Tired of restrictions and paywalls around public data? So are we.

We’re Reclaim the Records, a not-for-profit group of genealogists, historians, researchers, and open government advocates who are filing Freedom of Information requests to get public data released back into the public domain. We’re collecting information about archivally important data sets that are not available online or on microfilm, and we’re using Freedom of Information laws and Open Data initiatives to get copies of this information released back to the public.

We’ve started our work in archives, libraries, and government agencies in New York, New Jersey, and Missouri, and are expanding into different parts of the country, based on demand from people like you. Along the way, we’ll be documenting everything we’ve learned about filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and creating a Do-It-Yourself guide for genealogists, open data fans, and others who want their state, local, and Federal records made more available.

Our goal is to get these record sets put online, for free, for everyone. Want to learn more? Read our Frequently asked Questions.


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(We ask because some states' Freedom of Information laws only allow state residents to make a FOIL request.)













Here's what we've been up to (so far)

Records Request #1 (Pilot Project)

Current Status:
  • Litigation Successful! We won!
  • Unfortunately, We Were Not Awarded Attorneys' Fees
  • Records Have All Been Completely Uploaded!
  • Records Request #1 - Records Arrival - Photo #2 of 2

    Winner, winner, chicken dinner! These are 46 of the 48 microfilms we won from the New York City Municipal Archives in late 2015, though our pilot project.

Index to New York City Marriage Applications, Affidavits, and Licenses, 1908-1929

Reclaim The Records‘ first FOIL request, our pilot project, was an attempt to get access under the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to the index to some old marriage documents that were stored only in the New York City Municipal Archives in lower Manhattan.

There are two sets of marriage-related records kept on-site at the NYC Municipal Archives. The better-known is the late 1800’s-1937 marriage certificates, originally kept by the NYC Health Department. There are two indices to this record collection, commonly called the “Brides Index” and Grooms Index”, to help you find the right document. Both the certificates and its indices are available on FamilySearch microfilm. They have also been transcribed and turned into a free searchable database through a volunteer-run project organized by non-profit genealogy groups. That volunteer-created transcribed database was also recently added to Ancestry.com.

If you’ve ever ordered a copy of your family’s New York City marriage certificate, this is almost certainly what you got: a brief two-page document from this Health Department record series.

But our FOIL request was not about those certificates.

Instead, we were trying to get public access to the index to a much lesser-known but very important record set. This set was originally kept by the New York City Clerk’s Office, and it is the 1908-1929 application, affidavit, and license for a marriage, a totally separate three-page document that is generally dated a few weeks before the actual marriage took place.

AND WE WON.

Read More...


Records Request #2

Current Status:
  • Litigation Successful! We won!
  • We Were Awarded Attorneys' Fees!
  • Records Received!
  • Records Being Prepared For Digitization
  • VICTORY!

    VICTORY! Our legal case against the New York City Clerk's Office yielded over five million records, partly contained on 110 rolls of microfilm and partly in a 3.1 million row database.

Index to all New York City marriage records, 1930-1995

Using the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), Reclaim The Records won the first-ever public access to the 1930-1995 marriage index for New York City, over five million records. It took us nine months, many e-mails, and one lawsuit. We won a settlement in our favor in September 2016, received 110 microfilms covering 1930-1972 and a database covering 1950-1995 — and we even won attorney’s fees! Here’s how we did it…

December 14, 2015: Reclaim The Records writes a friendly “heads up” e-mail to the New York City Clerk’s Office, letting them know that we would soon be submitting a records request to them under the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). You can read that letter online here. We even provided for them the legal precedent under which we would be making the request. (For the legal nerds out there, it’s Gannett Co., Inc. v. City Clerk’s Office, City of Rochester, 596 NYS 2d 968, affirmed unanimously, 197 AD 2d 919 (1993).) We hoped this letter would ease the way for our records request and help make the whole process run smoothly. Turns out we were naive…

December 30, 2015: We formally submit our records request under the New York State FOIL. As usual, we use the website MuckRock to post and organize all our requests and official responses in real-time, visible to the public. Below is the full text of that letter…

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Records Request #3

Current Status:
  • Request Acknowledged by FOIL Officer
Index to New York State Deaths (Outside of New York City), 1880-1956

On January 3, 2016, Reclaim The Records submitted a FOIL request to the New York State Department of Health for a copy of the entire New York City death index, from June 1880 through December 31, 1956. We are requesting the index only in this FOIL request.

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Records Request #4

Current Status:
  • Request in Planning Stage
New York City Birth Certificates, 1910-1915

All New York City birth certificates that are more than 100 years old are supposed to be open to the public. Yet the New York City Department of Health has inexplicably failed to transfer these seven years’ worth of older birth certificates to the NYC Municipal Archives, which only has the certificates through 1909. Reclaim The Records will be making a FOIL request on or after January 1, 2016 to acquire and distribute these certificates to the public. We’re waiting until January 1st to make sure all of the 1915 certificates will be legally available and included in the request.

Read More...


Records Request #5

Current Status:
  • Records Received!
  • Records Being Prepared For Digitization
New Jersey Birth, Marriage, and Death Indices, 1901-1903 and 1901-1914

Reclaim The Records is excited to announce that, in coordination with the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, we have acquired the microfilmed indices to approximately 445,000 vital records — births, marriages, and deaths — from the state of New Jersey. They’ve never been available to researchers outside of the Archives building before, and they’ve never been online on any websites, nor downloadable as open data.

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Records Request #6

Current Status:
  • Litigation Filed!
  • Attorneys' Fees Being Sought
  • Fines Against Agency Being Sought
Missouri birth index, 1910-2015

Missouri does not have a basic genealogical birth index available to the public for any year after 1910. But in early 2016, we discovered that Missouri’s state Vital Statistics law actually may allow for the publication of basic birth index data, even though they have not done so in the past. So in February 2016, we filed a request under the Missouri Sunshine Law to get that birth index released to the public. And in November 2016, that request turned into a lawsuit.

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Records Request #7

Current Status:
  • Litigation Filed!
  • Attorneys' Fees Being Sought
  • Fines Against Agency Being Sought
Missouri death index, 1965-2015

In Missouri, death certificates that are more than fifty years old (i.e. pre-1965) are considered open to the public. But Missouri currently does not have a basic genealogical index available to the public for deaths that occurred in the state after 1965. In early 2016, we discovered that Missouri’s state Vital Statistics law actually may allow for the publication of basic death index data, even though they have not done so in the past. So in February 2016, we filed a request under the Missouri Sunshine Law to get that Missouri state death index released to the public. And in November 2016, that request turned into a lawsuit.

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Records Request #8

Current Status:
  • No Formal FOIL Request Needed (Records Release Negotiated with Administrative Officials)
  • Records Have All Been Completely Uploaded!
List of Registered Voters in New York City for 1924

This list of names is exactly what it sounds like, a list of everyone in New York City who was legally registered to vote in the 1924 election. It was originally compiled by the New York City Board of Elections and printed in the City Record, a daily government publication. That means that this kind of registered voters list isn’t under copyright and is potentially available under state Freedom of Information laws — which is exactly the kind of thing we like to acquire and publish.

The list is broken down by the five boroughs (counties) of New York City, and then each borough is broken down by their Assembly Districts.

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