Most states have strict rules about who can access vital records and when, and how, and how much it will cost per copy , but most states forgot to explicitly restrict the index or finding aid to those same records. New Jersey is one of those states.
Alec realized that while the actual text of the state vital records law seals the marriage certificates as private, it also directs the state to create an index to all marriages, for all counties that have a population more than five thousand people. Well, in New Jersey, every county has a population above five thousand people!
In other words, Alec had just figured out that the New Jersey marriage index was always supposed to have been a public record! But they denied his request. So Alec turned to the New Jersey Government Records Council the GRC and asked them for an Advisory Opinion about the matter, which is a non-binding but very helpful ruling on some of the facts of the case.
But there was a catch: the backlog of cases meant that it might take up to a year before they heard his case, unless he wanted to file a motion in the New Jersey Supreme Court.
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Either way he was going to need help, both legally and financially. Could we set him up with an attorney for either mediation or help him move the case to court? So we set up phone calls with Alec, and phone calls with our attorneys. And amongst our Board of Directors we discussed the situation and decided to set aside money and time to fight for these records in mediation and in court, if need be. They attempted to set a mediation date for late August or early September, This was a little bit intimidating, but we were still prepared to go to court if we had to.
About the Bureau of Vital Statistics
Those records were supposed to be open, after all, and we would fight for them. But one week later, a small miracle happened. The Deputy Attorney General decided that there was no need to go to mediation after all. She would instruct the Department of Health to put all the files on a small hard drive and send it to Alec in the mail, along with an invoice for the cost of the records and the drive. Now, that might sound like a lot of money, but really, a one-time charge to get about five million records and years of data released to the public domain forever, plus avoiding all the costs of litigation?
That sounded like a very good deal. Reclaim The Records made plans to reimburse Alec for the cost of these records, with his agreement that they would go online for free without any kind of usage restrictions, and we got our credit card ready. And then? Another small miracle. They just gave us the data! Why did they do this? New Jersey is one of only a handful of states where a requestor who wins an open records lawsuit will also automatically win payment of all their attorneys fees and court costs.
This is unusual; in most other states, including New York, the decision whether to award attorneys fees is a totally separate question from whether the records were being wrongfully withheld from the public. Alec sent us a copy of the data as soon as he received it. We started to put it all online at the Internet Archive.
And then we realized a few years were missing.
The New Jersey Department of Health did not have a complete set of their own state marriage index! Luckily, we were able to figure out that the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton had copies of the missing years of data on microfilm. The similarly nice people at FamilySearch then agreed to scan the microfilms for us, and the six missing Brides Index microfilms went online a few months later in December We also gave a heads-up e-mail to some friends in the genealogical community about the impending data release.
All the major websites you would hope or expect to see this data will have it online eventually, and multiple transcription projects are being planned, although it may take a year or two for everything to wind up freely text-searchable. And as for Alec? And you should probably tell him thank you for having the great idea to go after these New Jersey records in the first place.
One more fun fact: at one point in this records fight, a New Jersey government official casually mentioned to Alec that only a New Jersey state resident could file an OPRA request. This government official was slightly misinformed, as a new court case just this past April decided that OPRA requestors no longer need to prove in-state residency. We in the genealogical community are the beneficiaries of his forbearance. We at Reclaim The Records were able to step in and work with Alec on this project because we finally became a real c 3 registered non-profit earlier this year, and have quietly been fundraising for the past few months.
We want to keep reclaiming and publishing records like this New Jersey marriage index.
And we want to keep helping genealogists like Alec with legal assistance and financial support to reclaim any new records they may discover. If another genealogist comes to us tomorrow needing help with another awesome records project, we want to be able to say yes to them too. Record Type: Marriage Records. Record Physical Format: Digital Images. Submit Payments. New Jersey's local and county health departments are community-based public health service and a first point of contact for questions about public health services or health conditions. S tate of N ew J ersey. Governor Sheila Oliver.
New Jersey (NJ) Death Certificates | Order Records - VitalChek
How do I? Chief State Medical Examiner. Vital Statistics.
About Vital Statistics and Registry. The Office of Vital Statistics and Registry registers vital events and maintains the following vital records: Birth, marriage and death records starting at Domestic partnership records starting at Civil union records starting at Adoptions — foreign and domestic Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth data starting at Vital records are also available from Local Vital Records Offices in the municipality where the event occurred.
Frequent Requests. Online Resources. Online Requests Check the Status of a Request. Register a Vital Event. How can we help you today? About the New Jersey Department of Health. Public Health New Jersey's local and county health departments are community-based public health service and a first point of contact for questions about public health services or health conditions. Are you ready to stop? We can help. Latest health info from the federal government Recognizing the exemplary work being done to improve health outcomes in New Jersey.