Episode 197 - ReclaimTheRecords.org And Freedom Of Information Act Requests For Genealogical Records

podcast episode Jun 25, 2017

Fisher opens this week’s show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. David reports from his research trip to Scotland.  David opens the show with the story of a New York genealogist who has been there to help poor folks prove their relationship to rich folks to gain a piece of their estate once they’ve died. But this genealogist has run into a bit of trouble. Hear what has happened. Then, a cemetery in Topeka, Kansas has been getting an assist from a local genie in finding unmarked graves. The technique is called “grave witching” (among other things) and you’ll want to hear about this remarkable woman and technique!  In Arkansas, the infamous “Trail of Tears” is receiving special recognition. David will tell you what is happening there.  David’s “blogger spotlight” this week shines on Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers.com.  A long time friend of the show, Thomas shares a lot of techniques and secrets he has learned through the years.

Next, Fisher visits with Brooke Ganz, whom he calls the “terror of record keepers everywhere!” Brooke has founded a non-profit organization called ReclaimTheRecords.org.  Working particularly with New York City records, Brooke came to realize that government entities do not like to make public some genealogical records that were, in fact, paid for by us, the taxpayers! So, Brooke started using Freedom of Information Act requests, and even law suits to force this archives and offices to hand over what is rightfully everyone’s for the benefit of all. Then she has them digitized and posted for free! Intriguing? You can be a part of this great effort that could finally get you the records you’ve been seeking from wherever. Let Brooke explain how!

Then, Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com talks about MP4s. They’re a great file type for preserving video, but there are some things you should know.  Tom is also preparing for his summer preservation road trip. He’s going to try to hit numerous family history conferences across the country. Hear where he’s going to be.

That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 197

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 197

Fisher: And welcome back to another spine-tingling episode of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. And this segment of the show is brought to you by FamilySearch.org. Nice to have you along! Today we’ve got Brooke Ganz on the show. Now, she is probably the biggest troublemaker in the history of the world of genealogy. If you’re frustrated by not being able to get records that should be accessible to you, you need to talk to Brooke Ganz and you’re going to want to hear what she has to say. She started an organization, a non-profit called “Reclaim the Records” and she’s using the Freedom of Information Act to go out and get governments to release information to the public and make it available online for free. It’s unbelievable and you can be a part of it. You’ll hear from Brooke coming up in about eight minutes from now. Hey, don’t forget we’re running out of month and we want you to sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter! It is absolutely free. And for anybody who signs up for the month of June you’ve got a shot at a free DNA kit we’re going to be giving away on July 10th. So get signed up today! We’d love to have that in your hands next month. But right now, let’s head off to the Highlands of Scotland for David Allen Lambert the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. But, where exactly are you in Scotland right now David?

David: [Laughs] Well, today I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland, part of the NEHGS research tour that we are doing with twenty five genealogists. It’s a great time. The weather’s good and finding a lot of dead Scots and records.

Fisher: Ooh and thank goodness for Skype so we can talk to you. You’re having a good experience?

David: Very much so. In fact, the best part of it is I actually brought my daughter. My daughter’s great grandfather actually immigrated to America at the age of three with his parents back in the 1920s. And this is the first member of her family to be back in Scotland since then. So she’s only seventeen miles away from where they lived.

Fisher: Well great. Well I hope you have a good time. Tell us what you’ve got today for a Family Histoire News.

David: Well, you know with genealogy you sometimes have to beware of fraudulent genealogy and a new story that’s come up recently talks about a genealogist who’s worked with over a hundred surrogate court cases in the New York area, helping Eastern Europeans sometimes connect back to lost fortunes either over there or here in the New York area. And there was a case right now where a woman was entitled to $8 million of a fortune left over by a late attorney by the name of Isaac Kramer. Well, it sounds like his genealogical research to help her may be fraudulent.

Fisher: Ooh, are we talking forgery here?

David: Uh hmm. Documents that are made to appear that they show a lineage but are probably not correct now. If you look back in the past there have been genealogists like Gustave Anjou who’d make fraudulent genealogical claims for his client. But if you think about it in the medieval time frames when you’re connecting those early kings if you didn’t give them something interesting you may have lost your life.

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

David: So fraudulent genealogy has been a way of life unfortunately, for hundreds upon hundreds of years, so let the buyer beware. Alright, my next story you have to dig a little bit to get to. And this one is actually in St Augustine, Florida. Now, last fall Hurricane Matthew damaged quite a bit of St Augustine, the very early 16th century Spanish community in Florida, and this wine shop that was built in the 19th century was actually built on pilings that left the original dirt from pre-1880s untouched. They were doing some work, put down their shovel and well they didn’t find coins. They found kids.

Fisher: Ohhh.

David: Children, they were under seven years of age who died in the 1500s. They assumed about 1572 to 1586 with the associated pottery that was found in the burials.

Fisher: That’s incredible.

David: It is. And these children would actually be remains of some of the first settlers in America.

Fisher: Yes that’s right.

David: And that’s Spanish Florida, pre-Virginia and so this wine store could be sitting on a cemetery. Right now this sight is six foot by twelve foot but should be bigger.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Stay tuned.

Fisher: Yeah, what are they going to do with the store?

David: I don’t know. Hopefully, they’ll remove the children and give them a decent burial. Maybe your friend there who helped bury that child found in California could be contacted for something like this.

Fisher: Absolutely.

David: Sometimes things that are lost are occasionally rediscovered and that’s the case of a mystery village up in Montreal in Quebec. The village of Hochelaga which was a 16th century village was discovered by explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535. His crew met them. There were over fifty buildings, longhouses if you will, that had the occupants in there. However, when he did his return trips six years later it was completely unoccupied, gone.

Fisher: Wow! What happened?

David: They don’t know. And that’s one of the things that you speculate in archaeology and anthropology. Was it the Europeans that gave them a disease? Maybe there was a war. Maybe they just moved.

Fisher: Right.

David: But recently, archaeological work has located some of the fifty plus longhouses. And there’s some archaeology that was found in the 19th century and in the 1970s, but now work is uncovering this hidden village which Montreal was built upon.

Fisher: Isn’t that amazing to think that there was another village right there under that massive city?

David: It really is. You know and of course this is Native American history. And that leads me to my next story which is in Arkansas. I mean, of course we know about the Trail of Tears History where the Cherokees were forced to move across. Thousands of them died. And the State of Arkansas is now creating historic signs that mark the Trail which I think is a very fitting and wonderful thing they have done.

Fisher: Absolutely appropriate.

David: If you’re not familiar with Thomas MacEntee who’s a national speaker on genealogy, he has a website called Geneabloggers.com where he goes and reviews different blogs and talks about new ones and a variety of other things that are new in the industry. Check out Thomas’s website Geneabloggers.com and let me know if you find an interesting blog that we should spotlight on the show. As I sit here in the Highlands enjoying the view of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh Castle, I will close with just one special offer. No, I’m not going to be giving haggis and blood pudding as gifts to our listeners!

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: But for $20 off you can use the check out code “extreme,” and become a member of AmericanAncestors.org, the New England Historical Society. We’ve been around since 1845 and we’d love to have you be part of our growing family.

Fisher: Alright David, great chatting with you. Be careful out there and don’t let too much wind blow up your kilt!

David: [Laughs] Take care, my friend!

Fisher: All right, and coming up next we’re going to be talk to the lady behind “Reclaim the Records.” Oh, she is a genealogical troublemaker! [Laughs] Her name is Brooke Ganz. You’ll hear from her in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 197

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Brooke Ganz

Fisher: And we are back! It is Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here your Radio Roots Sleuth and this segment has been brought to you by MyHeritage.com. And I got to tell you, it is fun to meet all the various people who are so involved in family history and making it better for you. And I don’t think I have met a bigger troublemaker than my next guest from Mill Valley, California, Brooke Ganz is on the phone. She is from ReclaimTheRecords.org. How are you Brooke?

Brooke: I’m great thanks. How are you doing today?

Fisher: Awesome! You got started at what age Brooke?

Brooke: I got started when I was about nineteen when I was in college. I discovered genealogy sites on the web. That was my first introduction and I thought, “This is so cool!” And that’s when I started researching my family history.

Fisher: Yeah, and then finding out that there was stuff out there overseas more easily obtained than stuff over here in the United States.

Brooke: Right. Well you know, my family is Jewish and landed in New York City at Ellis Island. Got off the boat and basically stayed in New York City all these years until I moved to California when I married a nice guy from California. And their roots before that were in Poland and Ukraine. And what struck me is that some of these countries overseas have been doing a great job of putting their records online for everybody to use for free. Particularly Poland is fabulous about scanning their old books. They keep them available in very high definition high quality scans for free. No logins, no copyrights things like that. But what kind of surprised me is that I could research a couple of hundred years of my family in Poland, no problem. But when they got to New York, and New York City there was nothing online. I thought, “That’s strange, maybe they just haven’t gotten around to it or maybe they just don’t have the budget right now.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: But as the years ticked by one by one, I still didn’t see anything online from New York City. And that bugged me because you know I still identify as a New Yorker even though I live in California.

Fisher: Sure.

Brooke: And I thought how could the greatest city on the planet not have their records online? They have wonderful things stored, why isn’t it going online for us all to use? So, I decided at some point I am tired of waiting for them to put records online so maybe there is something I can do to get these records online. Even though I am across the country in California, I don’t want to fly across the entire country to New York just to be able to do research on site.

Fisher: Sure.

Brooke: I have little kids at home. I can’t just pick up and go to do my research as much as I might want to. So, my initial thought was maybe I can use open data laws to get them to post some information. Just a basic index so I can more easily see what they have and what they don’t have. But, it turns out the open data laws are relatively new and they’re not really being enforced. They’re optimistic. They think that every government agency would love to post some of their internal workings and their internal data sets online.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: But there isn’t really any penalty to government agencies if they choose not to.    

Fisher: Right. And this is not just in New York, but this is everywhere.

Brooke: It really is. There has really been a movement to have all sorts of government data to be declared to be open data, not under copyright, and published to various websites. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if they published basic vital record indexes on these open data websites.”

Fisher: Sure, right.

Brooke: That was my initial idea, is to get New York City to do that too because they had never published that. But it wasn’t really going anywhere and I talked to many people in the open data community in New York City, I talked to them on Twitter, I tracked them down over email, I even spoke to them on the phone.

Fisher: Oh you’re a pest. [Laughs]

Brooke: Oh I was. I really was because I wanted these indexes online. I wanted something from New York City to go online so I could do my research but it wasn’t happening. And that’s when I got really frustrated and I thought okay, open data is not doing it. What can I do to get data online that’s never been online before?  And that’s when I stumbled on the idea of using Freedom of Information laws to get records online that has never been online before.

Fisher: Yeah. Now Brooke, I have a wife who served in government for some time and she was really kind of surprised when she heard about this because she couldn’t imagine how government agencies could not respond to something like the Freedom of Information Act. They go under different names all over the country but the reality is, these documents are created by the public, paid for by the tax payers, and therefore they need to be made available except in certain circumstances that requires that we protect privacy and potential ID theft, right?

Brooke: Exactly. Every state has one of these laws plus DC. They may go by the name of Freedom of Information law, sunshine law, open records law, public records law. Utah has the best name for their law which is Grama, which is an acronym G-R-A-M-A.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: But there are all these little state laws that are out there and they can be used to get records from your state or city archives, or library, or agencies. So, really what’s supposed to happen in an ideal situation is that a person, a member of the public or a journalist or whomever, makes a request saying I would like a copy of such and such records from this date to this date. I would like some indexes in such and such a format if you have that available, otherwise I would prefer this other format. I’m willing to pay up to such and such for the copy, you know, you pay for the copies.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: You don’t get them for free.

Fisher: Yeah.

Brooke: You can pay for the copies. You can pay for the labor and for the shipping, all that’s fair. And then you put in your information. What’s supposed to happen is that the government agency responds to you in a certain timeframe. Sometimes it’s within three business days, sometimes it could be within two weeks, you have to look up the specifics of your own state law and they say yes or no. And if they say no, they have to give you a reason why not. They can’t just say, “I don’t want to.”

Fisher: Now, you had some problems with this though in New York right?

Brooke: Yes I did.

Fisher: And this was a shocker because you would think that this is a place that understands there are consequences when you don’t follow the law. 

Brooke: You would think so. But I think because no one has ever really done this before it was new on all sides and they were trying to blow me off. They were trying to say, “No. We just don’t do that.”  

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: They never studied the law.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: I should say what I was trying to request. I knew I wanted to request just the basic index in the New York City Municipal Archives. New York City is a separate vital records jurisdiction from New York State so New York City is almost like a state unto itself.

Fisher: Sure, right.

Brooke: But it still has to follow the New York State Freedom of Information law which they which they call Foil, F-O-I-L. So I wrote a request saying I would like a copy of the index. Just the index, the finding aid, to New York City marriage licences between 1908 and 1929 which was stored at the archives. I picked this on purpose because I thought this is very useful. I have tons of New York City relatives and ancestors, collateral lines.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: But, it’s also so old that there’s no way that there could be a privacy problem and I’m not requesting an actual certificate or license, I’m just requesting the index. So I thought this will be perfect. It’s useful for me genealogically, but strategically it also could be the start of a much better thing.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: Which it did. It did become that.

Fisher: Sure. Yes.

Brooke: So I filed my request two years ago in January 2015 and I said, “I would like this.” And initially the Archives wrote back to me saying “yes.” On the letterhead they said, “Sure.” I thought that was easy. That was great. I’m going to ask them now for how much it costs. “Please send me an invoice. Do you take credit cards?” And at that point the New York City Municipal Archives wrote back and said, “Oh, did we say yes? We meant no. Sorry this is not available under Foil.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: “You can’t do that. You can come on sit and view them.” You can fly across the country and sit in here and see them.

Fisher: Sure, yeah.

Brooke: So they’re public records because you can see them on site. But we’re not going to call them public records for the sake of replying to your request under the law. I thought, “That doesn’t sound right.” So I consulted with the Committee on Open Government in New York State. They’re a free group set up by the legislature where they’re basically attorneys in a room in Albany who will take your phone calls and your emails and give you advice for free about the New York State Freedom of Information law.

Fisher: Nice.

Brooke: And I asked them, “Can I get these records? You can see them on site. I just want to get a copy so I can see them in California. And I plan on scanning mine and putting them on the internet so everybody can use them. Doesn’t that sound like it should be legal?” And the Committee On Open Government said, “Yeah that sounds right. That sounds fine.” And they wrote a non-binding but legally well-informed advisory opinion.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: Basically a two page letter which I also forwarded to the Municipal Archives saying, “Look, they say these are supposed to be open under the law. Can I have my copies please? I’ll pay you for the copies.” And the New York City Municipal Archives said, “Nope. We’re just not going to do that.

Fisher: Oh, boy.

Brooke: At that point I was stymied and I felt really stuck.

Fisher: They didn’t know who they were messing with!

Brooke: That was the start of when this stopped becoming just a personal project trying to get New York City records and became a movement. And I started a group called “Reclaim the Records” We have a website ReclaimTheRecords.org. And what we do is we file Freedom of Information requests using states’ Freedom of Information laws and some at the federal Foia too. And we use those against archives, libraries and agencies, to get copies of records that ought to be available to everybody. And if they fight us or if they don’t respond in the proper timeframe, we sue them!

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: We take them to court and we make them give us copies of the records and we ask for our attorney’s fees which we’ve won already once.

Fisher: Wow.

Brooke: We take our records, we scan them. We put them online for free as free public data. No copyrights, no logins, totally public domain. You can reuse them. You can make a transcription of them. You can put them on your site. You don’t need to ask permission. We want to tell people that these records have always belonged to the public. The fact that they were hard to get to doesn’t mean that they were not part of the public domain.

Fisher: Right.    

Brooke: They always were.

Fisher: Of course.

Brooke: So, this case in New York City sparked that whole movement so I had to file a suit against New York City Municipal Archives and the parent agency the Department of Records and Information and Services. And I did. So when I filed the suit I didn’t just file as my name against them I decided I need a group. So I created Reclaim the Records so the legal paperwork says Brook Schreier Ganz and Reclaim The Records versus the City of New York and we want our records.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: They settled with us, they gave us everything and for the first time ever those forty eight microfilms with the index to New York City marriage licences were sent to my house, brand new copies at $35 dollars for the microfilm plus $50 dollars shipping.

Fisher: Sweet! And so these are now made available online through ReclaimTheRecords.org and you’re not only sharing them there, you’re making them available to places like FamilySearch.

Brooke: Exactly. Everything we get, we then upload to the Internet Archive. We’re happy to upload it to other places too but we chose the Internet Archive rather than our own servers because they’re a great way to distribute work. They don’t require logins, they’re totally free to use.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: We upload all the data so you can browse it on the Internet Archive, which is Archive.org or, you can even download from them. You can download the raw image. They are public domains, and that one project worked out so well that spurred many other projects going forward. That was in 2015.

Fisher: [Laughs] All right Brooke, we’re going to take a break right here and you can catch your breath. My goodness that’s an amazing story!

Brooke: Oh boy.

Fisher: And we’re going to find out about what happened the next time she applied for records against this very same group and what you might be able to do to do this in your state or city. That’s all coming up in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show. 

Segment 3 Episode 197

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Brooke Ganz

Fisher: And we are back! It is America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and I’m talking to Brooke Ganz, she is the founder of ReclaimTheRecords.org. She is genealogy’s favorite pest because she actually goes after various organizations, archives, libraries, and when they don’t share records that should be public, she sues them. And this segment is brought to you by 23andMe.comDNA. Brooke, after you went through this whole thing with the Municipal Archives and you won your suit, and you got your legal fees and you got the documents you wanted. And you made them available to the public. What happened the next time you went after them?

Brooke: Well, I should correct that a little, we actually settled, so technically I can’t say I won. I just got everything I wanted. And we didn’t win our attorneys fees the first time. That’s the problem with Freedom of Information requests, and the resulting suits if they aren’t followed. You can win records but not your attorney fees. A lot of times in most states it is at the discretion of the judge.

Fisher: Sure.

Brooke: The first time around we got our records through the settlement, but we didn’t get attorneys fees. Luckily they weren’t that bad. We found a wonderful public interest law firm to represent us. But the second time, and there was a second time, we won our records in the settlement and we also won our attorneys fees. The second time was about a different agency. The agency was the New York City Clerk’s Office. I decided, I want to get the rest of this indexed, the New York City marriage licenses.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: Where do you go to get married in New York? You go to the City Clerk’s Office.

Fisher: Sure.

Brooke: That’s where I went when I got married.

Fisher: Um hmm. 

Brooke: The City Clerk’s Office had at that time the index, just a finding aid to these licenses from 1930 all the way up to the present. So, in 2016 I filed a Freedom of Information request with the New York Clerk’s office. Saying, “Hi, I’m making a request under the Freedom of Information law. I’d like your index. Not the actual licenses, but the index, the finding aid.”

Fisher: Sure. 

Brooke: Everyone who got married in New York City. Because I cannot believe this isn’t online. I can’t believe you’ve never shared this. I can’t believe you never gave a copy to anybody. I would like a copy and I think lots of other researchers around the country would love a copy of your finding aid.

Fisher: It’s just the index.

Brooke: It’s just the index! And it should be absolutely available under the Freedom of Information law. This time, rather than saying no for no good reason. They did something even worse. They decided not to respond to my request.

Fisher: Uh oh.

Brooke: Yes. You’re supposed to respond yes or no, with some reasoning behind your yes or no, within a certain number of days.  The New York City Clerk’s office didn’t respond. So we appealed and they didn’t really respond to the appeal. So I called my attorney and I said, “How would you like another case?” and they said, “Sure.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: They called and left messages. New York City didn’t respond. Eventually, in the very end they said they started responding and they said, “We’ll get back to you with a yes or no.” And then they didn’t give the yes or no.

Fisher: Hmm.

Brooke: So we threw up our hands and said, “Bring it.” And we filed yet another suit. Technically we could call this a complaint. So we filed an Article 78 complaint in the Supreme Court of New York. And it basically says, “You’re supposed to follow the Freedom of Information law and you are not following it.” And they kind of had no response to that. They had no good excuse.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: So they settled with us. They gave us all the records we wanted and they paid our attorneys fees this time.

Fisher: Wow.

Brooke: Because they had no reasoning for saying no to our request.

Fisher: Sure.

Brooke: And for the first time we got millions of records. The index of the New York City Marriages 1930, we went all the way up to 1995. We’d asked them originally all the way up to 2016 or 2015 at the time. They didn’t give us past 1995, because this is a quirk of how we asked them. We had asked them for the index. It turns out, starting in 1996 there was no separate index kept of New York City marriage licenses.

Fisher: Right, sure.

Brooke: There was just the actual database that they entered as the original record. There was no separate index, so I couldn’t request it past that point.

Fisher: Right.

Brooke: We got just the 1950 to 1995 part that alone was about six million names. The prior part 1930 to 1950 was I don’t even know how many millions of names because they’re not indexed yet. They’re getting indexed by various groups.

Fisher: Okay. Well this is a great thing, but now when you’ve gone after them because there’s a lot of material there, then the wall has basically been broken down. Do you have problems now with these people?

Brooke: No we don’t!

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: And this is why it’s so important to use these Freedom of Information laws. Anybody can use them. I’m not an attorney. I’m just a really motivated genealogist who wanted my records from New York City so I can use them when I live in California.

Fisher: Sure. Well, you’ve put together a marvellous organization as a platform for what you’re trying to do. And we talk about New York City because that’s what you went after, but really this can be applied pretty much anywhere. Talk about how people can help and what they can do to participate.

Brooke:  So I founded the organization “Reclaim the Records.” Our website is ReclaimTheRecords.org. And we have just incorporated as a non-profit. We have not yet put the shiny DONATE link button on our website, so we are about to. And what we want to do is to help people file these sorts of requests of their own records that they want. Make requests of their own cities and governments and libraries and agencies who are not responsive to genealogists. If you want to get more records online, asking very nicely and saying please is only going to get you so far. At some point you may need to use the law, like we did. And we want to help you do that too. So, we have an email mailing list where you’re totally free, you’re welcome to sign up, and we tell everybody what we’re up to and what we want to work on next. We have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter feed, and we take requests and suggestions from everybody about records they know about that they really think should be public but for some reason are not available, and they send it to us through our website. We have a records survey and we look at every suggestion that comes in, and we think, you know, is this actually available under their states laws?

Fisher: Sure.

Brooke: Is there any reason this should not be available? If there’s not a specific reason that it should not be available, the presumption is this is a public record, it should be open.

Fisher: Do you think, Brooke, that a lot of these people think that they could make some money off of this and that’s why they’re holding it back, that there’s a revenue source to be had?

Brooke: I think that’s part of it. I think a lot of these libraries and archives would love to put more records online but they don’t have the budgets. They’re really having a budget crisis and I do feel badly for them for that. However, there are many opportunities to work with a for-profit or non-profit organization. Could be a for-profit group like Ancestry, MyHeritage, FindMyPast, non-profit like FamilySearch or smaller non-profits like a regional genealogical group, and many of these archives, unfortunately, don’t want to team up. They don’t want to make an index available, for example, because they want people to pay when they’re doing a search for a record. For example, in New York State, up until very, very recently, about two months ago, if you wanted to find a death record, you could only look it up at a very small number of places on site at libraries in New York State, or you could send something to the state and charge $22, that included the search time from multiple years.

Fisher: That’s right.

Brooke: By not publishing what they have, they are basically being the only holders of this information, and they can charge really exorbitant fees. I’m sure New York State where its $22 is not even the highest there must be higher ones out there.

Fisher: Yeah.

Brooke: New York State is also interesting. Like I said, the state and the city are considered separate by the records’ jurisdictions. Reclaim the Records, just won, and published, the New York State Death Index, 1880 to 1956, we’re the first group ever to get a copy of this. The only other people who ever had it were a very small number of New York State libraries up state where it was only available on microfiche. It was never allowed to be given to any other group, not even FamilySearch, microfilm, not Ancestry, not anybody. And all of those groups have been asking for it for years, and the state was just saying, “No, no, no. We don’t give that out.”

Fisher: Wow.

Brooke: “We don’t give that out.”

Fisher: All right. So, if somebody wants to join, ReclaimTheRecords.org, Brooke, what do they do?

Brooke: They can come to our website, sign up for our emailing mailing list which is totally free. You can follow us on Facebook. You can follow us on Twitter. And we want to keep you informed and work with you to get more records all around the country opened up for the first time ever and put online for free as public domain records the way they always should have been. But in cases where there are archives or libraries or state agencies who just don’t want to have these records online.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Brooke: Not even the index.

Fisher: Yeah.

Brooke: We’re going to go after them and we’re going to make them put it online, because these are our records, they belong to the public, and we are tired of asking nicely and getting nowhere.

Fisher: Hey, we’re out of time, Brooke. Thank you so much for coming on. The website address, once again, is ReclaimTheRecords.org. She’s my hero, Brooke Ganz, from Mill Valley, California.

Brooke: Aww, thank you!

Fisher: Well you’re doing great things.

Brooke: Thanks.

Fisher: That’s going to make a big difference for many years to come in family history research. Thanks for coming on, Brooke.

Brooke: Thanks for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, Tom Perry talks preservation, on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show, in three minutes.

Segment 4 Episode 197

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: It is preservation time at Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and this segment is brought to you by LegacyTree.com. And Tom Perry is here from TMCPlace.com, our Preservation Authority. How are you doing, Tom?

Tom: Super!

Fisher: All right. Now we have some issues that have come up, people concerned about MP4s. And of course we love to talk about how you can digitize your materials into different formats, how you preserve them. And MP4s is the format for…?

Tom: MP4s are used for a lot of different things. In fact, if you've ever downloaded Netflix, that's what they are, they're MP4s. If you've ever got a small enough video files to email, they're usually MP4s. And so, some people think an MP4s an MP4, just like a car's a car, whatever, and it’s not. Just like a DVD. Most people get a DVD they assume its two hours. We have equipment that we can take one hour that fills an entire DVD. We can do three hours, four hours, six hours, even up to eight, and I've even seen ones go as high as twelve hours. So your disk is still the same size, it’s just your stuff is compressed. And so, some people say, "Well, why don't you put four of my two hour ones on here and give me an eight hour disk?" Well, then we have problems with something like that. It’s like pixels when we're scanning photos.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: That all the little zeros and ones are so teeny, they're microscopic, they're almost like quarks. They're so teeny!

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: And so, if you accidently damage your disk which could just be a little scratch or a little scuff, it’s going to cover like, say, maybe fifty zeros and ones, so even if you have oversampling on your DVD player, it’s going to say, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I can't read this now."Whereas if you only have an hour on that same disk, the standard scratch or smudge is going to oversample it, figure out, okay, here's a zero.” It goes zero, zero, one, one, one, zero, zero, so I know the missing thing's probably a zero."

Fisher: Right.

Tom: And it'll scan over it.

Fisher: So it’s too much compression basically.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: And it’s risky.

Tom: Absolutely. Its, you know, especially if you're archiving things. You want your archival items to be able to be rescued very easily. And the tighter you fit stuff into that, the harder it’s going to be.

Fisher: So this is comparable to trying to make 3x5 photo into an 8x10, it depends on how much detail you put into it, right?

Tom: Yeah, that's an absolutely perfect example. For instance, if you have a 3x5 that you want to enlarge to an 8x10 and you do it at 350 dpi and then you think, "Well, no, I'm going to go 1200 dpi." I can pretty much guarantee if you used a good quality scanner, when you make that 3x5 into an 8x10, whether you go 350 dpi or 1200 dpi, you're not going to see a difference. If you're making a billboard, then you're going to see a difference. And so, it always comes back to which we talk a lot about on here, you need to know what your end game is. If all you want to do is preserve the stuff so you look at it, you're never going to make billboards out of it or anything, then the smaller dpi is fine, which you can go to my Twitter account and you can actually see a chart that kind of gives you some ideas of what are the best dpis to scan stuff on.

Fisher: Sure.

Tom: And I always go usually one higher than what the recommended is.

Fisher: That's a good way to go. And also, the higher it is, it means you get more detail if you're going to do some visual editing on it.

Tom: Exactly. It all comes down to your end games.

Fisher: So back to your MP4s.

Tom: So the MP4s are exactly the same. Like we've had a lot of people that have called us and asked us questions about the DVA that we talked about a few weeks ago. For instance, let me give you a good example on that. When people come in and say, "Hey, I want my tape turned into a DVA, so I can actually edit it online and I have all these cool thumbnails and everything to preview my tape before I even play it." This gives you the opportunity to do it at a smaller compression ratio. So, when we upload them on the web for you to go and edit, a two hour video is only 750 megabytes, which sounds kind of small, whereas if you say, "I want an MP4 on my flash drive as well or on a disk or on my hard drive or whatever, then we do the exactly same video at 4 gigabytes. And so, people think, "Wow, those are two totally different numbers!"

Fisher: Sure.

Tom: "You know, how can they be, you know, workable?" Well, most people don't have a 72 inch television at their house.

Fisher: Yeah. [Laughs]

Tom: So you're probably not going to notice the difference, just like Netflix. So if all you're going to be doing is basic editing, you're never going to go in and do any fancy stuff, the 750 megabyte two hour video is going to be fine. You won't need the 4 gigabyte unless you want to archive it for people to do something with it later.

Fisher: All right, what are we going to get to next?

Tom: There's a lot of family history conferences coming up, and we're going to talk about some of them across the country this summer.

Fisher: All right, coming up in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 197

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: All right, back at it for our final segment of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show for this week. Tom Perry is here from TMCPlace.com, the Preservation Authority. And, Tom, now that the summer months are upon us, I know you're got road trips on your mind and a lot of events that are coming up.

Tom: Oh, there's tons of them. And again, you can go to our Twitter account and see them. Its @AskTomP, but there's a lot of really good ones coming up that I want to let everybody know about, and you can do more research online obviously. There's a big, huge one that's really going to be a lot of fun. They have a lot of Native American things going on during the show, they have special things for kids, it’s kind of almost like a miniature RootsTech, but on steroids.

Fisher: Okay. [Laughs]

Tom: But it’s kind of like between the two, if you can understand that. And that's September 14th, 15th and 16th in St. George, Utah, which is going to be a great one. That's one that I wouldn't miss for sure. And we will definitely be there. Since we're talking about Utah, there's another one on September 9th in Logan, Utah, Utah State University, which is always a good one, we'll be at that one. There's one in Billings, Montana. So if you're up in the north west, this is a great one to go to, its September 21st, 22nd and 23rd. There's one in Colby, Kansas, October 13th and 14th. We have one in Tucson on July 24th through the 30th. Houston, October 20th through the 22nd. We've got Columbus, Ohio, August 4th through the 5th. Louisville, Kentucky August 25th through the 26th, and another really, really big one, it’s in Pittsburgh and its August 30th through September 2nd, and so it’s a great one. We're going to get to as many of those as we can.

Fisher: And you're going to be on the road, so this is a chance for people to meet you and do some preservation or at least talk some preservation, maybe bring some items from your home that you've been thinking about "What am I going to do with this?" Tom's got the expertise to help you out.

Tom: Yeah, that's awesome. In fact, I love doing these shows, because people bring us sometimes some strange things, whether they're, you know, the old viewers from the GAF machines. We've had some things that are like tintypes, but they're like tintypes where somebody's glued glass on the top of them, all kinds of things. And nine out of ten times, I can tell you what we can do with them. If not, I know the people that I can send pictures to. And if you're scared about bringing your stuff with you, just take photos, take a top, a back, and I can look through your iPhone and look at the photos and give you some indication, too. But we love talking to people, we love helping people. Don't ever hesitate to tweet us or email us, because we're here to help you. That's why we do this. We do it because we love helping people.

Fisher: Oh, absolutely. In fact, the other day, I had somebody send me an old photograph, and I knew one of the people in there, because it was my great grandfather's “paramour” and what we thought were three sisters.

Tom: Wow!

Fisher: And I was thinking it was from the mid-1890s. And I forwarded it onto Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective we've had on the show many times in the past, she's so good at it. And she said, "Oh, love this picture! This was a style that was popular in magazines in 1882." And she completely changed the way I viewed the picture, because she knew what they were wearing, she knew the sleeve that this tintype was in and when that was popular, and was able to pinpoint the year as 1882. So it’s amazing what we can do with photos today and how we can preserve them, because then I took a scan of this and was actually able to Photoshop it for my cousin and send it back to him. And he of course was pretty excited about that.

Tom: Oh yeah. These people that are so deep into things like this, It’s incredible. Like I've got an employee that, I mean he just gets excited when he sees a reel to reel machine come in to be repaired, or an old wire recorder. He just loves these old things, and he's only like sixteen years old. So like you say, there's so many different people out there, breaking through the brick wall, we talk to Fish. You need information on how to preserve your stuff, talk to me. You know, dating things, all these different people, there's so many people out there that have so much information. You just need to get to the right people and they'll answer your questions for you.

Fisher: Always good to see you, Tom. Talk to you next week.

Tom: My pleasure.

Fisher: That is a wrap on this week's show. And thanks so much to Brooke Ganz from ReclaimTheRecords.org. Boy, what a great concept she's got in chasing after government agencies that won't free up records that have been paid for by tax payers, using Freedom of Information Act requests. If you missed the interview, catch the podcast at ExtremeGenes.com, iTunes, iHeart Radio or TuneIn Radio. Hey, don't forget by the way, sign up for our Weekly Genie newsletter. We are running out of month. If you sign up this month at ExtremeGenes.com or on our Facebook page, you're eligible for a free DNA kit we're going to be giving away on July 10th, so get signed up right now. Next week, we're going to talk to the lady who went grave witching in Topeka, Kansas! How's it done and how you could you do it? You're going to find out next week. Thanks for joining us. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal, family!

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