According to the lawsuit, “although the same Records Access Office at [the Department of Health] handled both [Freedom of Information Act] requests, the timeline and procedures followed throughout the process for Ms. Ganz and Reclaim the Records was different than it was for Ancestry.com.”
Reclaim the Records says in its lawsuit against the New York Department of Health, which manages the death index, that it made its request before Ancestry but was met with a slow response from the state and quoted a questionably high cost to retrieve them. It is now suing for documents “shedding light on why and how [the Department of Health] was able to respond to Ancestry.com’s request for the Death Index microfiche, with the production of digitized copies” in such a short period while the group’s request for the same records was delayed.
Reclaim the Records’ mission is to petition state, federal, and city record keepers to hand over historical archives that are of interest to genealogists and put them on the internet for people to see for free. Things like death records and marriage certificates over 50 years old are — legally — open to the public, but often require showing up at the building where the records are kept.
“Too many government agencies and archives have long treated genealogists as if we were asking them for a favor when we ask to see their records — our records — rather than recognizing their responsibilities to the public under the law,” the group, which is funded by donations, states on its website.
Companies like Ancestry.com do the exact same thing, but Ganz wants those public records online for free — not behind a paywall.
Ganz started the group in 2015 after becoming frustrated waiting for New York state records she was searching for to research her own family tree. She knew they existed in state archives, but they weren’t being digitized and made easily available to the public. So she started using freedom of information laws, which make government records available to the public, to force the local government to open its vault of genealogy records.
So far, the group has successfully gotten state records from New York, New Jersey, and New York City . In NYC, they’re currently working on making old records that go back to the Dutch colonial era, starting in 1670, available to the public.