Thursday, January 26, 2012

Canoscan LIDE 200: Using Plexiglass to Flatten Documents

Like many researchers, I use a Canoscan LIDE 200 to scan archival records where it's allowed. It's small (easily fits into my messenger bag next to my computer), lightweight (3.5 lbs), inexpensive (currently $75 on Amazon),  convenient (connects to my computer with a USB cable), and it works great.

The challenge has been scanning tri-folded documents from a hundred years ago. It's impossible to flatten them so it's hard to keep them straight while closing the scanner cover. I've finally found a solution.

A few weeks ago I had the clerk at my local hardware store cut a piece of thin plexiglass slightly smaller than the glass on the scanning bed. There's a small lip around the scanning glass and when I set the plexiglass against it the plexiglass becomes a see-through cover. I put the paper on the glass, straighten it, bring the plexiglass down on the page, and make sure the paper underneath is straight. Then I close the actual cover and scan. The plexiglass doesn't seem to affect the image quality.

And what about stapled tri-fold documents that can't be unfastened? It's not always possible to use the plexiglass in those cases, but a double-thick file folder or piece of poster board used in place of the stiff scanner cover can make it easier to line up those documents for scanning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chicago Birth Registers: W. P. A. Entries

If you look at the Illinois, Cook County Birth Registers, 1871-1915 on FamilySearch, you'll notice that some entries read "W. P. A." Members of the Chicago Genealogy Facebook group were pondering those entries last night and I realized that my thoughts on the subject were too lengthy for a Facebook post so I'll share them here.

First things first. What are the birth registers and how were they created? The short answer is that I don't know for sure. But, I have a guess that pertains to the books that were organized into alphabetical sections by month and year. (The earliest books are arranged differently.) Many early births went unrecorded, but when a record was created, I believe a doctor or midwife, or another person who attended the birth, filled out a birth certificate form and returned it to the county clerk's office.

At that point, I think the county copied the information from the birth certificate into a birth register and assigned a certificate number based on the line number for the entry. The registers would have provided a systematic way for assigning certificate numbers while serving as a detailed, chronological index to the actual records.

Example birth register page from 1913. (Year is recorded on
the right-hand page but I've omitted that image to save space.)
Notice that the lines were pre-numbered and that
the writing is consistent up to the last few entries.

Let's look at an example page from a register that shows W.P.A. entries. Notice that the last six entries are in different handwriting. What's unique about them?

Register: Acerra (regular writing)
Certificate: 608 Maria Acerra, record not dated
Comment: This was probably the last entry made in March of 1913

Register: Altiger (dark pen)
Certificate: 609 Edward Atiger, record dated March 29, 1927
Comment: This certificate was signed by a doctor many years after the birth

Register: Arizzi (dark pen)
Certificate: 610 Laura Arizzi, record dated April 1, 1929 (regular form)
Comment: This certificate was signed by the father many years after the birth

Register: Taken Adler (dark pen)
Certificate: 611 George Adler, record dated March 18, 1929 (later form)
Comment: This certificate was signed by a doctor many years after the birth

Register: Taken WPA
Certificate: 612 Zosfia Andzejewska, no date (regular form)
Comment: This certificate appears to be from 1913 but the certificate number has been changed

Register: Taken WPA
Certificate: 613 John Adams, record dated March 30, 1914 (regular form)
Comment: This certificate was signed by a doctor in 1914 and the certificate number has been changed

Register: Anderson "Late Entry"
Certificate: 614 Douglas Anderson, record dated March 7, 1941
Comment: This certificate was "signed" by the father but the name is actually typed

The two W. P. A. entries come after births reported in the 1920s and before a birth reported in 1941. The Works Progress Administration was active in the 1930s and I think it's safe to assume that these entries were made by W. P. A workers.

So, why were the entries made? Notice that the two W. P. A. certificates had at least one thing in common. The certificate number was changed. It's possible that the workers were moving misfiled records.

The certificate numbers that were changed were low, as I'd expect for an "A" birth early in the year, so I decided to check the birth register for March of 1914 to see if I could find an entry for John Adams. It was there on line 458, just as I'd hoped. It looks like his certificate was originally recorded in the 1914 register and assigned a certificate number from there but that's misleading because he was really born in 1913. I think the W. P. A. workers were correcting that error and I think it's likely a bit of detective work would also locate a register entry for Zosfia Andzejewska.

1914 birth register page showing entry for John Adams on line 458.
Continuation of John Adams entry showing year as 1914.

The curious thing to me is that the W. P. A. didn't record the names in the registers when they fixed errors and that they didn't make notations by the original register entries to document the certificate number changes. If I had located the birth register entry for John Adams in 1914 and used the year and line number there to search for his birth certificate on microfilm, I would have come up empty-handed.

Two things come to mind as I bring this post to a close.

1) Thing aren't always as they would seem. Looking at the birth register entry for John Adams, it would make no sense to say that he was born in 1913, and yet ... Notice, though, that the register probably isn't a primary source.

2) I am grateful for the efforts of the countless individuals who have volunteered indexing time to make Chicago records accessible through FamilySearch.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Chicago Lying-In Hospital Birth Records

When I look at birth certificates, I focus on names and dates and places--information I can add to a family tree. When I look at hospital records, I come face to face with the realities of giving birth. I think the records from the Chicago Lying-In Hospital and its satellite clinics provide fascinating and important family history details and I believe they merit a closer look.

The hospital records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) as Chicago, Illinois birth records, 1896-1933. The added author is Northwestern Memorial Hospital and I think the originals are most likely held by the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Archives.

These hospital books document services provided by four clinics connected to Dr. Joseph Bolivar DeLee, the physician who founded the Chicago Lying-In Dispensary at Maxwell Street and Newberry Avenue in 1895. Dr. DeLee was interested in improving birthing conditions and his clinics offered care to needy women while providing training opportunities for doctors and nurses in the emerging field of obstetrics. The primary clinic was Maxwell Station but others included Northwest Station, Stockyards Station, and the Chicago Maternity Center. The history of the Lying-In Hospital intertwines with other Chicago medical institutions and some related historical records, 1913-1943 can be found in the University of Chicago Library's Special Collections Research Center. Photos can be found here.

There are three types of clinic records available on the 14 microfilms--application books, birth books, and case books--and I will take a look at each of them in turn.

Application Books

Application books are available on 11 microfilms (1315895 to 1315905) and the FHLC identifies them by volume number and year range. However, some years are covered by more than one book (because the books are from different clinics) so it would be hard to know which film(s) to view without more information. I've created a key which can be viewed as a PDF here. The application books cover the following clinics:
  • Maxwell Station, Dec 1896 – Jun 1932
  • Northwest Station, Sep 1903 – Nov 1907
  • Stockyards Station, Aug 1923 – May 1926
  • Chicago Maternity Center, Sep 1932 – Aug 1933
There are two kinds of application books. The standard books, with the exception of the first one, have entries made on pre-printed forms. They are organized by the date of the woman's first visit to the clinic (births often happened a few months later) and recorded information generally includes name (either the woman's given name or her husband's), address, nationality, how the woman was referred to the clinic, information on previous pregnancies, and expected date of confinement. If the woman gave birth the birth date, sex, and weight of the child are noted. Beginning with Vol. 49, the forms asked for the birthplaces and ages of parents, but sometimes that section was left blank.

Eight of the earliest application books log house calls and I've indicated that on the key linked above. Entries in those books include name, address, including notations like "1 Floor Rear" to help the doctors locate apartments, the names of the physicians sent to assist, and the number of the bag that they carried. Time called, time started, and time returned are also noted along with the "nature of the case." In some instances the notes are detailed but if a birth was without complication, the entry might simply read "normal delivery."

Birth books are available on 3 microfilms (1315995 to 1315997) and they are included on the key linked above. It's difficult to determine the exact coverage because the volumes include birth books, case books, and birth and case books and some aren't labeled with a clinic name. As a group, they appear to go from November 1898 through July 1933 with the bulk of them being from the Maxwell clinic.

Birth Books

The entries are chronological by birth date and span two pages. Information includes spouse with the patient's name to the right, for example, "Gold, Sam Tillie," the names of the intern and student assigned to the patient, an application number, a case or confinement number, and the diagnosis which usually reads something like "Normal L.O.A. Female 8#."

The birth and case book from February of 1900 gives detailed instructions for how to determine whether to assign a case or a confinement number. For example, full confinement cases received a confinement number, hospital cases received no number, and false alarms, abortions, midwife cases, postpartum cases, and treated pregnancy cases received a case number.

The later birth books include obstetrical terms that were unfamiliar to me. In the example below, the word that begins with "ceph" is "cephalic" which, according to Wikipedia, means the head enters the pelvis first. "Para" refers to "parity," the number of times a mother has given birth. Comparing the notation for one of the births to the information on the corresponding birth certificate, it appears that this number refers to previous births. In other words a "I" would mean that the woman was giving birth to a second child. The abbreviations refer to the way the babies are facing. R.O.A., for example, means "right occipito-anterior."

Example: Page from a birth book showing delivery details.
It's possible to use the application number from a birth book to find the corresponding entry in the application book and following up in this way provides additional information, address, for example.

I think it's likely that the children listed in the birth books had birth certificates created and those records should be easily accessible at FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Birth Certificates, 1878-1922 database. Conversely, if you've found a birth certificate stamped "Chicago Lying-In Hospital," it should be easy to find the matching entries in the application and birth books.

Case Books

The birth book films include four "birth and case" books and five separate case books. The case book entries cover clinic visits that didn't result in confinement. Information generally includes names, application numbers, case numbers, and a diagnosis, "False Alarm," and "Precipitate Mid wife on case," for example.  These books include numerous entries for miscarriages.


So, here's what I've learned so far from and about these application, birth, and case books:
  • If a family had enough resources to pay a doctor, you probably won't find a birth or clinic visit listed in these records. For example the Maxwell Station book for 1900 has a notation that says, "Not case for dispensary – can afford to pay doctor."
  • Some of the poorest women in Chicago had access to innovative medical care from the late 1890s forward. Even if a child was born at home, the birth might have been assisted by a skilled physician.
  • Many of the entries in the early Maxwell Street books are for Jewish women from Russia but other neighborhood women used the clinic, too. 
  • The Stockyards Station books list religion. Notations include things like "Amer Cath," "Amer Prot Col," and Amer Prot"  and this information might prove useful in looking for baptismal records.
  • Comparing hospital record information with birth certificate information I notice that there are sometimes minor variations. Name might be spelled differently, for example.
  • Sometimes the doctors recorded remarks about the health of an infant. For example, I saw notations such as "Upper lip shows imperfect union" and "Birthmark."
  • Sometimes the doctors were called to the home only to find they weren't needed. One note said "Met husband who said he had an other doctor & did not need us.”
  • In the 1920s, the Stockyards book begins to mention payments. Notations include things like "Will try to give $5" and "$16.50" (I saw amounts ranging from $5 to $20) but some patients are listed as "Free Care."It's possible that these payments or donations were used to fund the construction of the new hospital.
What use might these records be? Here are some ideas that come to mind quickly:
  • Birth records are available for public searching up through 1922. If you want quick confirmation of birth without obtaining an actual birth record, these records might help.
  • A mother's medical history might provide some interesting insights into the makeup of a family. Was there a medical reason, for example, that there were large gaps between siblings' births?
If you've read to this point and find yourself thinking, "I wonder if my ancestor appears in the records?" post a comment. I'll gladly take a look at the records, time permitting, for the first person to ask.

Related Links Collected while Researching this Post

Caroline Benoist Collection at University of Virginia School of Nursing
Caroline studied in-home delivery at the Chicago Lying-in Hospital and her papers include some publications from the same.

Syphilis in Pregnancy and Labor

Report of a study done at the Stockyards Station published in American Journal of Syphilis; follow the link and search the book for "chicago lying-in."

American Child Hygiene Association Annual Meeting Report
Search for "chicago lying-in"

Directory of History of Medicine Collections
A tool for finding the locations of archived hospital records.

Numerous additional references can be found by searching for "chicago lying-in hospital" at Google Books.

Using the Family History Library Record Lookup Service

Have you heard about the Family History Library Record Lookup Service? It's a very convenient way to obtain digital copies of Chicago vi...