Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Rise of Divorce in Michigan

In 1897, Michigan began requiring county clerks to file information on divorces. As I have many women in my tree who divorced in the first quarter of the 20th century I wanted to learn more about the process. I began by collecting data on the number of divorces granted over time. Without further ado, here they are.



References for the graph: 1-13

One important thing to note is that the divorce statistics prior to those from 1898 were obtained by the U.S. Department of Labor. We can't know for certain how accurate they are, but they do provide information as to the trend of divorce in the state. It does appear that after 1898 the number of divorces granted by Michigan courts (both the circuit court and chancery court could hear divorce cases) began to increase dramatically in comparison with the earlier period. However, when adjusted for the increasing state population, the number of divorces rose only nominally between 1898 and 1920 (the ratio of divorces/state population increased from 0.0008 to 0.0023). [1-13, 14] One reason for the apparently sudden increase in the number of divorces is that the divorce laws may have become more permissive around this time.

Another indication of the increase in the “divorce business” comes from the number of cases pending in the courts. At the start of 1898, there were 2475 cases pending and at the end of the year there were 3323. The courts also granted 1901 divorces, 128 were withdrawn, 432 contested and 21 were refused by the courts entirely. [15] The courts were much busier by 1920. On January 1st of that year, 10,290 cases were pending which increased to 11,661 by New Year's Eve. During 1920, 8679 divorces were granted, 2221 withdrawn, 885 contested and 168 refused. [12]

Fortunately for genealogists, if there was a divorce in your family you are likely to find some record of it because it was a court proceeding. However, there were still instances when the system didn't work as anticipated. Each year, county clerks were supposed to submit returns with specifics of the individual cases as well as summaries of the local divorce business. [16] However, there were sometimes discrepancies between the two. [17] For 1898, the difference was 93 and “may be in part accounted for by the fact that some clerks do not enter a decree in divorces actually granted unless the fee is paid for the same. The result is that some decrees are never entered.” [17] In light of this, the secretary of state recommended legislation requiring that the fee be paid upfront to avoid this problem in future.

One thing I didn't realize before I began this report was that there were two types of divorce: divorce from the bonds of matrimony (absolute divorce) and divorce from bed and board. An absolute divorce could be obtained on the grounds of: 1) adultery, 2) physical incompetency of one party at the time of marriage, 3) imprisonment of one party for 3 or more years, 4) desertion for two years, 5) if one party became a habitual drunkard after becoming married, or 6) when a spouse obtained a divorce in another state. [18]

A divorce from bed and board permitted a permanent separation without actually dissolving the marriage and could be either permanent or for a limited time. Unlike an absolute divorce, this decree could be revoked by the court “upon joint application of the parties, and their producing satisfactory evidence of their reconciliation.” [19] A divorce from bed and board could be granted for 1) extreme cruelty, 2) utter desertion for two years, or 3) on complaint of the wife that the husband does not provide a suitable maintenance for her though he is capable of doing so. [18] While extreme cruelty was not a ground for an absolute divorce, the court could, under certain circumstances choose to actually dissolve the marriage if it was “discreet and proper” to do so. [20] “This is not done to meet the desire of the parties, but on grounds of public policy, to prevent the mischiefs arising from turning out into the world, in enforced celibacy, persons who are neither married nor unmarried.” [21]

Among the statistics collected by the state were the causes of divorce as listed in the petitions. It was interesting to see how these altered over time. Petitions listing adultery (2-4%), drunkenness (4-7%) and non-support (28-34%) remained fairly constant over the roughly two decades for which I found data. [1-9] Desertion decreased from 35% in 1898 to 22% in 1917. [1-9] Cruelty showed the most variability, rising from a low of 47% of suits in 1898 to 72% in 1917. [1-9] This makes sense because all the other grounds have a strict definition while what constitutes cruelty can be quite subjective. According to the laws of Michigan, to qualify as extreme cruelty the misconduct had to be “of a most aggravating nature, entirely subverting the family relations by rendering the association intolerable. It is not confined to mere physical violence, which is by no means the worst injury that can be inflicted on a person of refined sensibility, but the grievance of whatever kind must be of the most aggravated nature to justify a divorce.” [22] Examples of extreme cruelty included “persistent circulation of false and slanderous reports derogatory to the wife's character for chastity” [23], a wife accusing her husband “in public and private of infamous conduct. . . and calling him by vile and vulgar epithets, etc.” [24] and “consorting with and showing or expressing preferences for persons of loose morals and unchaste character of the opposite sex.” [24]

The laws of Michigan stated that a divorce could only be granted if the case met certain criteria: 1) the plaintiff had to be a Michigan resident for one year immediately preceding filing the divorce petition, 2) the marriage had to have been solemnized in the state, as well as one of the following a) the defendant lived in the state when the petition was filed, b) the defendant lived in the state when the cause for divorce occurred or c) when the defendant either appeared voluntarily or was served divorce papers. [25]

At the time of the divorce, a woman could ask for the restoration of her maiden name, the name she legally bore prior to her marriage or the adoption of a new name, provided there were no minor children from the marriage. [26] So, if you are trying to track down a woman and the names don't seem to make sense, this could be one reason why.

Fun divorce tidbits:

“Adultery of a wife committed with a spy employed by the husband to test the wife's virtue does not entitle him to a divorce.” [27]

“If any persons, after being divorced from the bond of matrimony for any cause whatever, shall cohabit together, they shall be liable to all the penalties provided by law against adultery.” [28]

A court could also specify in its decree “that the party against whom any divorce is granted shall not marry again” within a certain time frame, not to exceed two years from the time of the decree. [26] If anyone did remarry during that period (and was discovered) they would be deemed a bigamist and could be prosecuted for that offense. [26]


References:

  1. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1898. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co, 1900), p. clviii.
  2. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-third Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1899. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1902), p. clvii.
  3. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Fifth Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1901. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co., 1905), p. cxvii.
  4. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Fifth Annual Report . . . 1901., p. cxix.
  5. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-First Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1907. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1909), p. 62.
  6. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1908. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1910), p. 168.
  7. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-Third Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1909. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1911), p. 164.
  8. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-Sixth Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1912. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1914), p. 67.
  9. Secretary of State of Michigan. Fifty-First Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1917. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1920), p. 67.
  10. State Department of Health. Fifty-Second, Fifty-Third and Fifty-Fourth Annual Report of the Commissioner of Health On The Registration Of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces In Michigan For The Years 1918, 1919 And 1920. Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1922), p. 172.
  11. State Department of Health. Fifty-Second, Fifty-Third and Fifty-Fourth Annual Report. . . 1920., p. 273.
  12. State Department of Health. Fifty-Second, Fifty-Third and Fifty-Fourth Annual Report. . . 1920., p. 343.
  13. Department of Commerce And Labor Bureau Of The Census. Special Reports. Marriage And Divorce 1867-1906. Part I Summary, Laws, Foreign Statistics. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1909). pp. 64-65.
  14. State Department of Health. Fifty-Second, Fifty-Third and Fifty-Fourth Annual Report. . . 1920., p. 277.
  15. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report . . . 1898., p. 119.
  16. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report . . . 1898., p. 120.
  17. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report . . . 1898., p. cliii.
  18. Department of Commerce And Labor Bureau Of The Census. Special Reports. . . Statistics., p. 299.
  19. State of Michigan. Laws Relating To The Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages; The Licensing and Solemnizing Of Marriages and Laws Concerning Divorce. Revision of 1912. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1912), p. 43.
  20. State of Michigan. Laws Relating To The Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages; The Licensing and Solemnizing Of Marriages and Laws Concerning Divorce. Revision of 1914. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1914), p. 32.
  21. State of Michigan. Laws Relating To The Registration. . . 1912., p. 32.
  22. State of Michigan. Laws Relating To The Registration. . . 1912., p. 30.
  23. State of Michigan. Laws Concerning The Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages; The Solemnization Of Marriages And The Issuance Of Licenses Therefor, And The Laws Concerning Divorce, And The Laws Concerning Divorce, With Suggestions To Persons Authorized To Solemnize Marriages. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co., 1900), p. 30.
  24. State of Michigan. Laws Concerning The Registration. . . Marriages., p. 31.
  25. State of Michigan. Laws Concerning The Registration. . . Marriages., p. 33.
  26. State of Michigan. Laws Relating To The Registration. . . 1912., p. 44.
  27. State of Michigan. Laws Concerning The Registration. . . Marriages., p. 32.
  28. State of Michigan. Laws Concerning The Registration. . . Marriages., p. 44.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mission Accomplished: Michigan Death Records Up To Snuff

In 1900, Michigan became the first “Western” state to be declared a Registration State by the US Census Bureau. To reach that milestone, death records recorded by the state were required to account for greater than 90% of deaths determined to have actually occurred in the state. [1] This was quite a source of pride for Michigan because only a handful of other states were accorded the same status at that time: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. [2]

A major step toward achieving Registration status was made in 1897 when Michigan enacted new legislation for recording deaths. Prior to this (since 1867), deaths were enumerated by supervisors and assessors once each year. To learn more about why this method of collecting vital statistics was considered “worthless” by the Michigan Secretary of State's office see Why Early Michigan Birth Records Are Unreliable. The new law of 1897 “requires that a certificate of death shall be filled out, with statement of the cause of death by the medical attendant, and presented by the undertaker to the local registrar before any disposition is made of the body. The local registrar then issues a burial or removal permit, without which a body cannot be interred, deposited in a vault or tomb, removed from the district in which the death occurred, or disposed of in any other manner.” [3]

Under the new law it was believed that the collection of mortality statistics was “fairly complete.” [2] The Secretary of State's office regretted that it couldn't “honestly claim” they were absolutely correct because of the difficulty in registering deaths in sparsely populated regions of the state, notably parts of the Upper Peninsula. [2] In such regions, where a population density of fewer than five persons per square mile was not uncommon and where someone would need to travel a considerable distance to notify the proper authority it was likely that some deaths remained unrecorded. [4]

In according Michigan the rank of Registration State the US Census Bureau didn't simply accept the validity of Michigan's method, but put it to a test. Census authorities attempted to verify the State's results by conducting a separate enumeration “in the same manner that all Census statistics of mortality for Michigan . . . have been solely derived.” [4] The results were as follows. The registered deaths returned to the State for 1899-1900 comprised 32,381 deaths. [5] The Census enumerators returned only 23,613 deaths, giving an indication (nearly 10,000 fewer deaths) of how this type of data collection pales in comparison to the immediate registration method. [5] The analysis did not end there. Names on the two lists were compared district-by-district, identifying 2,479 deaths found by the census method not present on the State registration list. [5] This number was added to the State count (to yield a total of 34,860 deaths for the year) resulting in a registration rate of 92.9%. [5] A closer examination of the discrepant names, however, indicated that many actually were included on the State list, but had been recorded in a different district from where the census enumerators had obtained the information. For example, in Lansing, of 18 names included on the census list, only one or two were actually absent from the State list. [6] One of the deaths recorded by the Census enumerator occurred in the Philippines (and therefore didn't belong on the Michigan list at all). A further analysis determined that some deaths on the census list occurred in other states or had not occurred during the census year. [6] This means that the actual percentage of deaths recorded by the state was probably closer to 95% (or higher) of the actual number of deaths that took place in the state. [6]

The annual report on births, marriages, deaths and divorces for 1898 noted that the number of deaths registered was higher than in any previous year. [7] Some might have jumped to the conclusion that some calamity had befallen the state to result in so many more deaths. The annual report was quick to point out that this was likely an artifact of the new, more reliable method of recording deaths, than an indication of the state of health of the populace. [7] This also meant that no comparison could be made between numbers of deaths before and after the change. The good news was that from 1897 on death records were more reliable. Let genealogists rejoice.


  1. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Third Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1899. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1902), vii.
  2. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Third Annual Report . . . 1899., v.
  3. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1898. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co, 1900), v.
  4. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Third Annual Report . . . 1899., vi.
  5. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Third Annual Report . . . 1899., vii.
  6. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Third Annual Report . . . 1899., viii.
  7. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report. . . 1898., xxvii.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Losing Local Newspapers

I'm always excited when I discover a reference to one of my people in an old newspaper. Whether I learn something good or bad, every little tidbit teaches me something about those long dead relatives that I might not be able to find out any other way.

This makes me wonder what new resources genealogists a hundred years from now will have to replace the local newspaper. While some places still have a locally produced paper that focuses on area residents, businesses and events, other places are seeing this vanish. My mother has complained to me for at least a year that the Kalamazoo Gazette has less and less local coverage.

I know some Kalamazoo news stories now appear online, but I suspect that things that may have appeared in the print paper wouldn't be deemed important enough to end up in cyberspace. Of course, as Kalamazoo increased in population it reached a point where there was less interaction among members of the community. As a consequence, the items that appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette over a hundred years ago like Mrs. Smith visiting her daughter in St. Louis, for example, understandably disappeared.

I'm sure that in this digital age, traces of our lives will still be around for our descendents. Maybe a database of old Facebook or Twitter posts, YouTube videos or even our browsing history will provide a look into our lives. Will these sources provide more or less information about us? In some ways, it could be both, but when we all publish information about ourselves it is likely biased. Do you know anyone who would post something really negative about themselves? Future generations may gain in the quantity of information available about us, but they may lose any objectivity (or at least willingness to publish the negative) that old newspapers provide us about our ancestors. Only time will tell for certain.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why Early Michigan Birth Records Are Unreliable

“Worthless” was how Michigan's annual report on the registration of births, marriages, deaths and divorces described the antiquated law for enumerating births that was in place from 1867-1905. [1] Not until 1906 could the returns of birth in Michigan be considered accurate. Only then were birth certificates required to be filled out proximal to the time of birth. Before then, the process for recording births in the state was, well . . . not exactly what a good genealogist would hope for.

So, how were birth records for Michigan collected prior to 1906? Once a year the supervisors or assessors canvassed their districts to conduct the annual assessment, lasting from mid-April to the close of May. At this time they also asked about any births or deaths (until 1897 when a death certificate was required to be filled out before a body's removal or burial) that had occurred in the previous calendar year. So, a worst case scenario for recording a birth might look like this: “As an extreme case, a birth which occurs in January may not be noted by the supervisor until May of the following year, or sixteen months after it occurred. Is it any wonder that many births are overlooked and forgotten, even when supervisors honestly try to do their duty? And when they perform it in a merely perfunctory manner, without personal house-to-house inquiry after children, the amount of imperfection must be even greater.” [2]
 
“The enumeration of births by the supervisors of Michigan. . . is little more than a farce, so far as completeness is concerned. . . Not all of [the births] could possibly be obtained by an enumeration conducted after the close of the year, as some families have moved out of the districts where the births occurred and others have forgotten the exact dates of birth, etc. At present, however, the enumeration made by many supervisors is merely perfunctory. All of the domiciles in the township or village are not visited, and sometimes none of them, the list of births being jotted down in the supervisor's office from recollection. Not only are many births entirely omitted from the records but even those registered, especially after they have been copied in the county clerks' offices, are often grossly incorrect in important personal and statistical details. In some years the returns have been falsified deliberately in order to obtain increased compensation for returns” [they were paid by the number transcribed]. [3]

Not only were the births not recorded at the time of birth, but even after they had been collected it took a while for them to make their way to the State, during which time records could have been lost. The Michigan annual report again minced no words on this topic: “for births. . . it would seem that a systematic system of procrastination was authorized by law.” [4] “And when the law is dilatory, officials acting under it may be trusted to add another measure of delay, on the principle that as the returns are tardy anyway, a little more delay will not hurt them.” [2] Once the births were turned over to the county clerk from the assessor they were permitted three months time to copy and transcribe the records before sending them on to the State or until nine months after the close of the previous year. “Some of the births have been over nineteen months on the way. The copies of the copies of the supervisor's hearsay reports are frequently inaccurate when received, and further time is necessary in endeavoring to remove some of the most obvious blunders.” [2] These, then are the state of the records that we genealogists depend upon to source our trees.

“This 'census method' is universally recognized as a failure for the purpose of collecting vital statistics,” declared the Michigan annual report on births, etc. and yet it took until 1906 for it to be changed. [5,6] A bill was brought before the state legislature in 1899, but received some push back. Some felt the new law would be an invasion of privacy, particularly in the case of illegitimate births or stillborns. [2] The fact was that many illegitimate births and stillborns were already on the books and in the opinion of the Secretary of State's office “it would not seem to be a matter of greater indelicacy to record a stillborn child or an illegitimate birth immediately upon the event than to wait a year or so before making the record.” [7] As far as recording the birth of a stillborn was concerned, the new registration law for deaths required it so why would recording the birth of that child be any more controversial.

I don't know exactly how birth records (or death records) were collected in other states prior to the requirement of certificates, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was similar to the system used in Michigan prior to 1906 (for births) and 1897 (for deaths). Some people might think they have a primary source if it is stamped with the official seal of a state, but this foray into birth records demonstrates the importance of understanding where a record came from. Knowing the circuitous path the information traveled before it landed on a roll of microfilm, if I have to choose between a family bible or church baptism record and an early state record, I know which one I'll put more faith in.

  1. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-third Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1899. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1902), clvix.
  2. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1898. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co, 1900), viii.
  3. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report . . . 1898., clix.
  4. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report . . . 1898., vii.
  5. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report . . . 1898., v.
  6. Physicians Say Good Thing. Law Regarding Certificates of Birth. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph. Kalamazoo, Michigan. 6 January 1906, page 10, column 4.
  7. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report . . . 1898., ix.

    Friday, February 8, 2013

    Childbirth Deaths or “Accidents of Pregnancy”

    After watching Sybil die from eclampsia on Downton Abbey nearly two weeks ago I started thinking about how many women died in childbirth in the past. So, naturally, I went to my go-to source for information on deaths, Michigan's annual reports on registrations of births, marriages, deaths and divorces. Maybe I'm just weird, but I find these reports fascinating. I've learned about some of the diseases children in my family died of (diphtheria and whooping cough, for example) as well as things I never went searching for like poisonous cheese. But, I digress. Here's what I found about childbirth related deaths in Michigan.

    References for Graph: 1-9

    The above graph shows deaths associated with childbirth from all causes. There is no obvious trend here, though it appears that rates of death resulting from childbirth actually increased between the 1870s and the early 1900s. This is more likely due to more accurate recording of deaths (see below) and to an alteration in the classification scheme for causes of death than to an actual increase in incidence. The term “accidents of pregnancy” first appeared in the 1898 Annual Report on Births, Marriages, Deaths and Divorces. [2] Under the new Bertillon classification of causes of death it includes “abortion or miscarriage (death of the mother); hemorrhage during pregnancy; uncontrollable vomiting; rupture of tubal pregnancy.” [2] This was often lumped together in the tables with “other accidents of childbirth” which included such things as Caesarian section, rupture of the uterus and retention or detachment of the placenta. [2]


    References for graph: 1-12

    Above I present the data for deaths from puerperal fever. We now know that death in these cases was the result of an infection contracted at the time of childbirth because of unhygienic conditions and a lack of hand-washing. I was surprised to note that there was no apparent decrease in death rates after the emergence of the germ theory of disease in the 1880s.


    References for graph: 2-9

    Back to Sybil, I present data from the early 20th century for puerperal eclampsia which includes albuminuria, nephritis of pregnancy, convulsions of women in pregnancy and uremia. Though I have not run the numbers through a statistical analysis there is likely no significant difference between them as the rate of death from eclampsia for all of these years hovered around 3/100,000 population in the state. [2-9] My primary purpose in including the graph was to show the number of women who perished in this manner. Though the actual number of deaths was relatively small, if these deaths were anything like what was dramatized on Downton Abbey that would be pretty traumatic for the bystanders. It seems clear from perusing the reports that physicians were aware of eclampsia as early as the 1880s. However, from the presentation on Downton Abbey it seems there was very little if anything that could be done to treat the condition. Even if Sybil had survived a Caesarian section there is no guarantee that she would not have contracted an infection and died anyway. This seems especially true after noting no noticeable decrease in the rate of puerperal fever as late as 1917 when, in my opinion, those attending at births should have understood the importance of hygiene in preventing such infections.

    One thing to note for all of the data I have presented is that we can't directly compare these deaths over time (though I combined them in the graphs for ease of viewing). The primary reason we cannot draw comparisons is that laws regulating the registration of deaths changed, affecting the accuracy of reporting deaths. Effective in 1897 the number of deaths recorded in Michigan was much more accurate than in previous years, because death certificates were now required prior to removal or burial of a body. [2] This change was a source of pride for Michigan and I'll write more about that in a later post. Another factor making it difficult to compare data over the years was that the classification system for causes of death was also altered in 1897. One good thing about the new, more rigorous system was that if a cause of death thought to be related to childbirth was vague a letter was sent to the physician to clarify it for accurate classification. [2]

    All in all, I'm glad I live in an age when at least some of these issues have been dealt with.

    Sources:

    1. Secretary of State of Michigan. Twenty-Ninth Annual Report Relating To The Registry And Return of Births, Marriages And Deaths, In Michigan For The Year 1895, By the Secretary Of State Of The State Of Michigan. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co., 1897), 152, 158.
    2. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1898. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co, 1900), lxxv, ccxxxi.
    3. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-third Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1899. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1902), lxv.
    4. Secretary of State of Michigan. Thirty-Fifth Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1901. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith Printing Co., 1905), xlvi.
    5. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-First Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1907. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1909), 23.
    6. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-Second Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1908. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1910), 27.
    7. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-Third Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1909. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1911), 27.
    8. Secretary of State of Michigan. Forty-Sixth Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1912. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1914), 28.
    9. Secretary of State of Michigan. Fifty-First Annual Report of the Secretary of State on the Registration of Births And Deaths Marriages And Divorces in Michigan For The Year 1917. (Lansing, Michigan: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1920), 28.
    10. Secretary of State of Michigan. Fourteenth Annual Report Relating To The Registry And Return of Births, Marriages And Deaths, In Michigan For The Year 1880, By the Secretary Of State Of The State Of Michigan. (Lansing, Michigan: W.S. George & Co., 1884), 234.
    11. Secretary of State of Michigan. Seventeenth Annual Report Relating To The Registry And Return of Births, Marriages And Deaths, In Michigan For The Year 1883, By the Secretary Of State Of The State Of Michigan. (Lansing, Michigan: W.S. George & Co., 1885), 193.
    12. Secretary of State of Michigan. Twenty-Second Annual Report Relating To The Registry And Return of Births, Marriages And Deaths, In Michigan For The Year 1888, By the Secretary Of State Of The State Of Michigan. (Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith & Co., 1890), 154.

    Friday, February 1, 2013

    Laura Ingalls as Social History

    After my bread machine died (see The Daily Bread) and I was forced to finish the bread on my own, I started thinking about how many of my ancestors surely made bread every day to feed their families. For some reason it reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I imagine they baked their own bread regularly, and I remember reading about their trips into town to buy big bags of flour, sugar and other staples at the general store. I also recalled reading the Anne of Green Gables books and what daily life was like for her. Though I never realized it at the time, I was reading social history.


    I don't know how many young people still read these books or if they consider them hopelessly old-fashioned. To get some sense of this I asked several friends, (some teachers, some not) about it. A couple said that their kids had been exposed to the Little House books at school. Several others said that they had introduced the books to their own children. A twenty-something downloaded the Anne of Green Gables books to her e-reader. A pediatrician friend told me she usually sees kids reading more current selections. I guess it boils down to having teachers and/or parents who continue to see the value in these books. I'm sure it doesn't hurt to have parents who are “book people.” Needless to say, when my daughter gets older I plan to share these stories with her.

    Though the ways of life described in these books are vastly different from those of modern generations, I think these books still deserve our attention. After all, the characters and their conflicts are very much like those from the present day. As my mom says “times change, people don't.” Though young people may not make the connection between the lifestyles of Laura and Anne and their own ancestors, they may someday. Or maybe, the family genealogist could mention that Laura's life might not be that different from ggg-grandma's. Who knows, perhaps the story will then mean just a little bit more.