The road to a birth record for someone born in Jersey City has taken yet another turn.

It’s been a tough slog ever since the state shut down the Hudson County Office of Vital Statistics in 2002 after investigators fingered four employees for taking part in a plot to create and sell fraudulent birth records.

City residents had to travel to Trenton to apply to the state Department of Health for those records or they had to request a copy online and wait six weeks unless they paid an extra fee to get it sooner.

Such was the case until September 2019 when the city said it would issue birth records after being told that the state Registrar would provide access to all birth records of people born in Jersey City between 1888 and 2015. For those born in 2016 and thereafter, the city would receive data from Trenton’s Vital Records software platform, the state advised the city.

Unfortunately, due to what a City Council December resolution described as “technological delays uploading the birth records, and then, to the state of emergency necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the city did not begin issuing birth certificates until January 2022.

City Clerk Sean Gallagher
City Clerk Sean Gallagher

City Clerk Sean Gallagher estimated that 250,000 individual records were transferred from the state to Jersey City between 2020 and 2021 and, for those residents whose requests could be satisfied with the information provided, it was a simple enough matter to process.

But for many others, circumstances proved more complicated.  As the council resolution noted, “It soon became apparent that the Jersey City Clerk’s Office was missing a vast percentage of the birth records it expected to receive.”

And it probably didn’t help that “…the overwhelming majority of the birth records of those born in Jersey City were never digitized and are still stored in paper form or on microfilm,” he said.

Often, Gallagher said, the information gaps can be as simple as a missing number from a date of birth or a missing letter from the name of a close relative. “For me,” he said, “it was the last letter of the last name of one of my parents that got dropped from the record of birth. You can’t just write it in; you have to request a copy of the original record from the state.”

One oddity that stands out among those gaps, Gallagher said, is a pervasive absence of information for the year 1957.  “We have a limited number of entries in our data base for that year for whatever reason,” he said.

In those cases, Gallagher said his office forwards requests to the DOH. It can take up to a month to get responses, he said.

For the past year, four staffers in the City Clerk’s office — the registrar of vital statistics, assistant registrar, and two other employees — have been dedicating much of their time to handling birth record issues along with death certificates, marriage licenses, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, according to Gallagher.

The City Council’s December resolution, which took effect January 3, offers a possible solution by authorizing an agreement between the city and DOH’s Office of Vital Statistics and Registry that would “allow an employee of the Jersey City Office of the City Clerk to work full time in the office of the DOH where the state’s vital records are stored.”

The City Clerk’s representative would be assigned to Trenton for up to four years or until either party opts to terminate the agreement. The arrangement calls for the city to reimburse DOH $3,000 “for whatever expenses it incurs providing work space” to the representative.

As part of its commitment to cooperate with the city, DOH must provide “a desk/work station, a telephone with a direct extension, access to a photocopier suitable to photocopy vital records, access to a scanner to scan vital records, a computer with email access, access to a printer, a DOH ID card allowing the (city representative) access to DOH offices and facilities and a parking pass or whatever access to parking (is) provided to other DOH employees, if needed.”

DOH must also provide the representative with “training on how to access, scan and transmit vital records via an end-to-end encrypted service.”The DOH did not respond to multiple requests for a comment. 

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...