Reclaim the Records Petitions the State of New York to Explain Why the New York State Department of Health Grants Access to Public Records to and yet Denies Access to the same records by Reclaim the Records

Reclaim the Records, an open-government group, has asked a judge to put sunlight on the’s correspondence with public officials in New York. The petition may be found at

Filed on June 21, 2018, the petition in Albany Supreme Court comes from the nonprofit Reclaim the Records and its founder, Brooke Schreier Ganz. Only the New York State Department of Health is named as a respondent, but neither that agency nor agreed to comment.

Ganz says she submitted a request to the Department of Health in January 2016 for copies of the New York state death index between Dec. 31, 1956, and June 1880, or the earliest date available. The State of New York did not answer her request. Yet, while she was waiting for a response from her 2016 request, Ganz says the same agency produced “digitized records of the New York State Death Index to in under three months.”

You can read all the details in an article by Christine Stuart in the Courthouse News web site at:



They should be asking how much Ancesty was willing to pay for the data.


    —> They should be asking how much Ancestry was willing to pay for the data.

    Within the U.S., the records must be offered free of charge. The federal, state, county, and local governments are not allowed to charge for the data. HOWEVER, they are allowed to charge reasonable fees for the labor and supplies required to access the records, catalog them (if necessary), digitize them, and deliver them to the organization that asked for them. There are frequent arguments about the exact meaning of the word “reasonable.” Also, there is no exact requirement for timely delivery. Does timely mean “within 48 hours” or does it mean “within 48 months”? That often causes discussion as well.

    I am not familiar with the laws in other countries.


Like any commodity, it will go to the highest bidder. If the records can be made available under the law, then any holder who favours a non-profit against a large corporate bidder with deeper pockets runs the risk of being charged with not getting the best value for the local community.


    Respectfully disagree. This data is ours–we, the taxpayers–and the government is simply the arbiter of it.


Dennis Lohr
I accept the data is provided by the taxpayers, but it is collected by government (in its widest sense) for its purposes.
I don’t believe that government should be spending money on making these records readily available when that same money could be better used for improving the lives of citizens.
If citizens want to access the information, then I see no problem in there being a charge for this service. Governments can index/produce information themselves, but I suspect that most will use the existing expertise of companies like Ancestry rather than expending time and effort themselves. The companies will wish to recover the costs that they have paid to the data holder, but the data will still be available at the original source for those who wish to use that option.


I’ve read that places like,, My Heritage, etc have to get contracts to be the providers of many of these databases. Often the contracting services also do the indexing themselves, which takes a lot of person-power. I know Ancestry warns users (in their education classes) to download documents found via their service to their computers since Ancestry can’t guarantee how long they will have the contracts. When contracts expire someone else might get a crack at being able to provide this NewYork database – but they will have to pay for the rights, and be willing/able to do that while keeping the database free for their own users. It’s not easy to provide everything for free to family researchers except for a really large, long term operation with a lot of backing like FamilySearch. That said, some things from the US government are free – US Census reports for example. Genealogy sites offer those even to non-paying members, or at least most I know of do.


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