24 April 2015

NY MUNI on digitizing band wagon (and Hell has not yet frozen over)

Every time I hear about a fire in a record repository somewhere, I worry about New York City records. Yes, vital record certificates have already been microfilmed, but sometimes not very well. And there is so much more stored at the Municipal Archives (and their warehouses) and the Old Records Office. 

So, I am thrilled to report that the New York City Municipal Archives is digitizing (in full color) birth, marriage and death certificates in their possession.[1] The first article in the most recent issue of The New York Researcher, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society's quarterly magazine, describes the project and the process.[2] [Frankly, I'm not sure how I missed this one earlier. It seems like this information should have been floating the blogs before April 2015!]

The contractor's team has already completed all marriage certificates and Manhattan death certificates through about 1896. They expect to complete all city death certificates by early fall and will then begin digitization of birth certificates.

Each of the 10.6 million vital records certificates have 2 sides. The project, targeted for completion in June 2016, will create 21.2 million full-color, high-resolution images.

I have previously written posts regarding New York City vital record indices at ItalianGen, Ancestry and FamilySearch. And I had previously seen MUNI's January announcement about their new digitization project to place historical records online. This is wonderful news. No mention in the January news release or the NYG&B article, unfortunately, of putting images of NYC vital record records online.  

The New York Researcher article does note, however, that the City may not make a profit from making copies of their digitize images for patrons and that, as a result of the vital record digitization project, they expect costs to go down and service to speed up. One may hope, at some point, they will also see that the best and most cost-effective customer service would include online images of their vital records.

One side note of great interest to NYC researchers: there may be a hint of thaw in the records frozen at the New York City Department and Health. No records have been transferred to MUNI since 1992. And the Department of Health has been very protective of their records (beyond, some genealogists believe, the protections of NY State law). 

MUNI seems dedicated to public access. One may only hope that attitude will somehow warm the cockles of the hearts of those at the NYC Department of Health. Apparently, MUNI and the Department of Health are conferring. While I am not optimistic, considering the current national climate regarding records access, that they will err on the side of great liberalization, any thaw is welcome.

1. These include births (1866-1909), marriages (1866-1937) and deaths (1862-1948). Records in some boroughs start a bit later in date.
2. "Digitizing New York City's Vital Record Certificates," The New York Researcher, Spring 2015, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 4-5.


  1. Incentive for me to find my NY&GB New York Researcher Magazine - it's around here somewhere! Thanks for this info - this is great!! (Can you tell I have a lot of New York relatives on both my side and my husband's side?)

    1. Definitely. Me, too! And this long-distance stuff can be a challenge.

  2. I saw online (and downloaded for free) my first colour image of an ancient document : a 1936 PA death certificate. The text seemed easier to read than normal and each of the half dozen different inks and pencils used were clearly separated. It made a normally sad document look alive, despite being 80 years old and brought this little reminder of an ancient matriarch into the present.

    1. Sweet! Color definitely can be helpful for document analysis, as well. There are documents, such Ellis Island manifests, that would benefit from analysis in color. Unfortunately, once microfilmed, the originals were destroyed. (sigh)

  3. Just got a 1911 wedding certificate from the new digital era NYC municipal archives efforts. It came very quickly , was very sharp in detail and in color. Quite a contrast with an request a few months earlier for a 1940 death certificate which took forever to arrive and was a low resolution greyish mess.

  4. Great! That's good to know. Some of the FamilySearch microfilmed copies are poor, as well. I may have to order some updated vital records from the Municipal Archives.


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