Public Records


Google Public Data Explorer

Google Dataset Search
Search for data in this Google search tool.

US Local Data Portals
This Github account lists dozens of portals.
A list of more than 400 data portals from around the world.

Portal of studies and research for data viz.

Search engine designed specifically for finding tables, charts, and graphs online.

Chrono Download Manager
Makes all elements on a webpage — images, spreadsheets, PDFs and more — downloadable with one click. Helpful when downloading several .PDFs from one government web page.

Open Addresses
Community-hosted data on Github. Street names, house numbers and postal codes, when combined with geographic coordinates, are the hub that connects digital to physical places. It’s crowdsourced, so fact-check the data.

A tool that checks your datasets for errors.

Datasets Every Government Reporter Should Have


The FOIA Machine
Automate your FOIA requests.

Amazon 990 Filings
Machine-readable data from certain electronic 990 forms filed with the IRS from 2011 to present are available for anyone to use via Amazon S3.

RCFP Open Government Guide

Great collection of state-by-state resources from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

SPJ: FOI Step-by-Step Guides

Send hundreds of similar FOIA requests and organize the responses all using the Google suite.
Deduplicate and find matches in your Excel spreadsheet or database.
From the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, this is a one-stop management tool for public-records projects and filing FOIA requests.

Department of Justice FOIA Page
Provides electronic copies of thousands of interesting Federal Government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Fascinating historical documents, reports on items in the news, oddities and fun stuff and government bloopers, they’re all here.

Launched in October 2016 in Beta, this offers a page of tools, links and resources on using FOIA.

WRAL: How to Submit a Public Records Request Like a Pro

FOIA 101
Slideshow of tips from Jared Rutecki, investigative reporter from Better Government Association in Chicago. Federal FOIA Requests

MuckRock: State-by-State Public Records Laws

FOIA Wiki: FOIA Basics
A good primer for newbies.

FOIA Predictor
Use this browser app to predict success of your FOIA request.

Tips and tools for making successful FOIA requests.

This free and collaborative resource on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act is provided by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, with contributions from The FOIA Project at TRAC, MuckRock, The National Security Archive, FOIA Mapper, Open the Government, and users. Remember to double-check anything you find here as anyone can edit the Wiki.

From its site: “MuckRock makes it easy file Freedom of Information requests, taking out the hassle and only updating you with the results. No need to stamp an envelope, look up an agency address or learn how to properly draft a legal demand: Just type what you’re interested in, click submit and then receive your documents scanned, searchable and sharable. We’ll even help you analyze them.”

FOIA laws from more than 100 countries.
Links to county-specific laws and resources.

Country-specific resources.

Global Right to Information Rating

Gov Book: FOIA Contacts in Chicago
List of contacts curated by The Chicago Reporter.

MuckRock: Guide to State Public Records Laws

FOIAFest 2018 Resources
Links, handouts, tools and more from the Chicago FOIAFest event.

SGI FOIA Storybase
Searchable database of stories generated from FOIA.

National Security Archive
Combines a unique range of functions: investigative journalism center, research institute on international affairs, library and archive of declassified U.S. documents.

The FOIA Project
Its goal: provide the public with timely and complete information about every instance in which the federal government grants or withholds records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

DePaul University: FOIA Resources for Journalists
How to file a FOIA and state FOIA laws.

The Associated Press and Freedom of Information
Provides journalists with a simpler way to access 2010 Census data.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Guides
Resources on public documents, First Amendment, privacy and more.

National FOI Coalition

APME: The People’s Right to Know
A good FOIA guide.

Society of Professional Journalists: Freedom of Information Resources

ACLU Free Speech Resources

The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information

National Security Archive: Freedom of Information Act Resources
From George Washington University.

FOIA Illinois
Blog and resources for filing FOIAs. Twitter handle is @foiaillinois.

American Library Association: Key Principles on Government Information

U.S. Department of Justice Freedom of Information Act Information

ProPublica: How Much Stimulus Money is Your County Receiving?

Student Press Law Center: FOIA Letter Generator
Just fill in the blanks.

FIRE: Guide to Free Speech on Campus
Book/ebook from the Foundation of Individual Rights on Campus.

Investigative Dashboard
A treasure drove of research and public records tools, both U.S. and abroad.

Washington Post Training Videos: How to be a Journalist
Series of videos on basics of reporting, FOIAs and more.

The Art of Access
Charles Davis’s blog that accompanies the book by the same name. Full of tips on how to use FOIAs.

FOIA Shaming
A fantastic Tumblr blog that shines a spotlight on universities that stonewall FOIA requests. Share it on social media.

The FOI Advocate

No One Uses Email Anymore
A great slideshow of tips from an IRE 19 panel on how government officials are using private chat apps to communicate rather than email. Makes it harder to FOIA and track those discussions.


European Journalism Observatory: Working With Whistleblowers In The Digital Age: New Guidelines
Great tips for investigative journalists on protecting sources.

SPJ: How Whistleblowers Can Share Info with News Media

From the Tow Center, a guide to the use and significance of SecureDrop, an in-house system for news organizations to securely communicate with anonymous sources and receive documents over the Internet.

Journalist’s Resource: Six Tips for Covering Whistleblowers


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.

Bellingcats Digital Forensics Tools
Open source verification and investigative tools.

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

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

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.

IRE 2015 Tipsheets
Tipsheets from the 2015 IRE conference.

Voter Data Tipsheet
Resources from NICAR 2018.

OCCRP’s Public Records Databases

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.
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.

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

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

Census Explorer Tool
Search data by state, county, address. Great map/mashup.

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.

Free, downloadable data sets.
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

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.
Morningstar’s guide to what’s hiding in SEC filings.

Office of Government Information Services FOIA Toolbox
Great resources about the government agencies, how to file a FOIA and where to send it.

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.
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. 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.
Visual document mining for journalists.

Open Prism: Data Portal Search
Search data portals from all over the world by typing in one keyword.

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.

Medicare: Nursing Home Inspections
Includes complaints and inspections. Search by state to find homes with problems in your neighborhood.

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.

EPA: Toxic Release Inventory Database
Has more than 650 toxic chemicals being released into communities. You can search all the way down to ZIP code level.

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 featuresthousands 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

Automated Access to Court Electronic Records
Provider of United States bankruptcy data to attorneys, lenders, employers and individuals. Has a helpful press center with statistics, news and trends.

Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool
From the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. This is designed to provide rapid customized reports for public inquiries relating to campus crime and fire data. The data are drawn from the OPE Campus Safety and Security Statistics website database.

The Art of Access Blog
Tips on public records searches.

Columbia University: National Charities Oversight Project
Mission is to foster a comprehensive approach by state attorneys general to protect charitable assets and ensure their lawful, highest and intended use in the public interest.

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.
Search by a name rather than state by state.

Information on publicly traded companies.
News updates on international freedom of information news and the Open Government Partnership. Research resources on national laws and groups. A blog roll identifies sites providing FOI news in many countries.
A government data mashup that is an initiative of the Obama administration. Journalist’s Guide to the Federal Courts
Offers state-by-state links to online court record search services at trial courts and government agencies. Find court locations, other legal services offered and more.

Court Records Blog
Part of’s site, this blog covers some of the basics of court records, understanding documents, how a court room works, etc.

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.

National Archive: George W. Bush Public Papers
Searchable database that complements the printed volumes.
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.
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.

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

PAC-Info Public Records Locator

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.


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.

U.S. City Directories
City directories, arguably one of the most over-looked resources by genealogists, have been around since the 1700s. This web site attempts to identify all printed, microfilmed, and online directories, and their repositories, for the United States.

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

National Registry of Sex Offenders
Links to all the state sex offender databases run by state or local police. Search by zip code for names and addresses of sex offenders in a particular community. However, some have less than one-third of all sex offenders registered. Be sure to double-check any information you get.

National Center for Education Statistics
A complete electronic catalog and fast facts.

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.”

Court Info. Database Online from the Iowa Judicial Branch

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.
Track ancestry through records online.

S9 Bios of Famous People

USPS ZIP Code Lookup

Tags: , , , , , ,

comments powered by Disqus


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ