In 2017 The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene proposed a new rule that would affect when birth and death records are made available to the public and transferred to the Department of Records and Information Services.
Although we fought this proposal hard, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently voted in March to pass the new rule - public access to birth records is now restricted to 125 years, and access to death records is now restricted to 75 years.
Thanks to your support in 2017, a new amendment to this rule proposed would allow more relatives access to birth and death records, but we don't think this amendment goes far enough: These expansions still unnecessarily limit the ability for individuals to access these records for research purposes.
We encourage you to make your opinion heard - let NYC know that this amendment is an improvement, but greater access is desirable. The deadline to submit your comment is April 23, 5:00 pm ET.
The amendment allows certain direct descendants and other family members to access the birth and death records of their deceased relatives prior to those records becoming public. Read the details of the amendment.
What you can do right now - act by April 23 5:00 pm ET!
- Submit a comment - register and post an official comment online, or send an email comment.
- Sign the petition that will accompany our official public comment.
- Attend the public hearing with the NYG&B on April 23.
- Share this news: Join us on Facebook Live on Tuesday April 10 at 12:15pm to rally support!
Read below or click the blue links above to make a difference.
What's In the Amendment
The full amendment can be read on the NYC Rules website. According to the proposal, "The Department is proposing to expand the group of family members who can access birth and death records prior to their public release. The proposed group is within a close degree of consanguinity (blood relation) to the individual whose records are sought."
The list of relatives who can request a death certificate will be expanded to include:
- Great-great grandchildren
- Nephews & nieces
- Aunts & uncles
- Grandnephews & grandnieces
The list of relatives who can request a birth certificate of a deceased individual will be expanded to include:
- Spouses & domestic partners
- Parents of children over the age of 18
- Nieces & nephews
- Aunts & uncles
- Grandchildren & great grandchildren
- Grandnieces & grandnephews
Why the amendment doesn't go far enough
While we support the amendment, it does not solve the true issues caused by the new, restrictive access rules.
You often can't prove relation in the first place without a birth or death record
The fact is, a researcher often needs to view the information on an individual’s birth or death record before being able to correctly assert their relationship to that individual. Genealogists often ask research questions that make identifying a specific family relationship difficult – if not impossible – to determine without access to birth and death records.
The rules exclude modern family relationships
The categories listed above exclude important family relationships that are common today and will become more common in the future. Many families simply don't fit the traditional approach proposed. For example, the exclusion of step-relationships from the list discriminates against thousands of families living in New York City today. These omissions, alongside the inability for adoptees to access information regarding their family history, create an unfair barrier to access.
The amendment discriminates against non-family research
What about researchers seeking to learn and educate others about families outside of their personal ethnicity or community? These rules may exclude entire groups and communities from having their history preserved. Additionally, the greatly expanded time periods (which are now amongst the most restrictive in the nation) prevent individuals from researching and educating others about important historical information such as military veterans, Holocaust survivors, and immigrant communities.
If you agree, sign our petition below.
Do You Agree? Sign the Petition
The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society has prepared an official public comment that will provide an authoritative and well-reasoned argument in support of this amendment, but will also exhort the City to continue opening up access. To make this comment even more impactful, we invite everyone to sign their name in a petition that will represent signatories to the letter.
Please input your name and email below, and then confirm your interest by clicking the link in the email you receive - you'll then be added to the letter:
Sign the petition
Attend the Hearing
There will be a public hearing on this issue later this month.
The NYG&B is gathering as many community members as possible to pack the house and show our support for open access to historical records! If you are able to join, we would absolutely love to see you there:
Date: Monday, April 23 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Location:New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Gotham Center 42-09 28th Street, 3rd Floor, Room 3-32 Long Island City, 11101
Click here to RSVP and let us know you are attending the hearing.
Send Your Comment
The NYC Department of Health is still soliciting public comments on this issue. It's critical for everyone to send in some form of comment - often, when governmental agencies are flooded with public comments about an important issue, they will change course - but only if enough people submit comments!
Click here to register and post an official comment online with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. You can also send a comment via email.
Share the News
The key to our success is to mobilize massive numbers of vocal citizens who support our position. If each person who reads this sends it to only five of their friends or family, we can involve thousands of people in our effort to save these records.
Here are three ways you can help spread the message:
- Click here to draft an email with the URL of this webpage in the message. Simply enter the email addresses of everyone you want to send it to and click send.
- Click here to see our Facebook event - click "attending" and then share the post to your news feed!
- Click here to see our Tweet calling attention to this issue. Retweet and feel free to add your own commentary to encourage people to pitch in.
As always, any contribution you can make to support the NYG&B and efforts like these is greatly appreciated. Click here to support us.