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25 March 2021

Reclaim the Records: advocates for genealogy and more

 If you don't yet know about Reclaim the Records, you should.  Founded in 2015 by CGS member Brooke Scheier Ganz, it's a not-for-profit group of activist genealogists, historians, researchers, and open government advocates. They sum up their mission like this: "We identify important genealogical records sets that ought to be in the public domain but which are being wrongly restricted by government archives, libraries, and agencies." 

When they find such records, the group files a Freedom of Information request, asking that the data be released to the public. If the FOIA request is denied, they sue the agency in question. So far, Reclaim the Records has succeeded in opening up public records in multiple states, including Mississippi, Nebraska, and Wyoming, and even at federal institutions such as the National Archives.

The group was born when Ganz became frustrated doing New York City genealogy research. She found that most vital records in New York were either inaccessible or available only at great expense. Reasoning that these were public records, paid for by taxpayers, Ganz filed a Freedom of Information request with the New York City Municipal Archives, which was ignored. She then sued, and became the first genealogist to successfully sue a government archive for the return of records to the public.

The group is celebrated among researchers and open-government activists. They've gained quite a following on social media, too, with a Twitter account full of cheeky comments ("RELEASE THE KRAKEN! We're taking on @nycrecords! Again!" reads one post.)
That cheekiness is characteristic of all Reclaim the Records communications; fed, no doubt, by exasperation and outrage. A press release about a recent court action read: "Did you ever wonder what would happen if you caught a major American city's Department of Health in an 'astroturf' campaign where they created fake support for a government policy that actually came entirely from city officials?” That refers to a two-year battle over access to New York City death certificates. The case recently moved forward when a State Supreme Court judge ruled against the city's Motion to Dismiss and ordered the municipality to prepare a verified response. It is hoped that this will go before a judge in the next few months and that the result will be an order to make the records public. 

You can read the saga here. Or visit the Reclaim the Records website for much more!

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