Last year when I read Craig Hickman’s stunning memoir, Fumbling Toward Divinity: the Adoption Scriptures I knew that I’d have have to post his Letter to a Wisconsin Bureaucrat which appears at the end of the book.

In this letter, Craig attacks the secrecy and arrogance of the adoption industry and the state apparatchiks that protect it. He demands equal treatment and decency for all adopted persons. This is a letter that should be read, treasured, and internalized by us all as we individually and collectively demand that the madness of identity theft, sealed birth records, and the culture of shame stop with us.

With Craig’s permission, here is his Letter to a Wisconsin Bureaucrat:

June 2001

Thank you once again for your prompt attention to these matters. I received a copy of my original birth certificate via fax this morning and look forward to it in the mail.

Your letter states that my search request is now complete. No, it is not. I still want a clean copy of all the documents about me in my adoption file. I trust that you will coordinate this with Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

In putting together that clean copy, I would also like you to consider the following. Please share this treatise with all the “powers” that be in your neck of the woods.

With all due consideration to your lawyer and your policies, there is no legislation currently on the books in Wisconsin that supports the policy that the Division of Children and Family Services adheres to regarding the deletion of certain information in my adoption file.

First, my birth father is not “alleged.” Simply because my birth mother was not married when she had me does not mean that I am “illegitimate,” nor does it mean that she does not know who my birth father is. Simply because the judge did not bother to ask her under oath who my father was and thereby “adjudicate” him as my birth father does not mean that Frank East is not the man who made love to my birth mother and got her pregnant on Valentine’s Day 1967 on the campus at Oakwood College. Just this past father’s day, I met my birth father, held him, laughed with him, took pictures with him, and I look just like him. I am, indisputably, his progeny. A simple medical test would refute his “alleged” status to the State and the Courts who remain limited by social mores that, as far as I’m concerned, have been outdated for centuries.

It is unfortunate that Frank East’s name does not appear on my original birth certificate, written in long hand. Unfortunately, this cannot be amended. It would be more unfortunate if his name were deleted from the clean copy of my adoption records as well, especially since Dania, Florida, which is where he also currently resides, was left in full view on the document the first time I received it.

I will challenge such a deletion should I receive my records without it.

I will also challenge the deletion of the names of social workers, foster parents, and any other “indirect” participants in this historical account of my genesis. After all, that is what it is: history. My history. Not yours, nor your assistant’s, nor anyone else’s currently employed by the State of Wisconsin or the affiliated agency, Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin.

There is no language whatsoever in the Wisconsin Statutes calling for these deletions. The law is very clear on what it does include, and very clear on what it does not. I know the names of my birth father and social workers, and my adoptive mother believes she remembers the name of my foster parents, who, given that they were already grandparents in 1967, are possibly still alive, but more than probably dead. Who’s being protected by your policies thirty-three-plus years after the fact? Are you afraid that I am going to bring suit against Miss Gates, Miss Culver or any of the other social workers that handled my case, or bring suit against their heirs or estates, because they did not handle some aspect of my adoption correctly? Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? I cannot imagine the need for protecting their “privacy.” Even though they worked for private agencies, their names should not be deleted from my records.

As for my foster parents, I pose the same question. Is the State afraid that I would bring suit against them and/or their heirs and estates for some lack of care during the sixteen months that I was in their stead? If nothing else, I might like to locate them or their daughters who baby-sat for me in order to thank them from the bottom of my heart for taking such good care of me during the transition from birth mother to my parents. How can your policies disregard this possibility and remain so inhumane?

I will challenge such a deletion should I receive my records without them.

I have been more than saddened and pained by the treatment I received from the bureaucrats and social workers that handled my adoption search and follow-up requests. It should come as no surprise that I had to complete the search myself. How lucky for me that I had the time, determination, and resources to do so. I feel for those who must leave their search entirely in the hands of the State of Wisconsin. (I’m sure there are some happy reunion stories the State can be responsible for and some compassionate workers who bend the “rules” in order to bring joy and a sense of completion to people’s lives, but in my experience searching over the last five years, they seem to be rarer than the rarest gems. I certainly hope that you continue to be one of them.)

I am annoyed that my original request for non-identifying medical and social history included many more deletions than required by Wisconsin law. In fact, I was unable to meet my biological grandfather before he died in 1998 precisely because of this broad, presumptuous, archaic, paranoid, and erroneous interpretation of the Wisconsin Statutes that govern the adoption search program.

The social workers have told so many of us that the law requires that our pasts remain full of secrets and lies when in fact the law requires no such thing.

This madness must end.

Wisconsin bureaucrats treat adult adoptees as second-class citizens who have no right to know anything about their genesis, and this must change even if I die trying to change it.
I look forward to receiving a true clean copy of my adoption file. No more secrets and cover-ups and fear and paranoia. I’m all done with that. Your policies are not founded in ethics, morality, or the law. Furthermore, they protect no one, and they need to be reviewed and changed sooner rather than later.

I can only imagine that the disgruntled, disappointed, depressed or suicidal adult adoptee who does not possess the tenacity or the resources may never complete their search when they have to negotiate within a system populated by bureaucrats and social workers who seem to “get off” on their petty little power trips, controlling what information can and cannot be disclosed when they have absolutely no regard for the law. These bureaucrats and social workers do not know what they are talking about, and they should all be relieved of their duties unless or until they become aware of the law and are able to treat each adoptee as an individual being.

You apologized for my experience and stated that you do not know what happened. Simply put, my request was not read. I submitted my birth mother’s notarized letter along with a request to receive a clean copy of my adoption file, and I was given a form-letter response, as though I were someone initiating a new search. If I had already located and met my birth mother, then why on earth would I be interested in a document describing the entire search program to me and requesting up-front money for the state to begin searching? Presumably, the bureaucrats were too lazy to read my letter and too lacking of compassion to see the human being behind the letter.

The paternalistic, arrogant, and erroneous instructions and form letters that searchers are given should be criminalized, and I will spend the rest of my life bringing these travesties into the light so that all of us, including those of us who are adopted, can experience the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness-principles which have been infused into the articles of the United States Constitution. Will we need to go all the way to the Supreme Court?

I look forward to your cooperation in these important matters and I feel sure that I will soon possess an accurate collection of documents regarding my genesis, my history, my life.


Upon reading the letter, a judge in Wisconsin ordered that a true, clean copy of everything in my adoption file be sent to me. I received it in August 2001.


  1. Brilliant I agree! I am an adoptee who went to a judge in 1978 in Wisconsin when I was just 22. He let me read my adoption file though I could not keep copies of any documents. My birthmother did not want me or want anyone to know about me even when I found her. I am writing a memoir and have a website: I always wondered who cared for me in the months before I was actually adopted. There are no newborn photos. So much mystery. But I healed…

  2. Your blog rocks, and just wanted to let you know I am linking you…

    My ex-husband’s ex-girlfriend (got that?) was a co-founder of the Columbus Freepress, which we all worked on for well over a decade. I was thrilled to see your link! 🙂 (Columbus is my hometown!)

  3. Thanks, Daisy, and thanks for the heads up on Bastardette and Baby Love Child on the Mother Jones page.

    I’m on the board of the Columbsu Institute for Contemporary Journalism, aka the Free Press. I wrote for the paper through the 1980s, took some time off, and came back a few years ago. You can see all of my stuff on my other blog Theoconia,

    Some of the old timers are still around. Steve Abbott teaches at Columbus State and I see him occasionally at the grocery. Margaret Sarber is on the board. Paul Volker is a stay-at-home dad as far as I know and still making a living as an artist.Gov. Conliff died about a year and a half ago. And as you may know, Libby Gregory was killed in a plane crash at LAX in 1991 during the 1st Gulf War. People said she’d be thrilled to know that the crash knocked the war off of CNN front page for awhile.

    The Free Press, almost single handedly, has kept the issue of Ohio voter fraud in 2004 alive.

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