Hello I’m Lara Diamond
from Lara’s Genealogy here at RootsTech with Brooke
Ganz of Reclaim the Records. Um Brooke, why don’t you
tell us a little bit about Reclaim the Records and
how you got started? Sure. Okay, well I grew up in New York. And all my family is from New York, my parents, my grandparents,
my great-grandparents, basically all my research
that I want to do in America is in New York. My family got off the
boat from Ellis Island and settled in New York. But I moved to California
and I realized when I lived across the country that it
was very difficult to get any records out of New
York City or New York State because every state and
city do their own thing when it comes to putting records online or partnering with groups like
Ancestry or FamilySearch. Some places it’s very easy to do research, other places, unfortunately
like New York City, it is not easy at all. There is nothing online,
there is very little you can search through. And I got very frustrated living across the country, not wanting
to fly across the country to do my research in
the archives on sight. So in 2015, I realized that
I could use state Freedom of Information Laws to force
the archives to give me a copy, for which I would pay for the copies, and I could then take my
copies and put them online for free, so that finally
New York researchers would have a resource online. And so I filed a Freedom
of Information request with New York City
Municipal Archives in 2015. I think they were a little
surprised because that’s not usually something people
do as a genealogical tool. But it was successful and
I had to unfortunately take them to court to
get them to understand that yes they were subject to the Freedom of Information Law in New York, but we won a settlement. I won all the records I wanted. Which were 48 microfilms
covering the New York City Marriage Index from 1908 to 1929. It wasn’t even actual
marriage certificates, it was just the index. The basic things we need
to do genealogy research. And I got copies of them
and I was able to get them digitized with help from FamilySearch, who very generously donated the scanning and sent me back the
microfilms in a hard drive full of the images. I put them on the internet
archive and they’re now free to use. So that was the first part
of this little project, which I didn’t know was going
to become such a project. And I realized, you know what
there’s so much else out there that could be put online using
Freedom of Information Laws. Why don’t I keep going
with this and see how much I can do? So step two, I decided to continue with the same record sets,
the indexes to New York City Applications, Affidavits,
and Marriage Licenses. And 1930 to the present are
stored at the New York City Clerk’s Office. You know where you go to get
married, at the clerk’s office. So in 2016 I wrote a Freedom
of Information records request to the New York City
Clerk’s Office saying, “Hi, you have the index to all
these old marriage licenses, I would like a copy. I will pay you under the
Freedom of Information Law, will you send me a copy?” They decided not to answer me. Several times. Then they decided not
to answer my attorney or call her back when she
called and left messages many times. So we took them to court too. And we won a settlement. Because again, they are
subject to this law. They are a public entity, they
are a public government body. We won all their records
and we won attorney’s fees. Nice. And those are now in the
process of going online. We won two things, we won
110 microfilms covering 1930 to 1972, but then we
also won a text database covering 1950 to 1995. So there’s some overlap in there. And the text database they
had made for in house use on their own computers. It has some issues with some typos, some transposed letters, things like that. But it’s the first time
we’ve ever had that data. It was 3.1 million records,
which is 6 million names. You know, two parties to a marriage. So, we put it all online. And we are in the process of
getting all the images from the 1930 to 1972 part put online. I was uploading the Bronx 1949 last night. And those will hopefully be completed in the next month or two. Have they been indexed? They have not been indexed yet, that’s the next thing everybody asks me. That’s great that you’ve
got all these images of these things. Who’s going to index them? Well everything Reclaim The Records gets, let me back up and say what
Reclaim The Records is. Go for it. This was just sort of
my crazy little project, born out of my frustration from not having New York records available. But I decided to turn this
into an actual project, a group project because so
many genealogist were having the same problem. So I founded Reclaim The Records. We have a website reclaimtherecords.org. [laughing] And we work together to
get records put online using Freedom of Information Laws. Informing archives and libraries that yes, you have to provide a copy. We’re not asking you for
a favor to give us a copy, you are required under
the law to give us a copy. We’ll pay you for the copies. But you are a public government body, you take tax money, we
want our money’s worth. So one of the things
Reclaim the Records did is we put everything online for free. We used the internet
archive at the moment as our place to put them, but
we’re happy to share with anybody. Everything we post is public domain. No restrictions, no pay walls, no logins. And we’re happy to give
copies to FamilySearch, Ancestry, Find My Past,
MyHeritage, any individual non-profit genealogy group. And two non-profit
genealogy groups in New York are doing an indexing
project, that I know of. That is the Italian Genealogy Group and the German Genealogy Group. Both based in the New York metro area. And they’re creating the
first ever text searchable index of these images. Oh wonderful. Yeah. I mean the images were,
they’re nice to work with because they are broken
down by borough and by year and then they’re alphabetical by surname. So it’s really. And then they’re separated
into brides on one side and grooms on the other. So they’re really easy to work with. But having a tech
searchable version of this would be great. Yes definitely. Yeah, so we encourage people to index, but we don’t really manage that ourselves. We’re happy to let other
people handle that. Okay. So have you
expanded beyond New York? Yes. That’s the other thing too. This is born out of my
personal frustration, but I realize there’s a real
need in genealogy for a group that reclaims records. That gets records that are
not available anywhere else. Not available on FamilySearch
microfilm, or Ancestry, or MyHeritage, or Find My Past,
or any other group. And so we built a website,
reclaimtherecords.org, and we submit, we have people
submit their suggestions for what’s the next record set that we should go after. Record sets that they know exist, not that they wish existed. Right. And that for some reason are very inaccessible to genealogists. Either they are only
available on site in a certain archive or library for
limited operating hours, usually just Monday through Friday, which is hard to get to. Or they’re legally supposed to
be open, but for some reason they are locked behind, you
know, the desk at the library and they don’t let the public see them. Things like that. So we take a lot of suggestions. And we research every suggestion
and if we think it seems worthy, we add it to our
to do list on the website. Our to do list currently
has something like 65 items on it. Some of them are small
for a particular county, some of them are very
large, just the birth index to an entire state that
never had a birth index online for whatever reason. And we filed our first
case outside of New York. Somebody had written in
to Reclaim The Records saying, “I would really love
it if you guys could look into getting more Missouri records.” There is no Missouri
birth index after 1910. Which is when the state
starting keeping the records. And they do release
Missouri death certificates after they’re 50 years old,
so you can make an idex prior to say 1966, but
after 1966 there’s not even a death index. Like not even a listing,
this was a person who died on this date. That’s all we’re asking for. Or this was a person who
was born on this date. Not certificates, just basic
index for basic research. So one day, I saw her email come in, I was reading about it in
my car while I was waiting for a pizza to get made, so I had a little time on my hands. And I was googling Missouri vital records, Missouri’s state Sunshine Law — they call it the Sunshine Law there, whereas New York is the
Freedom of Information Law, every state has a different name. And I realized Missouri’s
law allows for the reveal of just given name, surname, and date of either births or deaths. Which is great for genealogists to know that that record even exists. Exactly, just to even know
that somebody existed. To give you a hint. You’re not giving up any
privacy, really informationy personal information, but just to know. So, I wrote a Missouri
Sunshine Law request. I wrote two, one for the birth index, one for the death index. I wrote those in February of last year and I submitted them. Under the law they’re supposed
to reply in three days. Of course they didn’t. But I was patient and
eventually I got in touch with somebody who said, “Well
yes, I guess under this law you’re entitled to a copy. But we’re going to charge
you a ridiculous amount of money for it. Because we are going to
pretend that we need to run a search on our database for
every single day individually, that we can’t do a full
date search from this date to this date.” So initially the Missouri
Department of Health and Senior Services attempted
to charge us 1.5 million dollars. Oh wow. Yeah, that was very nice of them. They said that’s how long
it would take the hours of a person working there,
working at 42 dollars an hour, to run each day individually. And at that point we hired a lawyer. And we got back to them and
said, “You know, you can do a date range where it’s one
little search that says, search all birthed index
from this date to this date. One search that will take maybe an hour, maybe an extra hour to
run that large of program. It will cost maybe 400 dollars tops. Why are you attempting to
charge us 1.5 million dollars?” After they sort of admitted
that they were overcharging us because they were trying
to get us to go away, they then stopped
responding to my attorney, and we are now suing them. All right, well good luck. Yes. Thank you. So this is sort of our new paradigm. We go after records that
are not available anywhere. We take suggestions from the public, and then we make our records requests and if some government
entity either doesn’t want to respond in the proper time frame, or wants to pretend that the
law doesn’t apply to them when it clearly does — we go in. Okay, and wrapping up
in two sentences or less what are your next plans? Oh good question. We have turned this into a non-profit, we have filed a form to
become a 501[c][3] non profit. I filed the IRS form
1023-EZ the other night. And we are going to do
this, but much larger and hopefully get many many more millions of records released to the public. Okay. Thank you very much. Again, Brooke from Reclaim The Records. Thank you. Thanks for watching.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Keep up that fantastic work! Can't believe that those organizations just bury their heads in the sand when your FOI comes in, and then try to 'scam' you. Hope you're successful in your latest case.

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