Rudy Owens’ adoption memoir sheds light on institution impacting millions of Americans

Rudy Owens, five months old

In 2016, I finished writing my memoir on my lifelong journey navigating the world of American adoption, as an adoptee who was denied any record of his biological past. I will be publishing my memoir and public health history of adoption in 2017.

I was born in Detroit at one of the nation’s largest maternity hospitals that promoted adoption among non-related parents and infants. My single birth mother relinquished when I was three weeks old. My entire family past was erased when the State of Michigan approved my adoption to a new family in May 1965. That family remains my family to this day. However, the post-World War II adoption system that touched the lives of millions of birth mothers and infants like me created record-keeping practices and laws that ultimately withheld my family heritage from me when my name legally changed and I became another family’s child.

The medical, social work, and public health professionals who created this bold new experiment in family creation sought to remove illegitimate children from their kin. Adoptees were expected by society and their adoptive families never to know their true identity and biological relatives. I rejected this model and set out on a three-decades-long journey to find my biological relatives, my past, and ultimately justice. On the way, I overcame Michigan’s discriminatory legal barriers and found my birth family and kin on both sides of my family when I was 24. My years-long journey took me from Detroit to San Diego to a small Midwest hamlet. On the way, I learned about my past, met all branches of his families, and finally reclaimed my original birth documents state vital records keepers vowed to hide from me until the day I died.

On my hero’s quest, I overcame the discriminatory tactics of fearful records keepers and stereotypes by some  birth family relatives. I rose above those who denied me equal legal treatment because I was born a bastard and categorized by state law as an adoptee, with less rights than non-adoptees. My experience demonstrated that searching for one’s origins and asking, “Who am I,” are the most natural acts a human will ever take.

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