Some of us went to good loving homes. Others were not so lucky. It was fate.

We kept coming one by one, occasionally in two's.

For years we kept coming. As soon as one crib was empty another baby filled it.

For years, so many of us.


From this current bill's introduction by Rep. May, I pressed and advocated to him and sponsors, and to the Judiciary committee. Although a non-resident, I am bound by SC's adoption law. I like to think my story was considered. The result, though imperfect, should allow me access to my birth records in 2023, at long last.

Please keep informed, and support Adoptee Rights.

Adoptees United Bill Watchlist

If you've read my memoir, I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls, please tell others about it! I'm grateful for your objective, honest review at your place of purchase.

1. Leila, my mother, and Susie ~ 1957

2. Karen, Momma and me 1993, our first reunion, Greenville, SC.

3. Karen and Lottie several years ago, our first meeting of we 3. Greenville, SC Antioch Churchyard - our ancestral graves.

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Until next time!

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