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Public Records

Public Records


Resources from NICAR 20 and 21
Searchable list of tipsheets, primers and tools from Sharon Machlis.

National Security Archive
35 years of public documents curated by George Washington University’s library.

The Black Vault FOIA Archive Open Knowledge Foundation
Lists of about 600 data portals.

Journalists Free Access to Public Records
Reporters can easily find millions of records on arrests, felonies, misdemeanors, criminal driving violations, court cases, warrants, sex offenders, and much more. The tool works on all devices, and with just a name or address the needed information will be found.


Track Dark Money Tip Sheet (NICAR 2020

FEC Itemizer from Propublica
Itemizer allows you to browse electronic campaign finance filings from the FEC Election Commission to see individual contributions and expenditures reported by committees raising money for federal elections. As of October 2018, these filings include Senate candidate or Senate party committees, which previously filed their reports on paper.

National Security Archives

PublicRecords Online Directory
Good first-stop in records searching, with an image map of the U.S. to guide you in finding the records. The site is a portal to official state web sites, and those Tax Assessors’ and Recorders’ offices that have developed web sites for the retrieval of available public records over the internet. For example, some Recorders’ offices have marriage and birth records available online. Although not every county and parish has data online, many have home pages, and where neither is available a phone number has been provided.

Copy, Paste, Legislate
This Center for Public Integrity helps you track lobbying efforts by pulling documents and parsing text. It identifies recent model legislation introduced national and in your state. It lets you search a specific topic or keyword and by a specific bill number.

The Accountability Project
From the Investigative Reporting Workshop, this site curates, standardizes and indexes public data to give journalists, researchers and others a simple way to search across otherwise siloed records. You can browse datasets by people, organizations and locations.

ProPublica’s Credibly Accused Priests Database
The Catholic Church has not released a public list of clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct or assault. However, over the last year and a half U.S. dioceses and religious orders serving most of the Catholics in the country have released lists of “credibly accused” abusers who have served in their ranks, using their own criteria for whom to include. ProPublica collected these lists to provide a central location to search across all reports.

Documenting COVID-19
A repository of searchable documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic obtained through state open-records laws and the Freedom of Information Act. Click on a state on the interactive for details about the document sets available and news coverage that have used those materials.

Bellingcats Digital Forensics Tools
Open source verification and investigative tools.

Better Data Portals
Keyword search across data sets for Socrata data portals Open Knowledge Foundation
Lists of about 600 data portals.

For more training videos, visit our YouTube page.

Journalists Free Access to Public Records
Reporters can easily find millions of records on arrests, felonies, misdemeanors, criminal driving violations, court cases, warrants, sex offenders, and much more. The tool works on all devices, and with just a name or address the needed information will be found.

How to Find Public Health Records During a Pandemic
Helpful guide from David Cuillier of SPJ and the University of Arizona.

ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer Database
Free database to research tax-exempt organizations. You can search full text of nonprofit tax forms.
A fantastic site for researching campaign finance statistics.

Dark Money: The Rise of Dark Money in U.S. Elections
Links, data, tools and other resources for investigating dark money.

A College Journalist’s Guide to Public Records
Search for billions of public records. Free search, also has paid plans.

The World Bank
Free and open access to global development data.

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

National Transportation Atlas

How to Learn SQL: A US News Guide
Learn the basics from freelance journalist Samantha Sunne.

Tipsheet: What I Learned from Making Dozens of Public Records Requests for Police Data
Sarah Ryley’s tips from January 2020.

ProgrammableWeb: API Directory
Search the largest API directory on the web.

State Agencies Database Project
In every US State and the District of Columbia, agencies are creating databases of useful information – information on businesses, licensed professionals, plots of land, even dates of fish stocking.

CJR Shield Law and Reporter’s Privilege: What Every Reporter Needs to Know

Vital Records Database
Lists links to all the state and county agencies that keep vital statistics such as birth, death and marriage records around the country. Also lists the fee the states charge for the records.

SAM: System for Award Management
Free site that lets you search government records for entity registration and exclusion records.

OCCRP’s Public Records Databases

Resources from NICAR 20 and 21
Searchable list of tipsheets, primers and tools from Sharon Machlis.

The Force Report
Five years. 72,677 documents. Every local police department in New Jersey.

The Guardian’s Counted Project
Tracks people killed by US police.

For more training videos, visit our YouTube page.
Search for bills or legislators across all states.

Gives you one place to search for company information, rather than spending hours each week conducting the same repetitive searches on a variety of public data sites.

National Security Archive
35 years of public documents curated by George Washington University’s library.

FBI Vault
The Vault is the FBI’s FOIA Library, containing 6,700 documents and other media that have been scanned from paper into digital copies so you can read them in the comfort of your home or office.

The Black Vault FOIA Archive

Track changes on websites. Good for monitoring public records pages.

Division I College Sports FOIA Directory – The Intercollegiate
List of PIOs for each Division I athletic department. Data Page

CIR: Who Gets Paid What in Your City/County/State?
Public employee pay database from Center for Investigative Reporting.

ProPublica: Trump Town Appointees Database
Search appointees, staff, etc. in this database and their employment histories.

Propublica: Nonprofit Explorer
Search Form 990s.

IRE Census Page
IRE has boiled down Census data for journalists to use.
Filter and sort census information. Super tool.

R for Journalists
Tips and resources for anyone using R in data reporting

Download Data Without Scraping
Filter and sort census information. Super tool.

For more training videos, visit our YouTube page.

Free, downloadable data sets.

Kobo Toolbox
Data collection tools.

Analyze and visualize documents.

Open Corporates
The largest open database of companies in the world.
Lets you explore the entire federal budget in increasing granularity, illustrating how awards derive from federal accounts. Interactive visualizations provide help building context, and multiple breakdowns clarify the relationships between federal-spending components

City of Chicago Data Portal
The site “serves as a single, comprehensive database catalog for the City of Chicago and City of Chicago sister agencies. It is a resource for anyone who is interested in understanding what data is held by City agencies and departments, how and if it may be accessed, and in what formats it may be accessed.”

Five Great Tools for Mining Public Records

Journalist Studio
A deep collection of data viz tools from Google.

Google: Pinpoint
Explore and analyze large collections of documents. It’s easy and free.

The Chemical Hazard Data Commons
A free tool to help journalists quickly research chemical hazards for over 60,000 substances and hundreds of thousands of synonyms. Aggregates hazard determinations from a wide range of state, national and international governmental scientific bodies into a quick thumbnail view. Find chemicals, get GreenScreen List Translator Scores, check chemicals against RSLs, and link chemical identifiers and key characteristics. The Data Commons lets you create groups of chemicals to compare and track their hazards.

This browser plug-in helps you with finding court documents you’d normally have to pay for in PACER. Every docket or PDF you purchase on PACER will be added to the RECAP archive. Anything somebody else has added to the archive will be available to you for free — right in PACER itself. Tens of thousands of people have used RECAP. To join them, simply install it using the button above, and then use PACER as you normally would. It’s that simple.

SPJ: Reporter’s Guide to FERPA Law
A comprehensive guide to privacy laws that college campuses use to hide controversies.

Open Corporates
A large database of companies.

Purchase datasets of retail locations. Example: Find all In-n-Out burger locations.
Morningstar’s guide to what’s hiding in SEC filings.

Public records search tool.

Bureau Local Collaborative Investigative Journalism Tools

Student Press Law Center: Public Records and Sexual Assault Reporting

BRB Publications
Search public records by state.

Washington Post: Police Shootings Database (2015-2020)
A database of federal inspections of hospitals in the U.S. See how the ones in your area stack up.

Journalism Tools: Investigative Resources
A Pinterest page full of investigative tools and resources.

US Local Data Portals
This Github account lists dozens.

Compiles and organizes tens of thousands of SEC, PACER and patent filings.

National Freedom of Information Coalition

State Sample FOIA Request Letters
Great collection from National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Student Press Law Center: FERPA Law Basics Browser Extension
A free browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari that exposes the role money plays in Congress. Displays on any web page detailed campaign contribution data for every Senator and Representative, including total amount received and breakdown by industry and by size of donation. Puts vital data where it’s most relevant so you can discover the real impact of money on our political system. Oh, and it was built by a 16-year-old coder.

ComFind Public Records Site
News, laws, initiatives and activities that relate in any way to the keeping and distribution of information and public records.

Syracuse University: Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC)

SPJ National Shield Law Resources
Background on bills, etc.

p>Subsidy Scope: Searchable Database of TARP Transactions
From the Pew Charitable Trusts, links to a list of banks participating in the FDIC’s Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program.

Tamara Thompson Public Records Links
A treasure trove of databases, links and resources from a California private investigator.

Deteriorating Bridges Database
Sort files in Excel to find bridges and overpasses in your area that are in poor shape. Great public safety story.

Train Wrecks Database
From the Department of Transportation Office of Safety, this database allows you to find the most dangerous train crossings in your area.

A database of congressional staff salaries and other valuable public records, such as the most comprehensive database of all privately financed trips taken by members of Congress and congressional staffers.

Cal Berkeley Public Records Tutorials

Rich Block, Poor Blocks: Map of Income, Rent for Every U.S. City
Search down to the neighborhood level.
Australia’s version of FOIA Machine.
This site has collected and analyzed data from numerous sources to create profiles of all U.S. cities. It features thousands of pictures, maps, satellite photos, stats about residents (race, income, ancestries, education, employment…), geographical data, crime data, housing, businesses, political contributions, weather, hospitals, schools, libraries, houses, airports, radio and TV stations, zip codes, area codes, user-submitted facts, similar cities list.

City Municipal Code Lookup
A handy state-by-state index of death records databases. A great research for quick searches.

Look up various records by search or by state name.

Journalists can find every bill in Congress, searchable by keyword or category, with official information such as summary, sponsors, status, and a list of the organizations that support or oppose the bill, with a link to those positions.

IC on the Record Tumblr
This U.S. government site is dedicated to helping the public better understand what its various intelligence agencies are doing.

Consumer Complaint Database

For more training videos, visit our YouTube page.

NYT Campaign Finance Database API

National Personnel Records Center
A central repository of personnel-related records, both military and civil service. “Provide world-class service to government agencies, military veterans, former civilian Federal employees, family members, as well as researchers and historians.”

History of Mathematics Archive
Searchable, and browsable by topics.
Hundreds of free sites, database sources, trade organizations and private investigators.

Information on publicly traded companies.
A government data mashup that is an initiative of the Obama administration. Journalist’s Guide to the Federal Courts

Free Public Records Directory
Free state court resources.

SPJ: Reporter’s Guide to FERPA

Federal Citizens’ Information Center: Privacy Resources

Census: American FactFinder
Type in a city or ZIP code and get census data.

The Scoop Blog
CAR and investigative reporting.

Electronic Privacy Information Center: Open Government
Tips, guides and links galore on public records access.
Ratings, reviews and salaries for more than 11,000 employers. It’s information posted by anonymous employees, so be careful with the information you use. Fact-check everything. It can be helpful as a quick snapshot of a company you’re backgrounding.

SPJ Open Doors
Tips for accessing public records.

State and Local Governments
A directory of links to state and local government sites.
Links the user with the appropriate website for a particular state or county office.

Online Vital Records Directory
An independent service provider from where you can get all information about vital records office as public information.
Like its name implies, access corporate annual reports from this database.

Stanford Law: Securities Class Action Lawsuit Clearinghouse Locate Original Documents Online
A guide to finding public records, etc.

Public Records Online
Search state-by-state criminal records, real estate information and more.
This site claims to be “the place to find, locate & track down anybody! We offer locate searches, DMV driver & vehicle searches, telephone record searches, financial and bank searches, criminal and property records. Some searches are free, others you must pay for.
This site charges a fee. Search state/local criminal, DMV, prison records and more.

Legacy Tobacco Documents Library
A great database from Cal-San Francisco that contains 20 million fully searchable documents from the1930s to the 1990s — previously secret stuff from tobacco industry files obtained as part of the Minnesota AG and Blue Cross lawsuit settled in 1998.

Center for Public Integrity
Tips and resources on using public documents, including campaign finance research.

U.S. National Archives
This website which makes real estate public records in New York and New Jersey easily accessible. It is free for moderate usage, i.e. citizens, reporters.

PI Newslink
A blog for private investigators/researchers.

Better Government Association (Illinois) Data Tools

Findlaw Breaking Documents Newsletter
A free e-mail newsletter updating journalists on the availability of public documents used in big, breaking news stories (Enron, war on terrorism, etc.)

RAND Corporation Research Areas
Federally funded documents center has a clearinghouse page of links to a variety of topics: national security, international affairs, healthcare, transportation, etc.

Thesaurus for Use in College and University Archives
More than 1,300 terms used by college or university archives to describe their holdings.

NYC Stat
Mayor’s office of operations for New York City. Stats, performance reports, surveys, etc.

PC World: Best People Finders are Free
This site offers advice and links on researching people.

A backgrounder site in which a basic look-up is 25 cents. A full report, which includes past addresses, relatives, properties etc. is under $8. Find out where someone is living, what property they own, etc.

Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records

Electronic Privacy Information Center
A government site that offers FOIA tips and more.

Your Right to Federal Records
Brochure explains how you access records under FOIA.

MSN: Jobs and Paychecks by County
Track the best and worst for jobs, pay, pay increases, etc.

National Freedom of Information Coalition
Organization info., tips, conferences and more.
A specialized directory for people and public records searching.

Justice Department FOIA Guide
Good for anticipating the other side’s arguments and interpretation of case history, especially when you are appealing a denial.

Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws 2002
A guide for working through the FOIA/open government process. It is published by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Obits 101
A national obits clearinghouse of links.

Forbes: Most Philanthropic Corporations

Arms Sales Monitoring Project
An in-depth site featuring a database of notifications to congress of US arms exports to much of the world; U.S. and global arms transfers data; America’s biggest defense contractors; background on U.S. arms recipients.

SLA News Division: Surveys and Forms Section
Great resources for public documents and research.

Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Wise Giving Alliance (

Charity Navigator
Another good charity evaluation site. Allows you to search alphabetically and by region.

EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory
“A publicly available EPA database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities reported annually by certain covered industry groups as well as federal facilities.”
Provides criminal background reports to employers, landlords or anyone wishing to ensure their safety. Users can access their own private database of saved criminal record reports. U.S. state, county, national, federal and sex offender registry reports are available.

Cemetery Records Online
Maintains records from 4,307 cemeteries both nationwide and abroad. The site regularly updates users on which cemeteries have been added to their database.
Evaluate real estate value using this tool.

For more training videos, visit our YouTube page.

It’s a real estate site that contains a lot of community demographic information. It can give you a quick snapshot of schools, real estate, etc.

The Smoking Gun
This is a good FOIA site that claims to find documents that can’t be found elsewhere on the Web. Its material is gleaned from government documents, court files, etc.

More public records from Mexico.

Mexico Federal Public Records
More public records from Mexico.

ICFJ: How to Understand FOI Laws in Your Country

Carroll’s Government Directories and Charts
Tips on finding government agency Web sites, including labor boards, workers compensation boards, etc.

IQ Data Systems
Real estate information and full document retrieval from every U.S. jurisdiction.

International Association of Assessing
This site can direct you to a source who can help you find real estate records.

VitalChek Network
Certified copies of birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates.

Vital Records Information
Certified copies of birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates.

Roots Web
Provides a listing of searchable indexes for family history as well as a listing of federal and state resources.

Birth Rates by Country
An Infoplease chart containing both years and “selected countries.”

Social Security Administration

Securities & Exchange Commission

Bureau of Labor Statistics
Employment, wages, unemployment broken down by region.

Social Security Administration Data on Women
A new site with demographic info. on women.

National Security Archive: Mexico’s FOIA Law (June 2002)
“Interesting Federal Government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Sunshine Week Open Meetings
Great one-stop shopping for links to public records databases.

SEDAR Database
System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval (SEDAR) provides databases of public company documents and investment fund documents. Includes company profiles, links and new filings.

Sunlight Foundation
Political watchdog group that tracks lobbyists and fundraising.

S9 Bios of Famous People


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