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Reclaim the Records

We use Freedom of Information laws to enable groundbreaking public access to historically important documents stored in federal, state, and local government archives, agencies, and libraries. Then we publish it all online, for free public use.

Founded: 2017 by Brooke Schreier Ganz

Reclaim the Records
  • Program Area

    Education, Human Rights, Public Service & Civic Engagement
  • Location of Impact

    United States
  • Headquarters Location

    Mill Valley, California, United States
  • Product Platforms

    Web, Open Source
  • Budget

    $0 to $500,000
  • Founder Demographics

    Female

We’re Reclaim The Records, a new not-for-profit activist group of genealogists, historians, researchers, and open government advocates. 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. We file Freedom of Information and Open Data requests to get that public data released back to the public. And if the government doesn’t comply, we take them to court. Then we digitize everything we win and put it all online for free, without any paywalls or usage restrictions, so that it can never be locked up again. In the past five years, we've filed nine state and federal Freedom of Information lawsuits, and reclaimed over thirty million historical records from government agencies, many of which had never previously been available to the general public before. Notable recent wins include the first-ever online and free publication of the New York State birth, marriage, and death indices; the New York City marriage index; the New Jersey marriage and death indices; the Nebraska death index; the United States Department of Veterans Affairs "VA Master Index" of pre-1940 American veterans; the Wyoming marriage, divorce, and death indices; the Mississippi death index; and more.

Funders and Awards

EFF FOILIES AWARD
WINNER of a 2017 Electronic Frontier Foundation Foilies Award for our records requests and subsequent lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, recognized as exposing one of “the year’s worst in government transparency.”

FGS DIRECTOR'S AWARD
WINNER of the Federation of Genealogical Societies 2017 Director’s Award, presented in recognition of both exceptional contributions to the field of genealogy and family history, and extra-mile efforts to promote good will and improve services.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTERS AND EDITORS (IRE/NICAR) - GOLDEN PADLOCK AWARD FINALIST
Our open records work and ongoing lawsuit in Missouri led to the state’s Department of Health being named a FINALIST for the 2017 Golden Padlock Award, which is given annually at the IRE/NICAR banquet to “the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States.” This satiric award usually honors the work of television and newspaper investigative teams in uncovering government corruption; we were the first archives-related organization to be recognized.

IAJGS OUTSTANDING PROJECT OF THE YEAR
WINNER of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies 2017 award for Best Project for our work bringing genealogical and archival records back to the public.

WE'RE "INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM FIGHTERS"
...ACCORDING TO THE OFFICE FOR INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM OF THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (ALA):
"Nothing gets under the skin of government bureaucracy or large-scale genealogy corporations quite like Reclaim the Records, a group of genealogists-turned-activists who file Freedom of Information and Open Data requests to make government records published… Their dedication and endurance in filing lawsuits and cutting through red tape benefits us all. Moreover, their jocular tone is not only refreshing, it’s much more readable for non-expert audiences. Most researchers in genealogy are not professionals; they are simply the curious family members, the designated relatives for keeping the family history. Reclaim the Records is the hero we deserve, and the one we need." Read the full article