In 2016, Reclaim The Records filed a successful FOIL request that obtained the first-ever public copy of the New York City marriage license index for 1930-1995. In September 2017, we filed a brand new FOIL request with the New York City Clerk’s Office asking for the continuation of that data, covering marriages from 1996-2016. You can follow along with our request at its MuckRock page. Here was the text of our request:
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Brooke Schreier Ganz and I am the founder and president of a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called Reclaim The Records. Pursuant to the New York State Freedom of Information Law (1977 N.Y. Laws ch. 933), I hereby request the following, on behalf of our organization:
We would like an extract of the database of all New York City marriage records from January 1, 1996 through December 31, 2016, inclusive. These records are held at your agency, the New York City Clerk’s office. Please note that we are not asking for any actual marriage certificates or licenses, which we recognize have strict privacy rules. We are only seeking a basic index or finding aid to these records.
This request is a follow-up to a successful FOIL request that I made of your department last year, where I asked for a copy of the index to New York City marriage licenses from 1930-2015. After your office neglected to respond to both my FOIL request and my FOIL appeal in a timely manner, I filed an Article 78 petition in the Supreme Court of New York in mid-2016. Your office eventually settled that case with me, paid my attorneys fees, and delivered the index, which consisted of more than one hundred microfilm copies and several Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. However, I had asked in that original request for an index to all marriage records through 2015, but my attorney and I were told by your office that you could only provide me with an index up to 1995. Your office told us that starting in 1996, there was no longer a separately compiled “index” to marriages conducted in New York City, as the data started to become “born digital” at that point, and was inputted directly into a computer database. I accepted this as part of our legal settlement, and so I agreed to only accept the separate marriage index through 1995.
Therefore, our organization is now asking for an extract of the information in this 1996-to-present marriage database, as this information would be analogous to a marriage index or a “marriage log” as defined in the law, and it would complete the years of information available to the public about New York City marriages.
We recognize that there may be parts of this marriage database that cannot be turned over in a FOIL request, as they would likely be infringing on people’s privacy. Under FOIL, your agency is still required to provide us a sub-set of the information in the database, removing any columns of data that are too intrusive.
We request that the columns of data in this database extract include — at the very least — the same fields of data you already turned over to me in my previous FOIL request, which you agreed at that time were acceptable under the law. These database fields include:
– Bride (or Spouse #1) given name
– Bride (or Spouse #1) middle name
– Bride (or Spouse #1) surname
– Groom (or Spouse #2) given name
– Groom (or Spouse #2) middle name
– Groom (or Spouse #2) surname
– date of marriage license application
– county or Borough of marriage license application
– marriage license number
In this case, we would appreciate your including any other database fields which may reasonably be disclosed under the law, such as:
– Bride (or Spouse #1) name suffix (i.e. “Junior”)
– Bride (or Spouse #1) sex
– Bride (or Spouse #1) city, state, and/or country of birth
– Bride (or Spouse #1) city, state, and/or country of residence
– Groom (or Spouse #2) name suffix (i.e. “Junior”)
– Groom (or Spouse #2) sex
– Groom (or Spouse #2) city, state, and/or country of birth
– Groom (or Spouse #2) city, state, and/or country of residence
– any other database fields or columns that are not explicitly disallowed under the law
Please refer to the following case for a discussion of what has already been deemed to be public and not-public in a New York marriage index: “Gannett Co., Inc. v. City Clerk’s Office, City of Rochester”, 596 NYS 2d 968, affirmed unanimously, 197 AD 2d 919 (1993).
Please also read the New York State Committee on Open Government (COOG)’s published Advisory Opinions on “Marriage Records” and “Matrimonial Records”, some of which are available online on their public website: http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/foil_listing/fm.html They discuss what kinds of information in a marriage index or log are considered to be open to the public, and which ones can or should be withheld.
We would prefer to receive this database or database extract in SQL or CSV format, on a USB hard drive, with insured and trackable shipping to California; we will be happy to pay for all of this. The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes. Please inform us of any potential charges in advance of fulfilling our request. 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. We look forward to receiving your response to this request within five business days, as the statute requires.
We very much hope that we will not have to take your office to court again.