New York City vital records access update: The official vote

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 4:30pm
D. Joshua Taylor

This morning we attended a meeting of the NYC Board of Health at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

This meeting included an agenda item for the official vote on last fall’s amendment to restrict public access to birth records for 125 years and to death records for 75 years.

We knew beforehand that this amendment was likely to pass – however, your voices certainly had a tremendous impact on this process.

Here are the important takeaways from the meeting:


1. Your voices were heard

In his presentation to the Board, the New York City Registrar, Steven P. Schwartz, noted the outpouring of comments – more than 5,000 – in opposition to the amendment.

In fact, according to his report to the Board, only two comments were made in favor of the changes: one from New York State and the other from NAPHSIS.

Some members of the Board clearly read your comments and asked thoughtful questions regarding the process and our needs as family members and genealogists. Your voices did not go entirely unheard.


2. A new amendment has been proposed

While the amendment was passed by the Board of Health (with one “no” vote and one abstention), your comments forced the Health Department to propose a second amendment allowing for greater access to these records.

We are still awaiting the precise text of the amendment, though the presentation summarized its contents.

The following individuals would be able to obtain copies of birth records (with proof of death):

  • Spouse/domestic partner
  • Parent
  • Child
  • Sibling
  • Niece/nephew
  • Aunt/uncle
  • Grandchild/great-grandchild
  • Grandniece/grandnephew

For those seeking death records the list of qualifying individuals would include:

  • Spouse/domestic partner
  • Parent
  • Child
  • Sibling
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild, great-grandchild, or great-great grandchild
  • Nephew/niece
  • Aunt/uncle 
  • Grandnephew/grandniece

Many of these were noted to be “new” designations and it was stated that the Department would “accept an applicant’s representation” to obtain the certificate. Questions were raised regarding step-relationships and adoptions, which went unanswered.

This proposed amendment exists because you spoke up!


3. The restrictive rules may spread

It was stated that the New York State Department of Health was considering adopting the strict timelines (125 years for birth records and 75 years for death records) that are now part of the New York City code. We have further work to do!

While we are extremely grateful that the list of those qualified to obtain birth and death records is proposed to be expanded, we do not feel that the list is adequate for the needs of those tracing the stories of New York’s families.

This fight is far from over.


What now?

Yesterday we met with representatives from local and national genealogical organizations regarding our next steps and together determined to form an official coalition to protect access to New York’s records.

We are working swiftly to finalize plans and hope to share more details regarding this important development shortly. For those leaders of organizations who might be interested in learning more, please contact me at [email protected].

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What Can You Do?

The new amendment mentioned above that expands access to birth and death records will be published, open for public comment, and a hearing will be held. As soon as this happens, we will share the news (sign up for our email newsletter, the NYG&B eNews, above).

Your constructive comments will again be needed.

In the meantime, we ask that you begin thinking about specific examples of your need to access birth and death records from New York.

The more detailed we can be in our approaches, the easier it is for decision makers to understand the importance of accessing these records.

In the coming days and weeks, we will be asking you to share these examples with us as we plan our next steps.

Thank you for your time and support.



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We had a hard time getting a death cert of John Lanigan died in 1963 at Manhattan. He was married but no children. He would be our great grandfather’s brother. And told them it is for genealogy.
I am looking for the children's birth records of Henry Hart and Elizabeth Miller . Henry and Elizabeth are my 4x great grandparents. Henry is an earlier IRISH immigrant. They had nine children. They married in Fonda, Montgomery, New York on September 1821. In about1850's Henry moved his family to Wisconsin to settle down there. Thank you, Marla Hart
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.
All of my family lines immigrated to the US through NYC, and in most cases stayed here for generations, so I have over 100 ancestors who were born and/or died here. I go to the NYC Municipal Archives several times a year to investigate records, including birth & death. Each time, I need to make budget decisions regarding which documents I'm going to request in hard copy ($11 each) vs which I'm going to take notes from the microfilm. The proposed new amendment will grant me access where the first did not, however, it will still be costly. If I understand correctly, I would have to pay for a death certificate before even looking at (and paying for) the birth certificate. Question: Do you know when the original amendment will begin to be enforced? I expect there will be a rush at the Archives before they start pulling the relevant records.
I am looking for the birth of my great Aunt's son, who was born Dec 17, 1915 in NYC, he passed away July 1996. I don't need an "official" copy. I just want a copy and confirmation for my family tree. Every other State you can find birth records. NYC is so difficult. I mean when someone dies and they had a social security card, you can find it. Any suggestions?
Am trying to find the marriage certificate of my parents, Generoso Iovieno and Marianna Butta who were married in NYC on Oct. 27, 1951 License # 28160 taken out on Oct. 22, 1951. Thank you. Maria Iovieno Swieciki.
Let me see if I got this right. More than 5000 people spoke against the proposal. Only 2 groups spoke in favor of it and you claim we had an influence, It sounds like their minds were made up in advance and they didn't even heed what the public said. (I don't consider a second proposal slightly expanding who can get access to those records even a partial victory. Nobody lives to 125.)
I would dearly love to obtain my aunt’s birth record for genealogy purposes. There is a question of what her mother’s maiden name was, which I would love to confirm with her birth certificate (she was born in the Bronx in 1911).
Would love too add my support. I had ancestors that emigrated from Ireland and lived in various places in Columbia County as well as Manhatten between 1850 and the early 1900' s. 8 of the 9 children were girls. Access to any possible birth, marriage, or death records during this time period would be invaluable in tracing this family.
Would love too add my support. I had ancestors that emigrated from Ireland and lived in various places in Columbia County as well as Manhatten between 1850 and the early 1900' s. 8 of the 9 children were girls. Access to any possible birth, marriage, or death records during this time period would be invaluable in tracing this family.
Thank you!! This will be very helpful, I hope . Some of my people were born there and died there. some were married there.. Most of them came over from Ireland.. Not sure, where they landed, could be your beautiful Cities.. My Mother, Elizabeth Ann Glenn, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929.. Her mother was Alice Rita McFaul married to Jessie Lee Glenn.. Her Parents were from Ireland ( ? ) Do not know where.. Maybe your files will help me find them.. Thank you Very much.. Do you have a list of prices for the different files we need? I have hit a lot of snags...
I am writing in support of the Amendment regarding the restrictions of New York Vital Records. Having access to these records prior 125 years is a necessity, in two respects, someone who served in the Military, and a person who was Incarcerated. 1. Military - in order to apply for the DAR or Daughters of the Republic of Texas, it is necessary to have documentation of my forefathers Military Service, which may require proof of Birth, Death, or Residence. Having a 125 year restriction to these records will severely limit my ability to track someone down who served in the Civil War or Korea, most of which are dead. 2. Relatives who were Prisoners of War may not have petitioned for pensions or VA Benefits until later in life. Some may have been incarcerated, or institutionalized. Putting a limit for 125 years makes it impossible to locate what happened to these people. This limitation hurts my heart on a more personal level. Having been raised in a Military Family, from the time I was born until I was 15, we were required to move more than 14 times. I'm very proud of my father's service to this country, but all the moving has caused a huge disconnect from my immediate relatives, and our Ancestral Legacy. All I have are stories, but no proof. As an only child, I want to know where I came from, and how my family got here. I've been told that one line of my family served in the American Revolution, but I have to show the lineage in order to apply to the DAR. How can I do that if I'm limited to after 125 year. I'll be dead by the time I can research them! I understand the need for privacy. But there needs to be some middle ground for those of us just trying to find our loved ones. I want to be able to honor them, but I need to find them first. Please give me that ability, so that I can visit their grave, and say "Thank You...for giving me a better life".