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Sigh… the City is at it again

It seems like New York City is determined to close every genealogically-valuable record that it can — and when it just can’t close them, it’ll put a price tag on them that may have the same effect.

Readers of The Legal Genealogist will remember the fight over imposing long closure periods to New York City vital records that we as a genealogical community lost back in 2018.1

Now another arm of city government is trying to make people pay an extra fee to use copies of records they purchase from the city.

Yes, I’m serious: a pending rule by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) will impose a licensing fee for the use of tons and tons of genealogically-relevant materials — on top of a copying fee for getting the materials to begin with.

NYC Archives

DORIS, by the way, is the agency that runs the New York City Municipal Archives — and holds the bulk of New York City’s public records: its own website says the Municipal Archives “comprises the largest local government archive in North America…the Archives hold the records depicting the daily work of city government, including paper records…still and moving images, ledgers and docket books, vital records, cartographic materials, blueprints, and sound recordings.”2

So … what will the new rule do, if adopted?

For example, imagine that I want a copy of a death certificate for someone who died in New York City more than 100 years ago to use — say — here in this blog.

I know I will pay — and it’s reasonable for me to have to pay — to get that certificate sent to me. There’s a real cost to any repository in retrieving the document from storage and making and sending a copy.

Fair enough.

But now I want to use the certificate I’ve bought and paid for — and DORIS wants me to pay for the privilege of doing that, with an additional licensing fee.

Seriously: a licensing fee to use public records for educational, scholarly, non-profit, and media purposes. They are literally proposing limits on individuals, genealogists, biographers, historians, members of the press, and other researchers from sharing or publishing these public records without paying an additional fee.

If I’m writing a book, and want to incorporate 100 certificates, I’d have to pay at least $1,500 extra for the privilege of using certificates I’ve already paid to get copies of.

And that is not reasonable, not when it comes to public records, held by a public agency.

And we have only a short window to tell DORIS just what we think of this.

We have until October 23rd to file comments on this proposed rule.

Here’s what we all need to do:

• Head over to the information page of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B) that explains the issue. You’ll find it here: “Stop Licensing Fees for Public Records.”

• After getting a good handle on what this means to you and to all researchers, submit your own comment in your own words opposing licensing fees for public records. Remember, the deadline is October 23, 2020, and the comments can be sent by email to

• Join with others in signing the public comment from NYG&B at

• Participate in the online public hearing, October 23, 2020, at 11:00 AM ET. There’s more information about that here:

• Tell your friends, your colleagues and anybody you can think of who cares about keeping public records public.

Genealogists are willing to pay our fair share. We accept, even if we don’t like the fact, that there’s a cost to getting copies of the records we want.

But tossing an additional licensing fee in to be able to use a copy of a record we’ve already bought and paid for?

No. Not a fair share.

Speak out.

Oppose the DORIS rule.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Heads up on NYC records access!,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 7 Oct 2020).


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “NY’s black hole gets blacker,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Mar 2018 ( : accessed 7 Oct 2020).
  2. Municipal Archives,” New York City Records and Information Services, New York City Department of Records and Information Services ( : accessed 7 October 2020).
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