Records Request #09

Index to New York State Marriages (Outside of New York City), 1880-2016

Reclaim The Records is working on a new FOIL request, asking for the basic index to all marriages conducted in New York State (minus New York City), up to 2016. For several years, a small part of the index has been available to the public at a few public libraries, plus the NARA branch in Manhattan, but only on hard-to-use microfiche. We are asking for the information in digital form for the first time ever, and we are also asking for the data to extend far past the mi-twentieth century, all the way up to 2016, based in the outcome of a 1993 lawsuit from Gannett Newspapers. 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:

Pursuant to the New York State Freedom of Information Law (1977 N.Y. Laws ch. 933), I hereby request the following records:

I would like to receive a copy of the New York State marriage index, from 1881 (or as early as such records are available) through December 31, 2016, inclusive. This request is for the basic index only, which might also be known as a “marriage log” or a “finding aid” or a “database extract” or similar terms. Please note that I am not requesting any actual marriage certificates or marriage licenses.

Through discussions with the attorneys at the New York State Committee on Open Government (COOG), I believe this basic statewide marriage index is legally available to the public under FOIL, based on the outcome of the 1993 lawsuit “Gannett Co., Inc. v. City Clerk’s Office, City of Rochester” [596 NYS2d 968 (1993)]. A copy of that decision may be found online at this URL:
https://www.leagle.com/decision/1993506157misc2d3491455.xml

Furthermore, I recently used that case as the basis of two successful FOIL requests and legal petitions for the New York City (not State) marriage license index, one filed in 2015 against the New York City Department of Records and Information Services for the 1908-1929 portion of the marriage index, and one in 2016 against the New York City Clerk’s Office for the 1930-1995 portion of the marriage index. In both cases, the agencies eventually conceded that the information was legally available under FOIL, and I received my records, and later published them. However, those two requests only covered New York City records, as the city and the rest of the state are considered entirely separate vital records jurisdictions, and the non-NYC records are held by the New York State Department of Health in Albany.

The Department of Health has already compiled and made available to the public some of the years of this statewide marriage index. For several decades now, the earlier years of this marriage index have been available for free public use at a number of New York libraries, albeit in an old-fashioned microfiche format with availability limited by their locations and operating hours, as well as the deteriorating quality of the microfiche sheets. While the Department of Education does control those libraries, the state vital records microfiche there are still the property of the Department of Health, and are merely on long-term loan to the libraries. Therefore this FOIL request is directed to you at the Department of Health, and not to them. Furthermore, a set of these marriage index microfiche have also been made available by the Department of Health to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Manhattan.

The public statewide marriage index on microfiche only covers marriages that took place through approximately 1965 or 1966; it does not extend up to the present day. Perhaps the state felt (incorrectly) that because actual marriage certificates are restricted from the public for a rolling fifty-year period that the basic index to the marriages must also be restricted for fifty years. However, this is incorrect based on the plain reading of the 1993 Gannett case referenced above, and as evidenced by numerous Advisory Opinions issued by COOG in the years since then, not to mention our own 2016 success in winning the NYC marriage index records all the way up through 1995. Therefore, this FOIL request includes all years of the state marriage index up through 2016, and does not end merely when the publicly available microfiche production ended.

I would prefer to receive these records in raw database format, preferably in SQL or CSV format on a USB hard drive, wherever possible. Clearly at some point there was an original state database that was printed out to create the pre-1965 paper copies, which were then photographed and turned into the microfiche. However, if that database is no longer available — and if not, why not? what happened to it? — then I will settle for high quality digital scans of the microfiche sheets, although I recognize they may be damaged or degraded. For more recent years (post-1965 or so), I presume some sort of compiled or transcribed database does still exist, as those years were never turned into microfiche; for those recent years, I would like to receive the files in their raw database format. 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 marriage 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 5 business days, as the statute requires.

Record Set Details:

  • Record Content Type: Marriage Records
  • Record Years: 1880-2016
  • Record Format: Index
  • Record Physical Format: Microfilm, plus possible database
  • Number of Records (Estimated): Unknown