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

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.
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.
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.
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.

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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