Freedom of Information Law
in New York State

Some time ago I received a letter from a woman in California which brought to my attention the fact that Rensselaer 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 in Rensselaer County. 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 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 the Rensselaer County GenWeb could do to help. At that time I placed a notice on the page seeking someone who would be willing to photocopy documents for those of us who don't live in the area, promising that researchers would be willing to pay them for their time, photocopy charges and postage. No one came forward, leaving Rensselaer County researchers with the problem of how to obtain records.

I received a message from Cynthia Miles-Lewis of Schenectady County offering to contact the Committee on Open Government, Department of State concerning our problem. They referred to certain sections in the Freedom of Information Law that apply to researchers seeking records from county governments in New York State. The Freedom of Information 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, I have included 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

This page and the sample letters were written by Debby Masterson , former coordinator for Dutchess County Gen Web Pages.
Let me know of your successes or failures - Lynn Brandvold

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