Reclaim the Records Fights to Keep Records Open

The following teaser is from an article by Daniel Klein, published May 5, 2017 at

Never risk the ire or doubt the power of genealogists.

Let me tell you about Reclaim the Records, an organization that brings the fight for open records to the states that hold them. Reclaim the Records was founded by genealogist Brooke Schreier Ganz, a New York transplant living in California who was having trouble accessing some of the New York City Municipal Archives’ indexes for a little-known marriage record group – the Index to New York City Marriage Applications, Affidavits, and Licenses, 1908-1929. This index is the gateway to marriage records that contain far more than what’s on the standard marriage certificate and can be a boon for genealogy researchers. When RTR ran into trouble requesting the indexes through New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), they brought the NYC Archives to court – and won.

Those indexes – and more from New York and New Jersey (1924 voter registration list for NYC, for example), are available through RTR’s page on the Internet Archive. For free. For real. And those will soon be joined by others from all over the United States.

Read the full article…

Rhode Island Historic Records Kept on a Floodplain.

The following excerpt is from an extensive article – with video footage & photographs – posted April 30, 2015 at the website.


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Some of Rhode Island’s most important and historic records are just a power outage away from damage and destruction.

Rhode Island is the only state in the nation that does not have a permanent location for their state archives, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The leased office space that currently houses centuries of state law, historic blue prints, birth and death records, even the state’s copy of the Bill of Rights, are located in a building that lies in a floodplain.

A Target 12 review of payments reveals the state pays $248,000 a year in rent to Paolino Properties, a real estate company owned by former Providence Mayor Joespeh Paolino. The archives were moved to the Providence location from the State House in 1990.

In all the state has paid $5.4 million in rent since that time.

Read the full article.

Last Weekend’s Records Warehouse Fire in Brooklyn Could Have Been Worse


This last weekend, a seven-alarm warehouse fire in Brooklyn put many public records in danger. It’s now been determined that losses may not have been as bad as were initially feared. The following is from an article by Anemona Hartocollis, published in the February 5, 2015 edition of the New York Times website.

New York City has reassessed the extent of the damage to public records caused by a seven-alarm warehouse fire in Brooklyn over the weekend and expects it to be less than initially feared, city officials said Thursday.

The latest inventory has found that records from two city agencies were stored at the CitiStorage warehouse in Williamsburg: 40,000 boxes from the Administration for Children’s Services, and 32,700 boxes from the health department, including 28,000 boxes of correctional health inmate records from 2009 and earlier. Both agencies are still assessing the damage to those records and the impact on their agencies, city officials said.

The city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation stored 700,000 boxes of records there, of which 143,000 boxes were damaged. The agency believes that the impact on patients will be minimal because public hospitals switched to electronic records many years ago, officials said.

Read the full article.

Read the AP article about the fire.

Historic Ottoman Documents to Be Restored by Turkish Agency

On the 7th of February, 2014, protestors set fire to the presidency office in the Bosnian capital city of Sarejevo. Many historic documents stolen, while others were damaged by the fire.

Soon after the fire, Turkey’s Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) got hold of Shaban Zahirovic, the head of the Bosnian State Archives offering assistance. They were informed that as much as 60% of the documents were damaged or otherwise looted.

TIKA has taken on the responsibility to restore the Ottoman documents, and will work with Turkish experts to restore as much of the archives as possible.

It is said that “most of the Ottoman files remain intact, but much of the Austrian-Hungary period files were lost.”

Read more about the project, and check out pictures at

160 year-old Documents Intentionally Destroyed in Franklin County, North Carolina

This is one of a countless number of 19th century records seized by the North Carolina Archives and burned on December 6, 2013
This is one of a countless number of 19th century records seized by the North Carolina Archives and burned on December 6, 2013

The story of the 160 year-old documents intentionally destroyed in Franklin County, North Carolina is now nearly two months old. I haven’t blogged about it, but many others have. Click here to read about this travesty at the Stumbling in the Shadows of Giants website. Be sure to read the comments… That’s where it really gets interesting.

Appeal Being Made to the Indiana State Supreme Court Over Cause-of-Death Data on Indiana Death Certificates

An appeal is being made to the Indiana Supreme Court over Vanderburgh Circuit Court Judge Carl Heldt’s ruling that cause-of-death data is not public record.

This week, Attoney General Greg Zoeller filed a request for the appeal to be heard, saying that “the ruling goes against state policy that death certificates should be available to the public.”

Read the AP article about the case in the October 21, 2013 edition of the Chesterton Tribune.

TSGS LEGISLATION ALERT! – House Bill 3252 – Closing Birth and Death Records

The following was received today from Sue Kaufman, with the Texas State Genealogical Society:

We are writing to you as a member of the genealogical community of Texas to alert you to a bill being considered by the Texas Legislature. We should have sent this alert out to you sooner. We’ve been so consumed with developing a response and strategy that we’ve neglected to keep you informed. We promise to do a better job of sending you alerts in the future more quickly.

House Bill 3252 by Representative John Zerwas (Fort Bend County) would close Texas birth records for 125 years and Texas death records for 50 years. Under current Texas law, birth and death records now become public information 75 years after a birth and 25 years after a death. Proponents of the bill believe that closing birth and death records for 125 and 50 years will prevent identity theft and fraud.

TSGS is actively opposing this legislation. Last week, President Susan Kaufman, President-Elect John Wylie, Director Randy Whited, and Records Preservation and Access Chair Teri Flack testified before the House Public Health Committee strongly expressing our opinion that increasing these time limits will do nothing to prevent identity theft and that, particularly by closing death records for 50 years, family historians will be prevented from obtaining their family’s health history in a timely manner. We provided background information to enable the members to understand the impact of the bill. A copy of the bill, the written testimony we submitted to the committee, and our written response to questions and issues raised during the hearing may be found at If you are so inclined, you can watch the hearing at

We know it will take the effort of our entire community to persuade legislators that this bill is unnecessary. We are asking you to write Rep. Zerwas and express your opinion. His email address is It does not have to be a lengthy point-counterpoint communication. Feel free to use some of the arguments we included in our testimony; however, most legislators dismiss anything that sounds like a form letter. So, it would be counterproductive to simply forward this alert or a copy of our testimony. Rep. Zerwas has already listened to our official testimony. A simple, personally crafted message in your own words will be more effective.

We are also asking you to write to members of the House Public Health Committee, particularly if you live in the district of one of the members. Here’s a link to the committee so you can see who the members are and to find their email addresses: House Public Health Committee members. Be sure to let them know you are writing to them about HB 3252 because of their membership on that committee. Not sure if you live in a member’s district? You can go to Texas Legislature Online at and plug in your address information. It will tell you who your representative and senator are.

Please don’t dawdle. The bill may be voted out of the Public Health Committee as early as Friday. So, the sooner you write the more impact you will have.

Please forward this message to anyone who might be willing to climb aboard this urgent effort. You don’t need to limit it just to your fellow genealogists. Send it to anyone who might be willing to speak up for open government.

Thank you for your support of this effort. We’ll keep you posted on any action taken by the Legislature.

Sue Kaufman
Texas State Genealogical Society

Connecticut Lawmakers Want to Seal Children’s Death Records

The following excerpt is from an article posted in the February 21, 2013 edition of

Blaming overzealous members of the media as well as those seeking to disprove that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School occurred, three state lawmakers representing Newtown testified in Hartford on Wednesday in support of a bill that would seal the death certificates of children.

Reps. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe; Dan Carter, R-Bethel; and Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown; and Newtown Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia told the Legislature’s Public Health Committee that the proposed law is intended to protect the privacy of the Sandy Hook families and others when release of the information is likely to cause “undue hardship” to families.

Read the full article.

National Archives Examines Theft of America’s National Treasures March 7

The following February 7, 2013 press release is from the NARA Press site:

Barry Landau, Jason Savedoff, and their Conspiracy to Steal History
Washington, D.C.: On Thursday, March 7, 2013, at noon, the National Archives hosts a discussion on the theft of America’s national treasures – and ways to prevent such thefts in the future. Archivist David S. Ferriero will provide opening remarks for presentations by Mitchell Yockelson, Investigative Archivist with the National Archives Office of the Inspector General, and Jim Warwick, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Department of Justice.

This event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.. Attendees should use the Special Events entrance located on Constitution at 7th St., NW.

On July 10, 2011, the archival world was turned upside down when news broke that two men from New York, Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff, were caught stealing historical documents from the Maryland Historical Society. After their arrest by the Baltimore City Police and incarceration, the FBI and the National Archives Office of Inspector General (OIG) began an investigation and a search warrant was executed on Landau’s Manhattan residence. In only a few hours, agents from the FBI and OIG removed boxes of incriminating evidence — more than 7,000 historical documents. Another search warrant was issued a few weeks later and an additional 3,000 items were seized as evidence, including priceless documents in the hand of Frank Delano Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Dickens; as well thousands of items of Presidential memorabilia.

The investigation revealed that Landau and Savedoff had taken many of these items from archival repositories throughout the United States. The investigation uncovered a conspiracy to steal objects of cultural heritage over a course of several years by Landau and Savedoff who posed as researchers during frequent visits to the repositories. Cooperation between the OIG and law enforcement led to the prosecution and sentencing of both men.

The Archivist has stated: “The security of the holdings of the National Archives is my highest priority. I will not tolerate any violation of the law that protects both records and property that belongs to the U.S. government and the American people.” He added that “any theft of our nation’s records is an irreplaceable loss. We at the National Archives must remain constantly vigilant, to ensure the protection of our nation’s precious heritage, while at the same time balancing the right of every American to have access to original records.”

Under the current leadership, the National Archives has become more vigilant, by ensuring the establishment of the Holdings Protection Team to assess, determine, and implement security measures to ensure the public’s access to their holdings. The Holdings Protection Team has instituted a program of security studies, risk assessments, and increased security, monitoring, and screening at National Archives facilities nationwide. The Holdings Protection Team provides training to National Archives archivists and research room staff (and other employees), as well as to staff at other institutions, all aimed at increasing awareness and communication of security issues. The National Archives has also instituted a number of other measures aimed at preventing theft, such as closed-circuit cameras, exit searches, mandatory staff training, and outgoing mail inspections.

The National Archives is fully accessible, and Assisted Listening Devices are available in the McGowan Theater upon request. To request a sign language interpreter for a public program, please send an email to or call 202-357-5000 at least two weeks prior to the event. To verify dates and times of the programs, call 202-357-5000 or view the Calendar of Events online. To contact the National Archives, please call 1-866-272-6272 or 1-86-NARA-NARA (TDD 301-837-0482).

Supporters Rally to Save Georgia Archives

The following excerpt is from the October 3, 2012 edition of Clayton News Daily.

ATLANTA — Annette McEachin said her ancestors would be “turning over in their graves” if they knew that Georgia planned to close its archives to public access next month.

#McEachin, from Marietta, said she is descended from Austrians who came to Georgia in 1734, a year after James Oglethorpe founded the future state as a colony for the British crown. Much of what she knows about her family’s involvement in the earliest years of Georgia’s existence comes from records found in the Georgia Archives’ holdings, she said.

#Those records have told her where her ancestors came from and what they endured, including disease and war, after they arrival in Georgia.

#“If they knew there’d be no access to the records of what they went through, they’d be turning over in their graves,” said McEachin.

#McEachin, a member of the Genealogy Society of Cobb County, was one of approximately 150 people who attended a “Save the Archives” rally Wednesday outside Gov. Nathan Deal’s office at the state Capitol.

#Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced last month that he will close the Morrow-based archives — except to people who scheduled private appointments in advance — to meet a mandate from Deal to cut three percent of his office’s budget. The move was expected to save the state $733,000.

If the Georgia Archives closes its doors Nov. 1, as planned, Georgia will become the only state whose archives is not open to public access.

Read the full article.

Something Must be Done About the Alaska State Library, Archives, & Museums in Juneau

The following excerpt is from an article by Bruce Parham, published in the April 10, 2012 edition of

Many Alaskans may not have heard about the dire condition of Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museums in Juneau. The state’s treasures of records, historical photographs, and museum artifacts are at great risk in the present facilities. They are too small, technologically insufficient, outdated, and structurally deficient. The collections are not connected physically or digitally for statewide access. The State Archives building is literally splitting in two, as the rear half was constructed on bedrock and the front half on failed pilings. The front half of the archives building is sinking, with walls cracking, doors shifting, and water pipes splitting. The Alaska Historical Collections in the State Office Building are out of space. The collections are also at risk of severe deterioration as there are no temperature and humidity controls for the preservation of the materials.

Among the priceless items are diaries of Alaska’s pioneers from the Klondike and Alaska Gold Rushes (1896-1914), the original Alaska State Constitution, 175,000 historical photographs, and more than 34,000 cataloged museum artifacts. The Alaska Native artifacts, amounting to more than 15,000 objects, are outstanding. Objects from daily life, as well as ceremonial and sacred objects, include those from Alaskan Aleut, Athabascan, Eskimo, and Northwest Coast groups. Together, the collections of the State Library, Archives, and Museums are internationally recognized by scholars of Alaska history and culture.

Read the full article.

Document Thief Barry Landau May Have Sold Many More Documents Than Previously Believed

The following is from the March 7, 2012 edition of the Baltimore Sun:

Document thief Barry Landau may have sold more of the national treasures he stole from museums — including the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, where his scheme unraveled — than previously thought, according to the National Archives inspector general, who said Wednesday that his investigators have uncovered new evidence.

Members of the agency’s Archival Recovery Team are now targeting historic document dealers who illegally, if unknowingly, bought pieces from Landau for $500 to $6,000 apiece, based on the disgraced collector’s own sales records, which were found during an FBI search of Landau’s Manhattan apartment.

Amendments Would Defeat Pennsylvania Open Records Bill’s Purpose

Pennsylvania Genealogists – take note… My friend, Jim Beidler, wrote the following information about the potential watering down of the open records legislation now underway in Pennsylania. The following is just an excerpt of his article in the November 27, 2011 edition of the Lebanon Daily News.

Just when advocates for the reform of vital records laws in Pennsylvania think it’s safe to think that the long-sought-after changes are a done deal, another bump in the road.

Less than two weeks ago, the Health Committee of the House of Representatives, which is chaired by Rep. Matthew Baker of Tioga County, approved Senate Bill 361 by a vote of 24-0. That came on the heels of a unanimous state Senate vote a couple of months ago.

Then Rep. Ronald G. Waters of Philadelphia, the only member of the Health Committee who missed that meeting, filed several amendments to the bill that will need to be voted upon on the House floor.

To recap, Senate Bill 361 makes open records of Pennsylvania death certificates more than 50 years old and birth certificates more than 105 years old. It also transfers the certificates once they become open records to the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The most substantial of Waters’ amendments would say that the birth and death records are “open for public inspection” rather than becoming “public records.” Another of his amendments redundantly reasserts the state Department of Health’s power to charge fees for certified copies of the certificates.

Read the full article.

Pakistan Floods Caused Destruction of Records

The 2010 flooding in Pakistan killed many people, wiped out 1.5 million homes and caused 10 billion in direct and indirect losses. However, it also destroyed records – many of them of genealogical importance. Following is a teaser from an article in the July 29, 2011 edition of the BBC News.

The River Kabul, which cuts through the middle of the town [Nowshera], overflowed its banks on both sides on the evening of 29 July 2010, inundating the entire town.

Nearly a dozen people were killed, and hundreds of homes wiped out completely.

The entire population of the town – some 100,000 people – had to relocate to relief camps or move in with friends and relatives in nearby villages.

The district administration, the police and the local judiciary took between four to six months to get back into their stride, and hiccups still persist.

The rains this year are not as relentless, but there is a constant trickle as we step into the offices of the district land administration, called Tehsil.

We are looking for Mr Iqbal’s “lost evidence.”

Locals are desperate to stop “land grabbers” stealing their inheritance.

What we find is heaps of muddied bundles of decomposed paper and cloth piled high in two dingy rooms, both full of cobwebs and, warns one official, scorpions and snakes.

Some bundles are scattered in the lawns and corridors of the premises, all dried into cakes of paper pulp mixed with mud.

These were once files of land sketches and genealogical trees of the landowners of about 160 villages of Nowshera district, the oldest of them dating from 1870.

Read the full article.

The September 11, 2001 Attacks Destroyed Millions of Records

Prior to reading about the loss of records in this weekend’s Deseret News, I hadn’t even considered the loss of records when the World Trade Center towers fell. The massive loss of lives overshadowed everything else. However, many important records were lost, some of which had potential for family history research. The following teaser is from the July 30, 2011 edition of the Deseret News:

NEW YORK — Letters written by Helen Keller. Forty-thousand photographic negatives of John F. Kennedy taken by the president’s personal cameraman. Sculptures by Alexander Calder and Auguste Rodin. The 1921 agreement that created the agency that built the World Trade Center.

Besides ending nearly 3,000 lives, destroying planes and reducing buildings to tons of rubble and ash, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks destroyed tens of thousands of records, irreplaceable historical documents and art.

In some cases, the inventories were destroyed along with the records. And the loss of human life at the time overshadowed the search for lost paper. A decade later, dozens of agencies and archivists say they’re still not completely sure what they lost or found, leaving them without much of a guide to piece together missing history.

“You can’t get the picture back, because critical pieces are missing,” said Kathleen D. Roe, operations director at the New York State Archives and co-chairwoman of the World Trade Center Documentation Project. “And so you can’t know what the whole picture looks like.”

The trade center was home to more than 430 companies, including law firms, manufacturers and financial institutions. Twenty-one libraries were destroyed, including that of The Journal of Commerce. Dozens of federal, state and local government agencies were at the site, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The first tangible losses beyond death were obvious, and massive.

Thanks to Pat Morrow for reminding me that this is an important article, of interest not only to me, but my readers.

Read the full article.