New Freedom of Information Lawsuit filed by Reclaim the Records for New York Marriage Records

From an email message sent by Reclaim the Records:

Happy New Year from Reclaim The Records! We’re kicking off 2018 in style, by launching a new freedom of information lawsuit, our fourth one to date, against a government agency that is refusing to provide genealogical records to the public, in violation of state law.

We’re going after the 1996-2016 section of the New York City marriage license database, which is several million records. These aren’t actual marriage licenses or certificates, which have privacy protections, but it’s the text-searchable database index to all of them and to the basic data within. Under New York State law, basic marriage “log” or index data is supposed to be open to the public.

As you might remember from previous newsletters, we sued for the 1908-1929 part of this same record set in mid-2015 (newsletter #1 and #2), and we sued for the 1930-1995 section of these records in mid-2016 (newsletter #10 and #11). We won millions and millions of records in our settlements from the city in both cases, and we even won our attorneys fees and court fees in the second case. That was pretty awesome.

We posted all the records we won online at the Internet Archive, but also at a new standalone website we developed ourselves called And several major genealogy websites, both for-profit companies and non-profit organizations, have now added that marriage license data to their own websites. If we win this case too, then this missing 1996-2016 piece of the data will complete the availability of New York marriage records up to almost the present day. And this time around, the data we’re seeking is already in a text database, so we won’t need an indexing project and researchers will be able to search it right away.

This new freedom of information lawsuit — which, if you want to be pedantic, is really an “Article 78 Legal Petition” — was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, in the county of New York, two days ago. It’s not listed in the online eCourts case tracking system just yet, but it will be shortly; its Index Number is 150250/2018, in case you want to follow along from home. Our superlawyer Dave Rankin is handling the case for us once again, although now he’s a partner at a swanky new law firm.

You can read more details in the full message at


Perhaps the City thinks this is a baseball game where the pitcher needs to throw three strikes before the batter is declared out….


Has the city ever won these challenges? it is difficult to interpret their resistance as anything but petty stubbornness and vindictiveness. Might there be better uses for the city’s expenses than court fees?

I see that Reclaim the Records now accepts donations, which they did not previously. I can think of few more deserving genealogy causes.


Is this index complete? I only ask because I was married in New York in the mid 1970s and I am not in the currently available one which is supposed to go to 1980.


    Hi Graeme. The 1950-1995 records that we won in our 2016 lawsuit settlement with the city are not 100% complete. They could only give us what they have, which were (1) about 110 microfilms of handwritten ledgers covering 1930-1972 (or 1971 for Queens), and (2) a text database of marriage licenses created by their in-house staff that cover 1950-1995. But that text database has a lot of problems — many typos, many missing records in the earlier years (particularly Manhattan 1967, over 20,000 missing records), etc. And they gave it to us in Microsoft Excel spreadsheet format, which was a terribly passive-aggressive thing to do.

    So it’s best to check the images of the 1930-1972 ledgers AND also text-search the 1950-1995 portion, if possible, to cover all your bases, but even then we know that the city’s own index is really incomplete.

    There is more discussion about the missing data and about the weird formatting problems (like putting a space after the Mc in surnames like “McMann”) on the website:


Hey “Reclaim!” What are the results of the October 2017 meeting with NYC DOH?


    Hi Snowdrop! The city suddenly canceled its Board of Health meeting that was scheduled for the end of 2017, and the next one isn’t being held until March 2018. So we won’t know for sure that these terrible proposed rule changes are dead and being discarded until then.

    It’s interesting to note that there were THOUSANDS of public comments submitted against the proposed rule changes — hundreds of comments submitted individually plus thousands more from the NYG&B’s excellent petition drive, from all fifty states — and only two comments submitted in favor of the changes. And those two were from the New York State Registrar and some lackey from NAPHSIS, a group that has tried and failed to get traction on the ridiculous Model State Vital Statistics Act.

    That’s it. There were zip, zero, zilch comments in favor of the proposed rule change from a single member of the public.

    Liked by 1 person

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