April 30, 2021
If you haven’t been to the Reclaim the Records website (https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/) , it’s worth a visit. Reclaim the Records is an activist group who are working to make sure that genealogists, historians and other researchers have access to public records. If you have done much research, you are probably familiar with the fact that some county clerks, librarians and agencies are sometimes less than forthcoming when it comes to helping us obtain the records we need – even when those records are supposedly public according to state laws.
Since its inception in 2015, Reclaim the Records has worked to identify the kinds of records that should be open to the public but are being restricted anyway. They then file Freedom of Information and Open Data requests for those records. Oftentimes, that is all it takes to get the agencies involved to release the records, but, if not, Reclaim the Records will file lawsuits against the controlling entities. Once the lawsuits have been won or settled in their favor (which they almost always are), Reclaim the Records digitizes everything they’ve obtained and puts it online.
All of the records that they have digitized are obtainable online at free websites without any paywalls or other fees. The Reclaim the Records website lists all of the various records that have been obtained as well as links to those records. The records are also available on Internet Archive and other Open Source websites.
Reclaim the Records began their work with New York records since that’s where the founder of the organization lived. Since that time, they have forced state agencies and archives to release over twenty million records to the public, and they’re not done yet. They’ve moved into other parts of the United States, such as their recent win in Missouri which led to the release of nearly a hundred years’ worth of birth indexes (1920-2015) for that state. Eventually, Reclaim the Records hopes to expand to foreign countries, as well.
As a non-profit entity, Reclaim the Records has no paid staff. All of its Board members are volunteers, and pro bono lawyers handle all of the legal work. As you probably know, Larimer County Genealogical Society’s annual Conference for a Cause donates all proceeds above costs to a worthy genealogical cause. We try to donate to entities that directly benefit the average genealogist. For example, we have donated to the Preserve Pensions fund to help digitize and preserve copies of War of 1812 pensions as well as given funds to help the Colorado Historic Newspaper Project digitize more local newspapers. Last year, we had planned to donate our earnings to Reclaim the Records. As with so much else, Covid changed our plans, resulting in the cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 conferences. We hope to return in 2022, and we plan to donate any proceeds to Reclaim the Records.
In the meantime, there is a donate button on the Reclaim the Records website. If you value making more public records freely available to genealogists and others, you may want to consider donating. If you have ideas for record sets that Reclaim the Records might wish to pursue, you can also recommend possible future projects and even recommend lawyers who might be interested in doing some pro bono work. All in all, it’s an interesting website that any genealogists will enjoy visiting.
Researcher/Director at Large