Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Reclaim the Records Wins Again: Index to millions of New York marriage records reclaimed!
Here is the latest great announcement from
Greetings from Reclaim The Records! We're that scrappy little activist group of genealogists, historians, journalists, and open government advocates, fighting for better public access to government-held genealogical and historical documents. And today, we're pleased to inform you that we just won our fourth lawsuit! We fought the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) for the index to marriages performed in the state of New York post-1965, and after seven months, a judge has now ruled in our favor
This means that the basic index to millions of marriages in New York State will become available to the public. They'll go online for free public use, without any paywalls or subscriptions or usage agreements. That's because we at Reclaim The Records never charge anyone for records access; instead, we work to bring public data back to the public. 
You can read the backstory of this case here, on our website or you can also read about it in a previous issue of this newsletter. We've also posted online all the documents that go along with it, including all the requests and appeals and denials. And now you can finally read the judge's decision in this case, too — it goes step-by-step through the government's attempts to withhold these genealogical records from the public, and knocks down each excuse.
It makes me start to wonder why the government agencies try to keep these records from being accessed? It would seem that after a few lawsuits they would get the message that refusing to supply public records is not a very good idea. Granted, the Freedom of Information laws are complex and specific, but blanket refusals seem to be the order of the day with some government agencies. I am beginning to believe that the government agencies are refusing merely because they think they can sell the records to other entities and the fact that Reclaim the Records will make them available for free destroys the value of the records to sell. This is not a "privacy" issue but an attempt for the agencies to benefit from selling the records.

I guess we need to remember what the Court said in the above decision;
This Court must bear in mind "that FOIL is to be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly interpreted so that the public is granted maximum access to the records of the government." Matter of Capital Newspapers, Div. of Hearst orp. v Whalen, 69 NY2d 246, 252 (1987). In keeping with that policy, "FOIL provides that all records of a public agency are presumptively open to public inspection and copying unless otherwise specifically exempted." Matter .of Capital Newspapers Div. of Hearst Corp. v Burns, 67 NY2d 562,566 (1986)
FOIL is the Freedom of Information Act. These acts exist in every state of the United States and also the Federal Government. However, I do find that the Court's denial of attorneys' fees to Reclaim the Records to be unconscionable and arbitrary.   

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