Washington State marriage, divorce, and death indices (Secretary of State)

Reclaim The Records filed this request with the Secretary of State of Washington.
Due Feb. 7, 2019
Est. Completion None
Status
Awaiting Response

Communications

From: Reclaim The Records

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Brooke Schreier Ganz, and I am the president and founder of a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called Reclaim The Records. We are an association of genealogists, historians, journalists, teachers, and open data researchers who use freedom of information laws and open data policies to acquire copies of historical records and then place them online for free public use. We also advocate for greater transparency and public access for archival records.

The state of Washington has generally been excellent about providing records access for its citizens, an open records state for decades. The state's various agencies have published all sorts of archival records and indices to the public, and have even helped create new crowdsourced transcriptions of records through the online "Scribe" program at the Washington State Archives website. However, our organization has recently been made aware that there is a new vital records bill that is being introduced in the Washington State Legislature, SB 5332, which might suddenly lock away public access to these important records and indices in the future. Therefore, we are now making this Washington Public Records Act request to various state agencies to acquire existing copies of some of these important vital records indices, so that they will remain available to the public even if this overly restrictive bill passes in its current format.

On behalf of Reclaim The Records, pursuant to the Washington Public Records Act, we would like to request copies of the following records:

1) Please provide a digital copy of the "Department of Health, Death Index, 1907-1960; 1965-2017" database. This database was originally created by the Department of Health, and is publicly and freely available on the Washington State Archives' "Digital Archives" website at this URL:

https://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Collections/TitleInfo/472

Please note that within the description of this database under the heading "Access Restriction Notes" the metadata explicitly says "This index is open for research.". And this data has been already made available to other organizations in the past, including to the non-profit organization FamilySearch.org and to the commercial genealogy company Ancestry.com. Therefore, there should be no impediment to making this data available to us, as well. We would prefer to receive a copy of this database file in its native digital format, such as an SQL file export, or a CSV (comma separated value) file export.

If there is an updated version of this file available (even if it is not yet online), extending the death record index through 2018, we would like to request a copy of that newer version, too.

2) The database listed above does not contain an index of deaths for the years 1961-1964; that portion of the index is apparently only on microfilm at this time, presumably not having yet been transcribed. The text of the Archives web page listed above states "The indexes for 1961-1964 are available on microfilm at the State Archives in Olympia." Please provide us a copy of these microfilms. We would accept either direct microfilm-to-microfilm duplication, or else we would accept digital scans of your microfilms. Please let us know the estimated cost for both methods of duplication, to help us make our choice.

3) Unfortunately, the current text of SB 5332 may also attempt to restrict public access to any information derived from a marriage record, even just the basic index data. Therefore, we are also requesting a copy of every marriage index database held at the Department of Health and/or the Washington State Archives. A listing of these various marriage index databases is online at this URL:

https://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Collections#RSID:1

We would like a copy of every marriage index database referenced within that "Marriage Records" collection, including all of the individual county-level datasets as well as the "Department of Health, Marriage Index, 1969-2014" data set. If there are newer versions available for any of these databases extending the years available, even if they are not yet online, we would like copies of those updated databases as well. We would prefer to receive a copy of these database files in their native digital formats, such as SQL file exports, or CSV (comma separated value) file exports.

4) Similarly, we would also like a copy of the "Department of Health, Divorce Index, 1969-2014" database, which is also online at the State Archives. If there is a newer version available for this database extending the years available, even if it is not yet online, we would like a copy of that as well. We would prefer to receive a copy of this files in its native digital format, such as a SQL file export, or CSV (comma separated value) file export.

Please note that in all four of these requests, we are only asking for an index or the "finding aid" -- and we are not seeking copies of any actual death certificate images or actual marriage licenses, etc. We just want to ensure that genealogists and other researchers will still be able to do free searches in the state's files even if SB 5332 passes in its current form.

These requested indices will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes. In the event that there are fees, please inform us of the total charges in advance of fulfilling the request. We would prefer the request be filled electronically if possible, by e-mail attachment if available or USB hard drive if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. We look forward to receiving your response to this request within 5 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Brooke Schreier Ganz
President and Founder of Reclaim The Records
https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/

From: Secretary of State

Hello Brooke Schreier Ganz,
We would be happy to provide you with a digital copy of the Department of Health Death Index (originally created by the Department of Health) from our Digital Archives.
Once we know the size of the file, we will email it or mail it to you on a thumb-drive.
We will pull the microfilmed Death Indexes for 1961-1964, and determine the most cost-effective duplication method.
I've cc'd our key people who will be working on your request.
In the interim, if there are questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
-Steve

************************************************

Steve Excell
State Archivist
Washington State Archives
Office of the Secretary of State
PO Box 40238
1129 Washington Street SE, MS 40238
Olympia, WA 98504
Desk: (360) 586-2664
Cell: (360) 349-1538
Email: steve.excell@sos.wa.gov<mailto:steve.excell@sos.wa.gov>
www.sos.wa.gov/archives/default.aspx<http://www.sos.wa.gov/archives/default.aspx>
[OSOS Kim Signature block]

************************************************

From: Secretary of State

Hello Brooke Schreier Ganz,
Some further info:

(1) Good news: We have already digitized the Death Indexes for 1961-1964. There is no metadata for these images, i.e. no one has transcribed them yet. For these years, there are approximately 2,000 images (1.2 GB file size). So we will be able to provide all of the Death Indexes in a digitized format.

(2) SB 5332 does not restrict marriage records recorded at the County Auditors' office, nor does it restrict the Marriage Indexes. SB 5332 places restrictions on marriage records inside of the Department of Health Vital Records System. All of the marriage records at our Digital Archives will remain accessible to the general public. We have about 4.5 million marriage records in total (Index, applications and certificate) and these records are also all online at Ancestry.com. FamilySearch also has copies of all of our marriage records, but I do not believe there are all online yet at Familysearch.
Do you still want the Marriage Indexes we have online at our Digital Archives?

(3) Debbie Bahn can provide the details of the Divorce Index we have online.
-Steve

************************************************

Steve Excell
State Archivist
Washington State Archives
Office of the Secretary of State
PO Box 40238
1129 Washington Street SE, MS 40238
Olympia, WA 98504
Desk: (360) 586-2664
Cell: (360) 349-1538
Email: steve.excell@sos.wa.gov<mailto:steve.excell@sos.wa.gov>
www.sos.wa.gov/archives/default.aspx<http://www.sos.wa.gov/archives/default.aspx>
[OSOS Kim Signature block]

************************************************

From: Secretary of State

The Divorce Index contains almost 1.3 million records. I won't know the size of the CSV file until I export the records out of the database.

Debbie Bahn
Electronic Records Archivist, Digital Archives
Washington State Archives
960 Washington St.
Cheney, WA 99004
(509) 235-7500 ext. 207
www.digitalarchives.wa.gov<http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/>

[Email-Sig-Archives]

From: Reclaim The Records

Hi everyone,

Thank you all so much for such a quick and helpful response to our PRA request! Our organization has done a lot of these kinds of freedom of information requests in other states and cities in the past few years (and we've even had to sue a few agencies when they didn't want to comply with their own state laws), and I think Washington just won the "best response" award hands down. :-)

We've heard conflicting things about the marriage index situation in the current bill. While I'd like to think that the state wouldn't try to restrict any existing public indices of any type, I also figure it's better to be safe than sorry. We've unfortunately seen records pulled off the shelves in other states. So yes, please do include those approximately 30 marriage index files too. We don't need (or want) any actual marriage record images, just the basic text data file, or metadata index, or database, or whatever.

I think it would be easier to just put everything on a single USB thumb drive, especially if there are likely to be thousands of images for the 1961-1964 death index that were digitized from the microfilms. (Also, yay for already-digitized files!)

We're happy to pay for the USB drive and the labor and the shipping, of course. Just let us know the total cost for everything when you're all ready, and we'll send you a check -- or do you guys take credit cards? Because that would be awesome. And if you can do FedEx or UPS or something like that for the shipping, that would be great; it doesn't have to be fast, just trackable.

By the way, we'd be happy to help you get those 1961-1964 death index images transcribed and then get the resulting text database back to you, for free, so it can be integrated with the existing death index database, which would finally cover all years from 1907 to the present. Or do you already have a project planned to transcribe those years through Scribe or some other system?

Thanks!

- Brooke

From: Secretary of State

Hi Brooke,
We will include the Marriage Indexes.
If you do transcribe the 1961-1964 Death Index, we would love to have the metadata.
Stay tuned as Debbie pulls all of this together for you.
Since you are providing public access to these records, we will not charge for the USB drive.
-Steve

************************************************

Steve Excell
State Archivist
Washington State Archives
Office of the Secretary of State
PO Box 40238
1129 Washington Street SE, MS 40238
Olympia, WA 98504
Desk: (360) 586-2664
Cell: (360) 349-1538
Email: steve.excell@sos.wa.gov<mailto:steve.excell@sos.wa.gov>
www.sos.wa.gov/archives/default.aspx<http://www.sos.wa.gov/archives/default.aspx>
[OSOS Kim Signature block]

************************************************

From: Secretary of State

I've started the export process on the Death Indexes. For the entire request, I expect it to take 4-6 weeks. I'll send out a status report each Friday until the request is fulfilled and ready to ship. Brooke, please let me know if you have any questions!

Debbie

Debbie Bahn
Electronic Records Archivist, Digital Archives
Washington State Archives
960 Washington St.
Cheney, WA 99004
(509) 235-7500 ext. 207
www.digitalarchives.wa.gov<http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/>

[Email-Sig-Archives]

From: Secretary of State

Dear Brooke,

Good news! Since yesterday, when I received your request, I have uploaded the Death Index up to 2014. It should be complete (through 2017) by the end of the day. On Monday, I will begin on the Marriage records.

Next update: Friday, Feb 8.

Best Regards,

Debbie Bahn
Electronic Records Archivist, Digital Archives
Washington State Archives
960 Washington St.
Cheney, WA 99004
(509) 235-7500 ext. 207
www.digitalarchives.wa.gov<http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/>

[Email-Sig-Archives]

From: Reclaim The Records

Thanks! This is great. :-)

- Brooke

From: Secretary of State

Dear Brooke,

This week, I exported the Dept of Health Marriage Index from 1969-2014. I'm currently working on 2015-2017. After that, I will start exporting the marriage metadata for the records in the many titles we have for the individual counties. This is the part that will take a long time...perhaps a month.

Until next Friday!!
Debbie

Debbie Bahn
Electronic Records Archivist, Digital Archives
Washington State Archives
960 Washington St.
Cheney, WA 99004
(509) 235-7500 ext. 207
www.digitalarchives.wa.gov<http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/>

[Email-Sig-Archives]

From: Secretary of State

Dear Brooke,

I have finished downloading the CSV files for all Dept. of Health Indexes (Marriage, Death, and Divorce). Next week I will continue working on the county marriage records.

Have a great weekend!
Debbie

Debbie Bahn
Electronic Records Archivist, Digital Archives
Washington State Archives
960 Washington St.
Cheney, WA 99004
(509) 235-7500 ext. 207
www.digitalarchives.wa.gov<http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/>

[Email-Sig-Archives]

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