"Public data for public use"
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Our second newsletter: the one where we have forty-six microfilms sitting in our kitchen


Welcome to the second issue of Reclaim The Records' e-mail newsletter! We're that plucky upstart public records advocacy group that's been using state Freedom of Information laws to regain public access to genealogical and historical records. We won our first FOIL case, and we're looking ahead to a big to-do list for the forseeable future.

In the six weeks since we've publicly launched to the genealogy world, we've had over 1,000 supporters subscribe to this newsletter and more than 1,100 people Like our Facebook page. We can't even begin to thank everyone for their kind messages and attagirls we've received. You guys are awesome. Your enthusiasm and support for this initiative has meant a lot.

Hot off the presses

We made it into quite a few blogs in the past few weeks. A selection:

Worth a thousand words

Look what just showed up on the doorstep, three days ago:

Records Arrived!  #1 of 2 Records Arrived!  #2 of 2

That's right, it's the microfilms we won from the New York City Municipal Archives in our first FOIL request! 46 of the 48 films have arrived, and the other two are coming in a few weeks. They're fresh, new copies and they're beautiful.

This index had never been out of New York City before -- but now, thanks to the New York Freedom of Information Law, a second copy exists, and is currently sitting in a California kitchen, waiting to get scanned. Next stop: the Internet!

Plans are in place to get these films digitized quickly, and put online for free before the end of 2015. (And yes, we have back-up plans in case those plans fall through.) They'll initially be posted online at the non-profit Internet Archive, which is not only free for researchers to use, but also won't charge anything for image hosting or bandwidth. The records themselves don't have a copyright (because they were created by the government) and they don't have any usage restrictions, so any group, non-profit organization, for-profit company, or individual researcher will be allowed to do anything they want with the images and the data within them.

We hope these images will turn up on all your favorite genealogy websites before long, and maybe they'll have an indexing and transcription project someday. But we're leaving that entirely up to you guys, the genealogical community. Our primary focus is on getting "unavailable" record sets like this one back to the public; everything that happens after that is out of our hands.

A small correction

We previously estimated that this particular marriage index records set, spanning 1908-1929, would have 600,000 records in it. We have since found a paper published online with historical vital statistics for New York City, and while its data is only available in five-year chunks for the early twentieth century, it looks like the real number of brides and grooms in NYC in this twenty-two-year time period would be closer to 450,000 than 600,000. The Management regrets the error.

What's on the menu?

We've started setting up new individual Records Request pages on our website to better organize all the information about the case we won plus the next four records requests that are on our agenda for early 2016. We'll update each of these individual pages as the requests get underway, to keep track of the status of everything:

Each of these four new requests is going to be sent to totally different government agencies in New York City, New York State, and New Jersey.  It will be interesting to see how each agency chooses to handle this kind of request under FOIL (NY and NYC) or OPRA (NJ).  Will they be helpful?  Will they be obstructionist? Will they know how to correctly follow their state's legal requirements when dealing with public records requests?

Well, I guess we're going to find out!

So many closed records!

Seventy-seven people have taken our Records Survey so far, and thanks to their suggestions, we now have fifty-one separate items on our "to-do" list for the future. Keep 'em coming! We didn't really realize how systemic a problem these "closed" public records were. It will take time, but we are going to start going after those records, set by set.

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