This data is open to the public? Really?
Yes, in most states, a basic marriage license "log" or marriage license index is considered to be public information, even if the actual certificates or licenses may have strict privacy rules under the state's vital records laws. In New York, this was upheld in a New York State Freedom of Information case from 1993, formally Gannett Co., Inc. v. City Clerk’s Office, City of Rochester, 596 NYS 2d 968, affirmed unanimously, 197 AD 2d 919 (1993). That ruling does require that any data deemed to be too personally intrusive, such as the street addresses of the license applicants, must be removed before making the data public.
How did this data get online? Who built this website?
This data was provided to the not-for-profit activist group Reclaim The Records by the New York City Clerk's Office. Reclaim The Records had requested a copy of the data in December 2015 through the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The City Clerk's Office refused to comply with their request and a lawsuit was initiated in March 2016. The City Clerk's Office settled the case in September 2016, providing the data, and reimbursing Reclaim the Records' attorneys fees. You can read the whole story, along with copies of the actual court filings, here.
Who built the original database?
The New York City Clerk's Office built this database for their own in-house use. Their version of the database also includes two columns for the spouses' dates of birth, which were removed for privacy reasons before handing the data over as part of the legal settlement.
I would like all of my data (or someone else's data) removed from this website and/or the original files. This is an invasion of privacy.
Legally it isn't, and we will not assist you in censoring public documents.
This data set only covers 1950-1995. What about people married in other years?
No database exists (yet) for pre-1950 licenses, but the original handwritten ledgers were microfilmed. The 1908-1929 index microfilms were recently digitized and put online for free public use; they were won in a 2015 Freedom of Information lawsuit. And the 1930-1972 index microfilms were won in a separate 2016 Freedom of Information lawsuit, and were uploaded to the Internet Archive in early 2017.
There is also a totally separate record database that indexes the NYC Health Department marriage certificates up through 1937, which was created by the combined volunteer efforts of two non-profit genealogical groups. Note that marriage certificates and marriage licenses are not the same thing. Read more about the many different kinds of New York City marriage records.
Can I use the raw data files for [a school project / a for-profit website / personal research / something else]?
Sure! This data is in the public domain. Have a ball. But please let us know how you're using it, so we can link to your website or project, and show off all the cool stuff people have done with this open data.
I can't find certain people in this database, but I know they were married in New York City between 1950 and 1995!
This database only holds records of licenses filed in New York City. If the people you're looking for were living somewhere else nearby, such as Westchester county or Nassau county, they may have applied for the license there, but signed the papers at the wedding ceremony held in New York City.
Additionally, the contents of this data, as provided by the City Clerk's office, have some...problems. This may make it difficult to find people who "should" be in there. Read more about the known problems with the data.
I found certain people in this database, but I know they were not married in New York City between 1950 and 1995!
A tiny number of people in this database may have applied for and received a license from the City -- sometimes even more than once! -- but then for some reason not gone through with the actual ceremony. Again, this is a database of licenses. Whether the couple actually said "I Do" is not recorded here.
The year listed for certain people's license is wrong; the database lists the year before they were married?
Licenses were valid for several weeks. It is possible that some people could have applied for a license in December of one year, but married in January of the next year. The license year would match the application, not the ceremony.
What about the data from all the other parts of New York, outside of New York City?
New York is very unusual in that the City and the State are two totally separate vital records jurisdictions. Reclaim the Records made a new New York FOIL request in September 2017 for the New York State marriage index, 1880-2016. That data will also be released to the public, since it too should be in the public domain. Make sure you sign up for our free e-mail mailing list to follow our progress on that, and our other records requests.
I still can't find a person in this database, and I really think that they should be in there. What now?
When in doubt, you should talk to the City Clerk's Office directly. Their copy of this database also includes information about the bride's and groom's dates of birth, while this one does not, and perhaps they can do a look-up on those fields for you to help you track down a stubbornly missing record.
Also note that the original handwritten ledger indices for the 1930-1972 licenses, which were previously only available on microfilm, have now been digitally scanned and were put online in early 2017. In the event that you can't find someone in this text database, you may wish to look through those original index images instead. Those index images are not text-searchable, but they're sorted by borough and by year, and then are arranged by quarter of the year, and then are listed alphabetically by surname, so they're not too difficult to use.