Five thousand voices unheard

New York has always been the Black Hole of northeastern genealogy in the United States.

Black holeBetween records that were never created in the first place and records that have been lost over the years, research in New York can be a challenge and a half.

And the darkness is about to get a little deeper in New York City.

The New York City Health Department has just announced that it is essentially ignoring all of the more than 5,000 comments it received and all of the witnesses who testified on a proposed rule to lengthen the period when birth and death records will be unavailable to researchers.

Instead of rethinking its position, it’s moving ahead full steam to put the new rule into effect next week.

Once the rule takes effect — and the date on the Health Department notice is March 13 — New York City’s records will be unavailable to ordinary folks like you and me for a very long time:

• birth records will be locked up for 125 years; and

• death records will be inaccessible for 75 years.

The usual reasons were offered — these are documents that maybe somebody might use for identity theft — despite the fact that death certificates in particular can hardly be used to open bank accounts, obtain credit, file for tax returns or any of the other usual reasons identity thieves might want the information, and despite the fact that fewer than 2100 people in the entire city were shown as over age 100 on the 2010 census, much less over 105 years or 110 years.

And the sop tossed to medical and family researchers was a promise to consider maybe someday putting in a rule to expand the groups of family and related researchers who can access the certificates during the closure period.

You can read it and weep here in the Notice of Adoption of Amendment to Article 207 of the New York City Health Code.

There’s no call to action for our community at this point, but keep an eye on this space. It may be that the New York City Council is the next stop, and it certainly will be the genealogical community’s goal to hold the Health Department to its promise to look at expanding those eligible to get certificates in the interim.

But this is truly disappointing and dismaying. More than 5,000 voices were raised on this issue, all in opposition to this rule.

And so far we have not been heard.

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