We Want Our Records Back.

And we get them! More than twenty five million records reclaimed to date.

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.

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 >>

July 2018: Reclaim The Records launches our fifth Freedom of Information lawsuit. We’re taking on the New York State Department of Health to acquire and publish their e-mails, vendor agreements, invoices, and other records that may show preferential treatment by the agency towards Ancestry.com in access to public records, in comparison to the six-figure cost estimates, access restrictions, and multi-year delays for individual genealogists and non-profit organizations making identically-worded public record requests. Learn more >>

Recent Records Requests

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.
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.
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

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
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.
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.

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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