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Friday, April 19, 2019

Reclaim the Records Files the Biggest Lawsuit Ever

Newsletter from
If you are a genealogist and you are unfamiliar with Reclaim the Records, you should be not only familiar with them, but actively supporting them. Record access is one of the major obstacles to genealogical research. Granted, some records, such as the 1890 U.S. Federal Census have been lost through bungling and mismanagement. Other records have been lost through natural disasters and poor conservation practices. But here in the United States, many valuable genealogical records are merely unavailable to genealogical researchers either because they have been hidden behind a paywall or, what is worse, a bureaucratic wall. These obstacles affect all of us, whether we are searching out our ancestors or not.

Recognizing this problem, many years ago, legislatures across the U.S. began passing Freedom of Information Acts (FOI). The Federal Government and all the states each have their own version of this type of law. See Wikipedia: Freedom of Information in the United States.

Now we get to the non-profit corporation called Reclaim The Records. This small group of lawyers and genealogists have been using the FOIs to "liberate" records for some time now. They have successfully liberated millions of records so far and, as shown above, they are now filing a major lawsuit that could have repercussions throughout the entire country. You need to read the entire newsletter to appreciate what is happening. But here is a short quote from the newsletter to get you started:
We just filed a new lawsuit, the biggest, baddest Freedom of Information lawsuit that we've ever filed. It's a milestone case, not only for our organization, but also for how genealogists, historians, and researchers as a community deal with government agencies who routinely withhold historical records from the public, and who pass capricious and irrational restrictions on public access. 
Yesterday afternoon, in the Supreme Court of New York, New York County, we filed an Article 78 Petition against the following agencies and people:
  • The New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene
  • The New York City Bureau of Vital Statistics
  • The New York City Board of Health
  • Oxiris Barbot in her official capacity as New York City Commissioner of Health
  • Gretchen Van Wye in her official capacity as New York City Registrar
  • And last but certainly not least, Steven P. Schwartz in his official capacity as former New York City Registrar
This Petition challenges not only the Department of Health's refusal to disclose records to us based on New York's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), but it also challenges the Department of Health's restrictive regulations themselves. Additionally, this is the first time that our organization has gone after actual vital record certificates, as opposed to a records index of some sort.
I am sure you will want to follow the progress of this particular lawsuit. Here is a link to the petition.

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