August 4, 2009
Landmark adoption ruling a bittersweet victory for Falcon man
JOHN C. ENSSLIN
On the day Jeffrey Hannasch’s daughter was born, a nurse came to him
with a long questionnaire on his family’s medical history.
“I won’t waste any time or any trees,” he said, handing her back the
paperwork. “I’m an adoptee.”
“Oh, you’re one of those,” the nurse said.
One of those.
Encounters like that hospital conversation six years ago have always
left Hannasch, who lives in Falcon northeast of Colorado Springs,
wondering about his origins.
Two years ago, he set out to do something about it. He went in search
of his birth parents. His search produced more than he expected.
In April, the 44-year-old plumber’s legal battle for his adoption
records led to a landmark Court of Appeals ruling. As a result, some
8,000 people adopted in Colorado between July 1, 1951, to July 1,
1967, will have an easier time obtaining their previously sealed
The case has led several agencies to revamp the way they process
records requests for people adopted in that 16-year slice of time.
He’s heard from several people who’ve found their birth parents
because of the ruling. Hannasch is pleased at the ripple effect the
ruling is having, but he was hoping for so much more.
“I wanted a tsunami.”
Back when he was a ninth grader at Air Academy High School, Hannasch
did a classroom assignment on his family’s genealogy.
He loved his adoptive parents and knew all about their history. His
father was an accountant. His mom was a nurse. They had adopted him
two week after he was born in a Denver hospital.
Hannasch knew how their ancestors had homesteaded near Cheyenne Creek
in the 1870s.
But he also felt he was living a lie. The family tree he created was
just names on a piece of paper to him.
Two years ago, he came into possession of a piece of paper that would
change his life.
His father had died. As executor of the estate, he found his adoption
decree from 1965. For the first time he saw his birth mother’s name.
Finding her was a relatively easy Google search. The next step was not
so easy. Who would he find? What would her reaction be? What if she
wanted nothing to do with him?
His search took him to a small town where his birth mother had grown
up. He went into a public building to ask about her and was led to a
room that had his mother’s picture.
His wife and daughter had been waiting outside. He called them in.
“There she is,” he told them. The woman in the picture was the
spitting image of his daughter.
In January 2008, he sent the woman a vague letter. He got no reply. He
tried again, this time being more explicit about the fact that he was
In May, she wrote him a cordial, if somewhat reserved letter. Hannasch
described her reaction as friendly, but somewhat shocked that he had
found her after so many years.
He asked her about his father. She said she could not remember his
name. All she knew was that he had been stationed at Denver’s Lowry
Air Force Base in the mid-1960s.
Over the next three months, Hannasch contacted about 250 airmen who
were stationed at the base during that period. His calls had the
unintended effect of enabling some of them to reunite. But none could
help him find his dad.
Meanwhile Hannasch took his search for his father to El Paso County
Juvenile Court, where he filed a request for his adoption records.
The magistrate turned Hannasch down, contending that the records he
sought were confidential and directing him instead to use a
confidential intermediate service, that acts as a link between
adoptees and birth parents. A 4th Judicial District judge upheld the
However, when Rich Uhrlaub, a volunteer coordinator with Adoptees in
Search —The Colorado Triad Connection, heard about Hannasch’s case, he
helped bring in lawyers from Holland and Hart, who agreed to take the
case on appeal on a pro bono basis.
On April 16, Hannasch had stopped in a friend’s store in Calhan when
his cell phone rang. It was his lawyer calling. They had won the case
in a unanimous decision.
“I just about passed out,” he recalled.
Two months later — after the ruling had gone uncontested — Adoptees in
Search held a victory celebration. The state Registrar agreed to come
and present Hannasch with the documents he had been seeking for so long.
Hannasch remembers going on stage to accept the manila envelope as the
crowd burst into a prolonged standing ovation.
Then he stood at one side of the stage and opened the envelope. He
stared at it for a long, long time. There was his father’s name.
That night, Hannasch and his wife got home late. She went to bed. He
sat down at his computer. Fifteen minutes later, he found something
that stopped him cold.
His father was dead. He had died in 1973 in another state.
Hannasch had prepared himself for this possibility. But there it was
staring him in the face.
He turned off the computer and lights and went to bed.
What did it all mean? Was it worth all that effort? Has Hannasch’s
daily life changed all that much?
Not a lot. But in some ways, the differences are profound.
He now has three binders full of his birth family’s history. Among the
surprising discoveries: he is a third generation Coloradan. His blood
relatives are buried about 20 miles from the old homestead of his
He now knows he was 4 pounds, 12 ounces and 17 inches when born.
He gets calls now and then from people who’ve found their birth
parents thanks to the precedent his case established. This makes him
Perhaps most important, he no longer has that feeling of uncertainty
that the maternity room nurse’s question hit upon when his daughter
“I just have a different outlook now. I have stopped wondering about
“Adoption just doesn’t stop with me. That’s what I realized when my
kids were born. Not having a point zero was becoming increasingly more
difficult to bear.”
Now he won’t have to pass that uncertainty on to his children.
Then he choked up for a moment.
“I’m fortunate enough to have two moms and two dads.”
*A Colorado court decision has recently opened adoption records ONLY for adoptees born between 1951-1967. These discriminatory laws create a tier-effect for ADULTS who should have the (same) rights to obtain their own personal records in adulthood.
Upon a child's adoption, they are issued an amended (falsified) "Certificate of
Live Birth" with the names of their adoptive parents written as if they gave
birth (some even have amended (changed) birthdates and places of birth). The
child's original birth certificate (which has the name of the mother who gave
birth to the child) is "sealed" once the child is adopted.
If a mother relinquishes her child for adoption, but for some reason, the child
remains in foster care or an adoption is not finalized, the child's original
birth certificate remains intact, and is never "sealed". This proves what
thousands of birthmothers are revealing ~ they were never promised
confidentiality, and in fact, didn't want it. The "sealed records" laws were
not enacted to protect their confidentiality, but to protect the privacy of the
newly formed adoptive family.
The video news story (click on the title of this post to be linked) also points out that adoption agencies would frequently put "false" names on their records and even adoptee's original birth certificates.
No wonder the National Council for Adoption lobbys against the recommendations
of The Child Welfare League of America and many other organizations to legislate
access (to OBC's) for ALL adult adopted individuals.
Adults adopted as children are currently viewed as "perpetual children" in the
eyes of the law. Six U.S. states have passed laws which restore the civil right
of ALL adopted citizens to obtain their original birth certificate in adulthood.
Mutual consent registries and intermediary systems are not working and serve to
continue discrimination against millions of U.S. citizens who deserve the same
identity rights as everyone else.
My adoption was finalized in 1968 ~ one year past the golden time-frame of this court decision, and my first mother had registered on several "mutual consent registries" that failed to create a match for us. All this was due to the fact she had been been given inaccurate information at the time of the adoption. She died from breast cancer at the age of 32 while searching for me, but died searching for a son, because she was not permitted to even see me after her delivery. These registries and intermediary services are literally crumbs thrown out to those separated by unethical adoption laws in this country. It will be a beautiful day when ALL adopted individuals in America are given the same rights as every other citizen to own their original birth certificate, and no longer have to live as "perpetual children" in the eyes of society.