We Want Our Records Back.

And we get them! More than sixty million records reclaimed so far

We’re Reclaim The Records, a new not-for-profit activist group of genealogists, historians, researchers, and open government advocates. We identify important genealogical records sets that ought to be in the public domain but which are being wrongly restricted by government archives, libraries, and agencies. We file Freedom of Information and Open Data requests to get that public data released back to the public. And if the government doesn’t comply, we take them to court.

Then we digitize everything we win and put it all online for free, without any paywalls or usage restrictions, so that it can never be locked up again. Learn more about our work and sign up for our newsletter.

Help us reclaim even more.

We started our work in New York City in 2015, expanded to three new vital records jurisdictions in 2016, and became a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2017. Your support helps us continue the fight for open records nationwide.

November 2023: Reclaim The Records announces THE MARYLAND MOTHERLODE, an enormous collection — more than a century — of Maryland birth, marriage, death, and naturalization indices and vital certificates. Most of these records have never been available online anywhere before, or were previously only accessible within the Maryland State Archives building in Annapolis. We used the Maryland Public Information Act to acquire digital copies of these documents, more than five million records. Learn more >>

August 2023: Reclaim The Records publishes ConnecticutGenealogy.org, a new searchable website (totally free to use, of course) with the indices to more than 5.5 million of the Nutmeg State’s birth, marriage, death, and civil union records. We’re also still fighting with the Connecticut Department of Public Health for public access to millions of other years of their state birth index, currently locked away in a decades-old FoxPro database, which the state is attempting to claim as a novel kind of FOIA exemption. Learn more >>

March 2023: Reclaim The Records sues the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Freedom of Information Act, for the second time in two years*. This time, it’s for the agency’s continued refusal to process eighty-nine separate FOIA requests made over a three year period about priceless historical records in the agency’s possession, and about the policies, procedures, manuals, vendor reports, budgets, e-mails, and calendar entries that would shed light on the agency’s activities with respect to these records. Learn more >>
* oh, and we won that earlier case, too 🙂

February 2022: Reclaim The Records sues the New York City Municipal Archives (yes, again), this time to reclaim and publish digital copies of every already-digitized historical document held by the agency, including all uncertified copies of historical NYC vital records. This lawsuit was undertaken in specific response to the city’s highly unusual new licensing and “permissions” rules, and their associated fees, concerning public use and re-use of their historical materials, even for non-profit or educational purposes. Learn more >>

May 2021: Reclaim The Records submits our lengthy public comment to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), giving a very detailed overview of their agency’s failure to make historical immigration and naturalization files available to the public. We describe how the agency has been pushing all pre-1951 records requests into an unnecessarily expensive pathway for access that also subverts the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), while at the same time refusing to hand over many disclosable public materials to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in denial of their own agency’s accepted record retention schedules. Learn more >>

October 2020: Reclaim The Records takes on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), asking for copies of hundreds of millions, and possibly billions, of historical records from the agency, both digital images and the text metadata that makes them searchable, which were originally created through their long-running public-private partnership program. These digital records were solely made available to commercial entities long after their exclusive “embargo” periods were over, but the files were never made freely available to the public by the agency, as had been promised for years. We’ve been told that this is possibly the single largest FOIA request, and soon to be FOIA lawsuit, in American history. 😳 Learn more >>

April 2020: Reclaim The Records won our Missouri Sunshine Law case! After four and half years of work, we won our case against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to acquire and publish the first-ever free public copies of the Missouri statewide birth index and death index! We were also awarded our attorneys fees, and in an unusual move, we even won $12,000 in fines against the agency for four instances where they ‘knowingly and purposely’ violated the Sunshine Law. Read the judge’s ruling, and Learn more >>

April 2019: Reclaim The Records launches our ninth Freedom of Information lawsuit. It’s our biggest lawsuit ever. We’re taking on the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Board of Health, Commissioner of Health, City Registrar, and the former City Registrar. We’re fighting for the public’s right to access uncertified copies of ~1.6 million death certificates for New Yorkers who died between 1949-1968. These records would be open to the public if those deaths had occurred in any other county in New York State outside the city limits. And we’re also suing to overturn New York City’s recently-enacted and thoroughly awful rules restricting public access to historical records. Learn more >>

October 2018: Reclaim The Records launches our eighth Freedom of Information lawsuit. We’re taking on the New York City Municipal Archives to acquire and publish a portion of the Brooklyn (Kings county) “Old Town” records, approximately 143 microfilms worth of material from 1670-1898. These documents cover births, marriages, deaths — including for many enslaved people in New York! — as well as school records, tax records, military records, manumission papers, and more. They’ve never been online before. And yet the NYC Archives refused to make copies of these valuable records under the Freedom of Information Law. Learn more >>

Recent Records Requests

Mississippi state death index

The Mississippi State Death Index (1912-1943)

One young genealogist's tenacity leads to thirty-one years of Mississippi state history finally going online
No litigation needed! All records online.
Image from a Baltimore, Maryland death certificate

The Maryland Motherlode: Births, Marriages, Deaths, and Naturalizations

More than five million records from the Maryland State Archives covering more than a century, both the basic text indices and full vital records certificates 🤩 most of them never publicly available online before
Records released through successful Maryland Public Information Act request All received records online.

New York City Birth Certificates, 1910-1917

They're more than 100 years old, but NYC won't let us see them.
NY FOIL request in planning stage against NYC DOH

Index to Deaths in Albany, New York, 1880-1915

Corruption's such an old song that we can sing along in harmony, And nowhere is it stronger than in Albany
NY FOIL request filed with Albany City Clerk's Office on September 6, 2017
New York State Death Index

Index to New York State Deaths (Outside of New York City), 1880-1956

It took us seventeen months of fighting with the government just to get a list of the names of dead people.
Legal wrangling but no litigation needed! All records online.
Buffalo Death Index

Index to Deaths in Buffalo, New York, 1852-1944

These records were sitting on a hard drive in a city government's Inactive Records Center, not online for public use. We fixed that.
No litigation needed! All records online.
Screenshot of the Connecticut Genealogy Index

The Connecticut Genealogy Index

More than 5.5 million genealogical records to search through...except for the ones the state still has locked up in an ancient FoxPro database they claim they can't use
Records release mostly negotiated! But many still locked up in the state's archaic database system All received records online.
NYC Geographical Birth Index

Geographic Index to New York City Births, late 19th to early 20th centuries

A new tool to find people born in New York City, especially if their birth records had spelling variants or poor handwriting
No litigation needed! All records online.

Washington State Marriage, Divorce, and Death Indices, c. 1907-2017

The legislature now wants to lock away indices that have always been public. Nuh-uh.
Washington PRA request filed with Dept. of Health, Secretary of State, and State Archives on January 30, 2019.
Screenshot of the Missouri Birth Index website

Missouri Birth Index, 1920(ish)-2015

They tried to charge us $1.5 million for a public records request. Then they decided to ignore the state Sunshine Law altogether.
Litigation successful! Motion for Summary Judgment granted April 15, 2020
NYC Marriage License Index

Index to New York City Marriage Licenses, 1908-1929

What do you do when a city archive won’t share its records with the public? Fight back. Read about our pilot project that started it all.
Litigation successful! All records online.
Release The Kraken!

All already-digitized New York City historical records and their associated text metadata. (Yes, all.)

"Release The Kraken!"
Litigation in progress! Case filed February 14, 2022.
New Jersey marriage index

New Jersey Birth, Marriage, and Death Indices, 1901-1903 and 1901-1914

We acquired and published the first public twentieth century vital records indices for New Jersey.
No litigation needed! All records online.
Yonkers NY Death Index book from the 1870's

Index to Deaths in Yonkers, New York, c. 1870-1915

"Out there, there's a world outside of Yonkers..."
FOIL Appeal (constructive denial) sent March 13, 2019
The New York State birth index

Index to New York State Births (Outside of New York City), 1881-1942

Finally, New York researchers can ditch the microfiche sheets and join the twenty-first century.
No litigation needed! All records online.

Social Security Applications and Claims Index

Almost 100,000,000 public records have been available only through a $300/year paywalled commercial website. We're gonna change that.
FOIA request filed with Social Security Administration on September 20, 2017
The Nebraska Death Index

The Nebraska Death Index (1904-1968)

That time we successfully appealed to a state Attorney General while waiting to board an international flight
No litigation needed! All records online.

Index to New York City domestic partnership records, 1993-2017

?All people and all families deserve to have their genealogical records available to them.
NY FOIL request in planning stage against NYC Clerk's Office
Photo of DVD containing the records we won

Index to New York City Marriage Licenses, 1996-2017

Wait, you mean we’re gonna have to sue the same city agency again? Over the same records set? After they lost to us last time?
Litigation successful! All records online
Screenshot of the Missouri Death Index website

Missouri Death Index, 1968-2015

They tried to charge us $1.5 million for a public records request. Then they decided to ignore the state Sunshine Law altogether.
Litigation successful! Motion for Summary Judgment granted April 15, 2020
New York State marriage index

Index to New York State Marriages (Outside of New York City), 1881-2017

NYS DOH gave us only half of the files we'd requested, and initially they didn't even explain why. So we sued them -- and won!
Litigation successful! Case filed August 24, 2018, judgment rendered March 13, 2019. CASE ON APPEAL BY THE STATE as of May 1, 2019.
Reclaim The Records vs Veterans Affairs

Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File

When a veteran dies, why is their basic service data locked up forever behind a $300/year commercial website's paywall?
Litigation in progress! FOIA lawsuit filed in United States District Court (SDNY) on September 17, 2018.
Photo of the microfilms we received

Index to New York City Marriage Licenses, 1930-1995

Yes, you can fight city hall — and win! Of course, it helps if the city refuses to return your e-mails and calls until you take them to court.
Litigation successful! All records online (minus Queens 1971-72 images)
Reclaim The Records - New Jersey Geographical Birth Index

The New Jersey Geographic Birth Index and Delayed Birth Index, 1901-1929

Homegrown in the Garden State
Records release negotiated! No legal wrangling needed! All records online.
Reclaim The Records vs. NYC Municipal Archives - Brooklyn (Kings County) 'Old Town' records

Brooklyn (Kings County) “Old Town” Records

Welcome to the single stupidest lawsuit we've ever had to file against a government agency
Litigation in progress! Case filed October 15, 2018.
New Jersey Death Index

New Jersey Death Index, 1904-2017

Why should these records be available if you're onsite at the state archives, but not available on the Internet?
Legal wrangling but no litigation needed! All records online.
Wyoming Death Index

Wyoming Marriage, Death, and Divorce Indices, 1900-1965

Frozen in a snowbank outside of Laramie? We got your record. Thrown off your wagon team in Cheyenne? We got your record too.
Coming soon...
Group Photo at NYC DOH public comments hearing, October 2017

New York City death certificates 1949-1968 and nullification of NYC DOH records access rules

Remember that time the NYC DOH ignored ~6,000 public comments unanimously in opposition to their terrible records access rules?
Litigation in progress! Case filed April 17, 2019.
Reclaim The Records - New Jersey Marriage Index - example #2

New Jersey Marriage Index, 1901-2016

We acquired and published the first-ever data set of everyone married in the Garden State
Legal wrangling, but no litigation needed! All records online.
List of Registered Voters, 1924

List of Registered Voters in New York City for 1924

Historical voter data is often covered by Freedom of Information laws. We were the first to publish this often-overlooked resource online.
No litigation needed! All records online.

Lectures and Presentations

Upcoming Talks

August 1: Lecture at the annual IAJGS Conference in Cleveland, OH
August 22-23: Two presentations at the annual Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference in Washington, DC
September 12: Lecture at the Contra Costa County Genealogical Society in Concord (San Francisco Bay Area), CA
September 19: Lecture at the annual Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) Professional Management Conference in Salt Lake City, UT
October 2: Lecture via videoconference to JGS of Cleveland, Beachwood, OH
October 19: Lecture at the Irish Family History Forum in Bethpage (Long Island), NY

Recent Talks

2019: Recorded lecture with live Q&A at Capital Region JGS (Albany, NY);  Online Lecture for Legacy FamilyTree Webinars; hosted the bimonthly #genchat; San Ramon Valley Genealogy Society (Danville, CA);
2018: JGS of Washington State (Bellevue, WA); Mt. Diablo Genealogical Society (Walnut Creek, CA); Fairfax Genealogical Society (Vienna, VA); JGS of Maryland (Baltimore, MD); National Genealogical Society annual conference (Grand Rapids, MI)
2017: Live-Streamed Lecture at the 2017 IAJGS conference (Orlando, FL); Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society; San Luis Obispo County Genealogy Society; Oakland FamilySearch Library with the San Francisco Bay Area JGS; JGS of Cleveland (Beachwood, OH, via videoconference)
2016: JGS of Long Island (Plainview, NY); The Center For Jewish History (New York, NY); Lecture at the 2016 IAJGS conference (Seattle, WA); San Francisco Bay Area JGS (San Francisco, CA)

"Intellectual Freedom Fighters"

...according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association

Nothing gets under the skin of government bureaucracy or large-scale genealogy corporations quite like Reclaim the Records, a group of genealogists-turned-activists who file Freedom of Information and Open Data requests to make government records published… Their dedication and endurance in filing lawsuits and cutting through red tape benefits us all. Moreover, their jocular tone is not only refreshing, it’s much more readable for non-expert audiences. Most researchers in genealogy are not professionals; they are simply the curious family members, the designated relatives for keeping the family history. Reclaim the Records is the hero we deserve, and the one we need.

Read the ALA’s full article about our work

Awards and Recognition

FGS Director's Award

WINNER of the Federation of Genealogical Societies 2017 Director’s Award, presented in recognition of both exceptional contributions to the field of genealogy and family history, and extra-mile efforts to promote good will and improve services.

IAJGS Outstanding Project of the Year

WINNER of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies 2017 award for Best Project for our work bringing genealogical and archival records back to the public.

EFF Foilies Award

WINNER of a 2017 Electronic Frontier Foundation Foilies Award for our records requests and subsequent lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, recognized as exposing one of “the year’s worst in government transparency.”

Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE/NICAR) - Golden Padlock Award Finalist

Our open records work and ongoing lawsuit in Missouri led to the state’s Department of Health being named a FINALIST for the 2017 Golden Padlock Award, which is given annually at the IRE/NICAR banquet to “the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States.” This satiric award usually honors the work of television and newspaper investigative teams in uncovering government corruption; we were the first archives-related organization to be recognized.

John Stedman Memorial Grant Recipient

TWO-TIME WINNER of the annual $3,000 grant for genealogical records projects that provide access to new sources. 2018: Grant awarded for our upcoming FOIL request and likely lawsuit for the New York City birth and death index; 2017: Grant awarded for our ongoing lawsuit for the Missouri birth and death index.

Do you know about records that ought to be available to the public, but aren’t? Take our Records Survey and tell us about them!

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

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