Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Requests for more information in NY and NYS

I was born and raised in the state of New York. I didn't realize until I started to do my family history, both of my parents were born in New York too. I knew growing up my paternal grandmother was born in Poland and we had German from some place in the family. Then I did ask a few things and
1939 picture of paternal grandfather Mathias
was told we had Polish on my mother's side and Irish mixed in there some place. As you do, you take it at face value when you are growing up. My parents, other than my asking, never spoke about their family histories because it just wasn't done. My paternal grandmother, and the only grandmother I can remember having a true relationship with (as the other was in a mental hospital), talked when we were together every now and then about her family - Damn Russians or Ruskies, about how her family was killed in Poland, my family and cousins are all gone from there, my Dad's brother died fighting in a war in Poland, how Germans/Nazi's and the Gestapo would come to town and how they were treated, and about how she had great times in the rivers with her cousins and how they were the last ones to leave Danzig - they closed the gate right after then as they crossed to the ship to sail to the US.

When I decided to start looking, I knew it was going to be tough because of all of the historical fighting but you just have to keep chipping away at it a piece at a time. Now, over 15 years later, I've found cousins, and know a bit more about those ancestors.
Taken from

There is still one area that confuses me - New York City and New York State. I've tried to request my grandparent's information and it sounds simple. You look at the guidelines, say you want a certificate for genealogy purposes, and pay money. However, that's not always the case.

New York State Dept of Health (Vital Records Section, Genealogy Unit) or form DOH-4384 form says:
The first point I met as I told them they were deceased and the dates, I told them their social security numbers, and their birth dates. Point 2 is about the number of years to wait for both birth and death which is what I was after.

The details:
These are about my grandparents on both sides. My grandmothers were born in the years 1910 and 1912. My grandfather's were born in the years 1906 and 1909. The birth records would have needed to be before 1938 as I did the request in 2013 (2013 - 75 = 1938). As you can see, I should have been able to receive these forms.

The death records were the ones I was worried about because of the dates. My grandmothers died in 1999 and 1988. My grandfather's died in 1975 and 1981. The death records would have needed to be before 1963 as I did the request in 2013 (2013-50=1963). As you can see, these requests would have been asking for the 3rd point, which is does.

As for the marriage documents, I would love these as well and had requested them. One set of grandparents were married in 1934 and the others in about 1935. One set I was able to obtain from a natualization documents and FamilySearch film I ordered in. The other one I wanted and the 50 year rule applied (2013-50=1963) and these I should have been able to be sent due to the marriages being prior to this date and both parties being deceased.
A Letter about my request they send every 6-12 months. Dated 2015.

Instead I get a letter stating before they'll release ANY of the information I need to show direct linage to them. I can't do this only because my parents haven't released their birth certificates to me, so I'm stuck. I do however, get a letter about every 6-12 months about them needing more information. Above is a letter from them in 2015 about my request.

However, I emailed the county my ancestors lived in, thinking I would have a similar problem to this for my requests for my maternal great grandparents information. This one came as a shock as within a week I received an email back stating they would go look and would I need it all or just sections? I was shocked. Within 3 months I had the full set of documents plus one more family member they had found for me sent to me AND it was FREE. I was shocked.

I thought I was the only one going through this, but talking to others on different Facebook pages I found I was just like many others.

The past 6 or so months, I've been following the Reclaim the Records requests. They've been trying to get files, which should be released to the public but isn't, for awhile too. They are getting the same mixed responses as I am. I felt this was comforting and full support their efforts.

I'm going to take some excerpts of one of their emails they've sent out to tell you about their "A Tale of Two Records Requests"

Six weeks ago, we submitted two records requests to two different government agencies, and so far we've had two wildly different responses and experiences. And yet both of these agencies are supposed to be operating under the same law, the same forty-year-old New York State Freedom of Information Law. It's amazing how different two agencies can be.
And then the email goes on about the best:
We are happy to report that, so far, New York's Department of Health has been excellent about this request. They have clear FOIL instructions online on their websites, for would-be records requesters. They acknowledged the receipt of our records request within five business days, as required by law, and assigned a unique tracking number to our request. They let us know that they would need twenty more business days to do some more research into the matter, also as allowed by the law. They then responded again and gave us a timeline for a potential records release, with a projected date of March 18th. They included in that notice a direct phone number for their legal department. And when we then called them up, they were very helpful about our request on the phone.
Which is great as its in the system and should get something back - a yes or now. Not a need more information after having the information for months.

And then the email goes on about the worst:
The City Clerk's Office never responded with any kind of acknowledgment of our request, even though they are required to do so within five business days. They don't have any FOIL information at all on their website for would-be records requesters, nor do they list their Records Officer on this public listing of all New York City FOIL contacts. which is very unusual for a city agency. We had even sent them a friendly "heads up" e-mail (you can read it online here) two weeks before the FOIL request was made, letting them know that a request would be coming their way soon. They never replied to that e-mail.
We then sent two follow-ups to our official FOIL request, one on January 14th and one on January 29th. Again, they never responded at all, in violation of the law. We've tried calling them, at multiple official New York City phone numbers, and we've left messages, and they all go unanswered. We even thought about using their website's general purpose Contact Us form, but it only allows a limited number of words and will inactivate the form's Submit button if you try to post more than that -- hardly a way to submit a public records request.
At this point, a total non-response to a records request from an agency is considered, under the law, to be the same as a denial of a request, except with extra bonus points for not following the rules. 
So, we had our awesome attorneys at Rankin & Taylor write up our Constructive Denial Appeal letter, and it went in the mail over a week ago.
 Again, this is the same state but just different people responding to the requests. What the hell New York? Get with the program and start doing your job. Don't keep people guessing and release the information, by law, you are supposed to release and don't just hold everything up. If you cannot release certain information state why but give the information you can.