US GenWeb

The NY Freedom of Information Law and How It Can Help NY Researchers

Some time ago I received a letter from a woman in California which brought to my attention the fact that County Courthouse employees are sometimes less than cooperative when it comes to filling the request for copies of documents by those of us doing genealogical research by mail. She cited an incident in which she requested a photocopy of a specific naturalization record. She provided the date, volume number, page number and document number that she wished photocopied. She was told by return mail that they don't do genealogical research and that she was welcome to conduct her own search between the hours of 8:30-4:30 Monday through Friday - a difficult task from California! She asked what we at GenWeb could do to help. The result is this page.

If you have been denied a copy of a record from a county clerk, you DO have recourse, unless the requested record is specifically covered under the Personal Privacy Protection Law.

Certain sections in the Freedom of Information Law, often called the FOI Law, apply to researchers seeking records from county governments in New York State. The Freedom of Information of Law is contained in the Public Officers Law, Laws 1909, Chap. 51. To view the actual law, click here. Sections that pertain to genealogical requests are in italics.

To facilitate requests to county governments, we include here two sample letters provided by the Committee on Open Government: A Sample Request Letter, and a Sample Appeal Letter. Although we as genealogists are not required to submit a Freedom of Information request, using the included letter when requesting information will negate any excuses county employees may concoct to deny our requests. They are required by law to comply with our requests or give a valid reason for denial. I strongly urge you to use these letters. If your request is still denied, you are requested to contact The Committee for Open Government at the following address:

The Committee on Open Government
Department of State
162 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York, NY 12231

I hope that you will keep me informed of your successes or failures in your attempts to obtain the records of your ancestors through the provisions of the FOI Law.

Send comments or suggestions to:
Debby Masterson

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