'Black Market Baby,' Now 67, Sues for an Identity
A New York man with no official birth record is bringing an unusual lawsuit against the New York City Health Department, attempting to force them to issue him a birth certificate 67 years after he was sold as a "black market baby."
Albert Higgins discovered there was no birth certificate under his name after attempting to renew his commercial driver's license in 2010.
After the September 11 attacks, anyone attempting to renew a commercial license to drive hazardous materials was required to show a birth certificate to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
When Higgins could not produce his birth certificate for the DMV, he checked with the New York Department of Health's vital records divison only to discover there was no record of his birth.
"I never really questioned my birth certificate because I never needed one," Higgins told ABC News. "I got my Social Security card, my draft card, I'm not exactly sure what I showed them, but I got my driver's license."
Higgins says he was born in the Bronx on August 15, 1945, and that the confusion over his birth record stems from the fact that he was a so-called "black market baby," an unwanted baby never officially put up for adoption and sold to other parents.
"The story I pieced together was that my mother had a stillborn birth and six or seven months later her girlfriend said that her sister was having a baby and they didn't want it," Higgins said. "I assumed my father went over and spoke to her and made some kind of deal where I was taken from the hospital to my parents' house, I was raised as Albert Higgins from that day on."
Higgins' father died when he was 16, and he became estranged from his mother after developing a drug and alcohol addiction, and spending time in prison. After becoming sober, Higgins reconnected with his mother, who slowly began to reveal to him the true circumstances of his birth.
"My mother gave me a little piece of paper that was handwritten by my father, and on it there are these names, she said, 'I think you should have this,' and we didn't go into further details about it."
The paper lists Higgins real name, "Gary Edward Swingle," along with the names of his biological mother and father, Dorothy J. Herman, and Harold Swingle. Higgins then confirmed with the New York City registrar that there was indeed a birth certificate for "Gary Edward Swingle."
Higgins' lawsuit demands that the health department first recognize him as the Gary Swingle listed on the birth certificate, and then legally change his name to Albert Higgins.
Higgins' attorney John Janusas is optimistic the courts will approve his client's request. "I'm asking the judge to recognize him as Gary Swingle and then to simply change his name to Albert Higgins," Janusas told ABC News. "I think it will get approved," he added.
The New York City Law Department is currently investigating the case. "We are in the process of reviewing the papers filed with the court," Gabriel Taussig, chief of the Administrative Law Division at the NYC Law Department, told ABC News in an emailed statement.
"We note that the purpose of a birth certificate is to record the information at the time of birth. Mr. Higgins does not appear to claim that the birth certificate is inaccurate in that regard," the statement continued.
Janusas says he is hopeful a hearing on the matter can be scheduled within the next few days.
Higgins says there are other "black market babies" like him who grow up without proper documentation, and questions how such people can fall through the cracks.
"I know through my travels that there are more like me who don't have birth certificates who need phony identification and it's a shame that I was able to slip through the system for as many years as I did," said Higgins.
Higgins' wife Elise added that the resolution of her husband's case would also help resolve a standing joke about the couple.
"The joke is that I am Mrs. X and my husband is Mr. X because we don't really exist," she said.