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RECLAIM THE RECORDS
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Our fourteenth newsletter:
Images of the index to marriages in NYC for 1930-1945 now online, more to come soon

 

Hello again from Reclaim The Records, your friendly neighborhood records access activists! We're back with some more free and unique genealogy resources for everyone to enjoy, made possible through the creative and persistent use of the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

As many of you know, Reclaim The Records has twice filed lawsuits against New York City government agencies to pry public records off their shelves and put them online for free use, where they belong. Our first case was in 2015 against the parent agency of the NYC Municipal Archives; in that case, we won microfilm copies of the index to NYC marriages for 1908-1929, which had originally been kept by the City Clerk's Office. Those 1908-1929 files all went online for free at the Internet Archive last year, about 80,000 images.

The Italian Genealogy Group (IGG) and the German Genealogy Group (GGG), two great non-profit genealogy groups based in the New York metro area, have stepped up to create the first-ever transcribed database of those 1908-1929 marriage index images, a project that they are currently working on with some very hard-working volunteers. (And you can help them transcribe those records!)

In our second lawsuit, filed in 2016, we were asking for copies of the continuation of those same marriage index files, from 1930 to the present, which were stored at the New York City Clerk's Office. We ended up winning copies of 110 microfilms of the index images for 1930-1972, plus a separate text-only database that covered 1950-1995. It's a good thing that we won both record sets, because it turned out that the City Clerk's text database has some data quality problems and gaps, including at least 28,000 missing records for Manhattan for 1967. But since we also won the microfilms, we can index all those images too, and thereby create our own text database that can supplement and correct the city's text database.

We're happy that the 1950-1995 text database, which has over three million records mentioning over six million names, has had a great reception in the past few months:

  • We originally posted the raw data online and also made our own free searchable front-end at NYCMarriageIndex.com.
  • Then one of the volunteer groups we mentioned before, the GGG, added the data to their website for free searches too.
  • And then a few weeks ago, genealogy company MyHeritage added the data to their site too, integrated into their record offerings. (We also wouldn't be surprised if that information eventually started showing up in their customers' e-mail inboxes as part of their Smart Matching technology for family trees.)

Hopefully other companies and organizations will choose to add this marriage data to their websites too -- but as always, that's entirely up to them.

Anyway. As we mentioned, we also won 110 microfilms consisting of images of the New York City marriage index for 1930-1972. FamilySearch was kind enough to digitize all those films for us for free, and we received from them the portable hard drive containing them on January 2nd. We've been working on uploading them to the Internet Archive for free use, just as we did for the earlier films last year.

There are 176,136 brand new images.

And we're writing today to say that we've got the first big batch online now, with more to come soon.

Page from the Bronx marriage index for 1945

And here they are!

MANHATTAN (New York county):
1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939
1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | (more to come...)

BROOKYN (Kings county):
1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939
1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | (more to come...)

BRONX (Bronx county):
1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939
1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | (more to come...)

QUEENS (Queens county):
1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939
1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | (more to come...)

STATEN ISLAND (Richmond county):
1939-1940 | 1941-1942 | 1943-1944 | 1945-1946 | 1947-1948 | 1949-1950 | (more to come...)

We spent this past Monday onsite at the Internet Archive building in San Francisco, borrowing their extremely fast Internet so that we could get more of these new records online sooner. We'll probably go back onsite to the Archive at least once a week over the next few months until we finish uploading all the records, up through 1972. But we thought you'd want to get started on this early batch.

As always, all of these images are in the public domain and freely available without logins or paywalls, and you are welcome to do anything you like with them.

 

I found a name, now what?

If you find a familiar name of a bride or groom in those marriage indices, you should then order a copy of the actual three-page marriage record -- the license, application, and affidavit. That record is not the same as the better known two-page Health Department marriage certificates that were microfilmed by FamilySearch several years ago. In New York City, all marriage records more than fifty years old are considered to be open to the public, so it's just a matter of figuring out to which city agency you should direct your request: the Municipal Archives for 1949 or earlier, and the City Clerk's Office for 1950 and later.

 

In other news...

  • We are honored to have been chosen as the "Best New Genealogy Product of 2016" in the annual GeneAwards by genealogy blogger Tamura Jones. This is especially cool given that our "product" is given away for free. 😉
     
  • We had a great time presenting two talks in the New York metro area in December, one at the Center for Jewish History and one to the JGS of Long Island. We have more talks scheduled for 2017, including Cleveland, Oakland, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Clara. If you're a genealogy or historical society interested in learning more about how you and your members can use Freedom of Information laws to get access to new record sets, let us know. (Doing a talk by Skype or other videoconferencing is fine, too.)
     
  • We'll be at the annual Family History Technology Workshop at BYU in Provo, Utah on Feburary 7 and at the big annual RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City from February 8-12. It's like genealogy summer camp! If you have some ideas for new record sets for us to pursue in the coming year, we should hang out and talk and get coffee or the non-caffeinated drink of your choice. We're also thinking of doing some kind of small get-together for Reclaim The Records fans sometime that week; details to follow...
     
  • As of January 1, 2017, most adult New Jersey adoptees can finally get copies of their original birth certificates. Hooray!
     
  • We were recently interviewed by NPR about our pending Missouri Sunshine Law case to try to get copies of the first-ever birth index and the first-ever post-1965 death index released for that state. The headline kind of speaks for itself: "Missouri Sunshine Law Request Yields $1.5 Million Tab, Then $5,000, Then Outright Refusal". Online news site TechDirt covered the story too and their commenters seemed mostly in favor of releasing the data, and indignant that Missouri is trying such shenanigans.
     
  • Meanwhile, right next door to Missouri, the state of Oklahoma just published its first-ever birth index and death index earlier this month! Good job, Oklahoma! They took exactly the right approach: they proactively published the basic index data (not actual certificates) with names, dates, gender, county name, and the certificate number, and let people do free public searches on the data. Then, when those researchers inevitably find some names of interest, the same website helpfully directs them right to the proper links to order a copy from the state.

    Researchers can finally find their Oklahoma family, and the Oklahoma Department of Health Vital Record Division gets some much-needed revenue from fulfilling the increased vital record orders, and everyone's happy. Win-win!

    Now why can't all states be like that?
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