Ask the County Law Librarian – Petition to inspect adoption records

Q- I found out I was adopted 21 years ago, and now that both of my adoptive parents are dead I want to look at the adoption records. Where can I find information about this and is it even possible?


A-I’m sorry to hear about your parents and it is understandable that you would want to learn about your family history. In California, the state registrar’s sealed birth record of an adopted person may be opened for inspection only on order of the superior court. You would need to file a verified petition with the superior court in the county where the adopted person resides or in the county where the adoption was decreed. According to California Health and Safety Code §102705, you would need to explain the facts showing the both “necessity” and “good and compelling cause” for issuance of the order.

If you are a Sacramento County resident, the Sacramento Superior Court has an excellent self-help packet with instructions and sample forms. Once filed at the court, the Department of Social Services will send a copy of all records and information that it has concerning the adopted person to the court. However, the names and address of the natural parents must be deleted. At that point, the court will review the records and make a determination regarding release. The names and addresses of the natural parents will not be disclosed unless the petitioner shows a need for this information to assist in establishing a legal right. (California Health and Safety Code §102705) For more detailed information on this legal process, you may want to take a look at a book we have at the law library: California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Chapter 12D.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian


  • Dear Sue, I am an adoptee that found his birth parents about 23 years ago in CA. It was an interesting process and the state does not make it easy for you. I recommend two things. First, hook up with ALMA, Adoptee’s Liberty Movement Association They have a lot of resources, may have local meetings and is free. Second, and they will help you through this part too is there is a way to register with the state, assuming you are a CA adoption through a social service dept somewhere that allows you to make it known that you want to meet your birth parents. If they sign up too, or if they already had the agency is allowed to pass on information. The whole going to court route is very unlikely to produce good results. I hope it works, feel free to reach out if you need direction.