Reclaim The Records is working on a new FOIL request, asking for the basic index to all births in New York State (minus New York City), up to 1942. For several years, a small part of the index has been available to the public at a few public libraries, plus the National Archives (NARA) branch in Manhattan, but only on hard-to-use microfiche. Most libraries only have the microfiche information up through about 1936, but we’ve heard through the grapevine that we may be able to get the data up through 1942, so that’s what we’re going for. You can follow this request’s progress in real-time at its page on MuckRock.com. Here is the text of the request we sent:
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Brooke Schreier Ganz, and I am the president and founder of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Reclaim The Records. We use Freedom of Information laws to obtain copies of important genealogical record sets, which we then publish online for free public use, returning the records to the public domain. Pursuant to the New York State Freedom of Information Law (1977 N.Y. Laws ch. 933), I hereby request the following records on behalf of our organization:
I would like to receive a copy of the New York State birth index, from 1880 (or as early as such records are available) through December 31, 1942, inclusive. This request is for the basic index or “finding aid” only; please note that I am not requesting any actual birth certificates.
The New York State Department of Health has already compiled and made available to the public some of the years of this statewide birth index. For several decades now, the earlier years of this birth index, through approximately 1936, have been available for free public use at a number of New York public libraries. The index through approximately 1942 is supposedly available at the Manhattan branch of the National Archives (NARA). We have also heard that your office has recently told other FOIL requestors of the birth index’s public availability through 1942. However, no matter the date range, this index seems to only be available in an old-fashioned microfiche format, with its public availability limited as to locations and operating hours, as well as the deteriorating quality of the microfiche sheets.
While the New York State Department of Education does control the libraries where this index is available, the state vital records microfiche there are still the property of the Department of Health, and are merely on long-term loan to those libraries. Therefore this FOIL request is directed to you at the Department of Health, and not to them.
At some point in the past there was evidently a real statewide birth index database, and it was clearly printed out on paper copies which were then photographed and turned into the state birth index microfiche sheets. Therefore, I would prefer to receive these records in a raw database format, preferably in SQL or CSV format on a USB hard drive, wherever possible. However, if that state birth database is no longer available — and if not, why not? what happened to it? — then I will settle for accepting these records as high quality digital scans of the microfiche sheets, although I recognize they may be damaged or degraded. I am willing to pay the costs associated with the records production, along with the costs of the USB hard drive and any insured shipping costs to California, if needed. Please inform me of any potential charges in advance of fulfilling my request.
This request is not being made for commercial purposes. The requested records will be scanned and uploaded to the Internet, and will be made freely available to the general public. It is anticipated that some non-profit genealogical groups may choose to transcribe the information in the birth index, to turn it into a new text-searchable database. We would be happy to share any such database with the Department of Health.
Please also be advised that this FOIL request is being filed publicly through the website MuckRock.com, and all correspondence about this request will be immediately published to the general public.
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within five business days, as the statute requires.