interesting letter of Dr. Gould, a few suggestions which seem
worthy of attention. He says:
" There are many reasons why the returns are desirable in a medi-
cal point of view. Many interesting points in the history of disease,
yet remain unsettled, and can only be determined by statistical tables
carefully constructed. Among them are, the average age of man, and
the rate of mortality at the decennial periods of life. On such data
must be based the principles of life insurance, annuities, &c. I may
name, also, the comparative salubrity of different regions, of the differ-
ent seasons, and the prevalent diseases of pailicular regions.
'* There are also several diseases of great interest, on which the cause
of humanity requires that light should be drawn from every possible
source. Puerperal fever is one of them ; a disease so terrible and so
fatal, â€” and yet one which, there is reason to believe, may be materially
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BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS. 23
abated. It remaios to be fully proved whether it be contagious or not ;
if it proves to be contagious, as the candid admissions of honest obÂ«
servers seem to indicate, the present practice of many physicians and
nurses must be altogether changed. In order to effect this object and
others by means of the returns, it is desirable, that, in the nomenclature,
a careful distinction should be made between those who die from puer-
peral fever proper^ and those who die from other accidents of childbed.
'* Of all diseases desolating New England, consumption takes the
lead ; and considering what has beei| already done in the history and
diagnosis of this disease, there is great encouragement to attempt much
more. But care should be taken h^re, also, to include under that name
nothing but tubercular phthisis. This disease is rarely found to affect
youth or persons after fif\y ; and yet we find a large proportion on the
present returns entered at the extremes of age. This occurs in con-
sequence of including aged persons, who have been long declining,
under consumption ; whereas they would properly come under old
age. Others should be included among infantile. Under the heads of
debility^ decay ^ decline and marasmus^ some probably belong to con-
sumption and others to old age.
" The returns from the maritime towns exhibit a large number * lost
at sea,' which are included under * drowned.' This shows the im-
portance of extending registration to our shipping as well as to our
towns and cities."
A letter from J. I. Bowditch, Esq., of the American Academy,
may be quoted, by way of further illustration of this most in-
teresting subje ct.
" Boston, Feb. 1842.
**Deah Sir, â€” ^Dr. Wigglesworth, in 1789, from returns made to the
American Academy by individuals from towns scattered along the sea-
coast, from Nantucket to Portland, and from towns in the counties of
Middlesex, Worcester and Hampshire, and several other places, formed
tables giving the expectation of life, &c. The tables are used gener-
ally in Massachusetts, and were adopted by the supreme courts in 10th
'^ It seems to me very desirable that a more extended basis should be
obtained ; the measures adopted by our state government last year,^
were certainly wise, and highly to be commended.
**The whole number of deaths recorded by Dr. Wigglesworth,
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24 BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS.
amounted to only 4893 ; yet with this small number as the radix of
calculation, he was enabled to deduce valuable results.
'* When we consider the amount of property which, in the course of
years, may be distributed according to the rates of the present tables, it
does seem very important that every means should be used to test their
*' The English tables, you will perceive, are made out with great mi-
nuteness, â€” and I would call your attention particularly to the propriety
of recording the deaths under fivQ years, as follows : â€”
under 1 month,
1 month and under 2 months,
2 months and under 3 months,
3 months and under 4 months,
and so on to 12 months.
under 1 year,
1 year and under 2 years,
2 years and under 3 years,
3 years and under 4 years,
4 years and under 5 years.
And so on, as far as you can without making your report too bulky.
^^ For the cause of science you run no risk in going into detail. From
birth until 20 years, the figures usually show great irregularity, and for
this reason, I should wish to have the tables formed as above. If the
authorities in the different towns could be compelled to give their at-
tention to returns, more accuracy would be obtained.
*' Although the first reports may not be all that are desirable, and
great fault may be found with them, yet I hope that you will use your
influence to have them continued, trusting that in time the diiSiculties
will be surmounted, and that results will be obtained which will do hon-
or to the State.
" Very respectfully,
" J. I. BOWDITCH.*'
J. A. BoLLEs, Esq., )
Secretary of State. )
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BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS. 2S
A brief sketch of the history of the act of March Sd, 1842,
will shed some Ifurther light on the benefits which wise and
good men expect from a thorough system of registration, and
will confirm the views herein^before expressed.
In February, 1841, the American Academy of Arts and Sci-
ences, in Boston, appointed a committee, consisting of Hon.
John Pickering and several other gentlemen, whose names are
familiar in the records of science and of enlightened philan-
thropy, in behalf of the Academy, to memorialize the General
Court upon the subject of registration. That committee pre-
pared and presented a petition, which places the merits of this
whole question in a manner so forcible, yet brief, that I cannot
forbear inserting it in toiidem verbis.
The Memorial of the undersigned, a committee of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston, in behalf of said Academy,
respectfully shows :
That your memorialists, with a view to the interests of science, as
well as of humanity, and the public heal^ and morals, ask leave to call
the attention of your honorable body to the expediency of providing,
by law, for a more exact and efficient system of* registering the deaths,
births and marriages, within this Commonwealth ; it having been found,
by long experience, that the legal provisions already made are wholly
insufficient to cany into effect the wise intentions of the Legislature.
hi a measure of public policy, which has already been sanctioned by
the Legislature, though with little practical effisct, for a long series of
years, it may seem to be superfiuoos to enter into a formal course of
reasoning to prove its importance ; yet it may not be altogedier without
use to advert to some of the practical considerations, which must doubt^
less have an influence on the question of adopting such further legal
provisions as may be necessary to effiect the purposes intended by the
Among these considerations, that of affording more efiectual means
of promoting the public health, by ascertaining the causes of disease,
deservedly holds the first place. Many of the causes of disease, as
they affect different communities, engaged in a great variety of occupa*
tions, can be ascertained only by observations <m an extensive scale, far
beyond the reach of individifld research ; and an accurate return of
deaths, from the different parts of the State, for a series of yean, woald
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26 BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS.
greatly aid in tbe investigation of these causes. As an exemplification
of this view of the subject, it is asserted that the relative prevalence of
the disease of consumption is much greater in some places than in
others ; this prevalence is supposed by some to be counteracted, in a
great degree, by that of certain other diseases ; and the ascertaining of
the truth in this case, would probably afford the means of lessening the
number of those who would fall victims to this disease.
To the paramount considerations founded on the benefits which would
result to the public health and morals, and the general advancement of
science, more especially in the all-important department of political
economy, as applicable to our own State, may be added others of
scarcely inferior practical importance.
Among these, it may be observed that sbch an exact registration
would afford the best means of determining, in a satisfactory manner,
numberless questions of consanguinity, involving the legitimacy or ille-
gitimacy of parties, and their rights of property, which are continually
occurring in our courts of justice, as well between individuals as be-
tween the municipal corporations of this Commonwealth.
It is also a well-known fact, that the present tables of mortality , by
which the expectation of human life is now calculated, in legal and
other proceedings for tbe various purposes of annuities, of life estates
in the various species of property, are extremely defective, and conse-
quently too uncertain to be relied upon. Now an exact registration of
the deaths, for a series of years, would furnish sufficient data for the
construction of accurate tables, and when the vast amount of property
depending on the accurate value, or expectation of human life, is duly
considered, the high importance of such tables will be justly estimated.
Every married woman in the State has her right of dower, or life
estate, in the red estate of her husband ; and every married man (with
very limited exceptions,) has an interest fpr life in the real estate of his
wife. When such life estates are transferred, especially under compul-
sory process of law, it becomes highly necessary, for tbe purposes of
justice, that the most ample means should be provided for making a
correct estimate of property, both as respects tbe party holding the es-
tate, and the party to whom it is so transferred, as well as those who
may be entitled to the reversionary interest in such property. The
same reasoning would be applicable to cases of estimating land held for
life, which should be required by the public authorities for highways,
or other public uses, or by towns or olliei' corporations, for the like
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BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS. 27
It often happens, also, that charitable iastitntions in this Commoii*
wealth derive their funds from the bounty of philanthropic individualsii
who frequently bequeath large amounts of property to such institutions*
encumbered with the payment of annuities to certain individuals during
their Utos ; but for want of correct data, such annuities cannot now be
properly calculated. Now, by having exact tables, which can be obtain-
ed only by a long course of observatioos, and under some uniform sys*
tem, sanctioned by legislative authority, all questi<Â»is of the kinds
above mentioned would be readily determined, and without the risk of
doing injustice to any party interested.
Your memorialists would add, that the proposed system of registrar
tion, considered as a matter of political science, with particular refer-
ence to our own Commonwealth, as an integral portion of the United
States, loses none of its importance, when we take into view the facili*
ties which it will afibrd for ascertaining the ratio or law by which the
native population increases from year to year, (as distinguished from
the increase by emigration from other countries,) and for enabling us
more justly to estimate the great interests, and the resources and means
of the Commonwealth, in their rolations to the public welfare of our
Your memorialists, therefore, respectfully request tiiat such measures
may be adopted in the premises, as your honorable body, in its wisdom,
ehall deem the public interest to require.
During the same month a similar petition was prepared by
order and in behalf of the counsellors of the Massachusetts
Medical Society, and presented to the Legislature. Prom this
petition I make the following extracts : â€”
The interests of humanity and science, as well as those of morals
and the public health, would be essentially promoted by an efficient
registration and return of deaths, births and marriages in all the towns
of this Commonwealth. The law now requires a record of births and
marriages ; but the provision is not such, your memorialists are in-
formed, as to secure any general or adequate attention being paid to it.
No public record of deaths is made, except in a very few places. And
no provision is made for any return of such records as are kept, so that
their results may be rendered available for the purposes of general
The census of successive periods shows a rapid rate of increase of
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28 BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS.
our population^â€” exhibiting the remarkaMe fact, that the number of pej-
aons now living in this country is greater than that of all who have ever
died in it since the first settlement of the country by Europeans. But in
what degree this increase is the effect of causes naturally existing among
us, or how far it is produced by immigration, there are at present no
means of knowing. This, and many other questions of great impor*
tance in political economy and other branches of science, may be ascei^
tained by an accurate comparison of the births and deaths with the ex-
isting popslation. The influence of the different employments and
states of society on the public morals and the general welfare would be
exhibited, and thus the means may be obtained of judging to what ex-
tent each should be fostered and encouraged.
But it is on account of its importance in promoting the public
health, that your memorialists, as physicians, attach the strongest inter-
est to this noeasure. Many of the causes of disease, as they affect dif-
ferent communities, engaged in a great variety of occupations, can only
be ascertained by observations on an extensive scale, far beyond the
reach of individual research. An accurate return of deaths from the
different sections of the State, for a series of years, would greatiy aid
in the investigation of these causes, and would doubtiess do much to-
wards enabling us to find means for the removal of some of them. For
example, the relative prevalence of consumption is much greater in
some places than in others ; and there are those who believe that its
prevalence is in a great degree counteracted by that of certain other
diseases. A full establishment of the truth in regard to this opinion, as
it might be established by such returns as we propose, might do some-
thing at least to diminish the mortality of a disease, which now cuts off
so many at the most interesting and useful period of life.
These petitions were referred to a Joint Special Committee
of the two Houses, at so late a period of the session, as to ren-
der deliberate legislation at that time impossible, on which ac-
count, the committee, in their report, recommended that the
subject be postponed to the next General Court, with the decia*
ration, however, that " the committee fully concur with the
memorialists in their opinion as to the beneficial effects that
would result from an efficient and thorough system of public
registration;" and saying further that '' they hope the day is
not far distant when a law that shall cover the whole gronnd
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BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS. 29
taken in the memorials, will receive the sanction of the Legis-
Upon this Report, the subject was postponed to the session of
In February, 1842, a Special Joint Committee, to whom these
memorials were referred, reported a bill entitled " An Act relat-
ing to the Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths," (Senate
Documents, No. 70,) in the terms following, viz :
Sbc. 1. The selectmen of the sereral towns, and the mayor and
aldermen of cities in this Commonwealth, shall annually, in the month
of April, in each year, appoint a suitable person or persons to superin*
tend the burials and burial-grounds in their respective towns and cities,
said superintendents to hold their offices till others may he appointed ;
and in case of the death or removal of a superintendent, a new appoint-
ment may be made at any time during the year.
Sbc 2. It shall be the duty of such superintendents to give notice
in writing, to the town or city clerks of their lespectire towns or cities,
within one week from the first day of said April, in each year, of all
the burials which they may have severally superintended during the
preceding year, stating the name, sex, age, (and if an adult male, the
occupation,) and the disease or other cause of such deceased person^s
death , said superintendents to receive such compensation for the above
services as said towns and cities may allow : and any superintendent
who shall neglect to give said notice shall be subject to a penalty of
five dollars for each offence, to be recovered by an action on the case,
or by complaint before a justice of the peace, to be brought by any
person who shall know of such neglect.
Sbc. 3. No deceased person shall be buried in any other place than
a public or town burial-ground, until such a notice as is prescribed in
the preceding section shall have been given either to the town or city
clerk, or to some superintendent of the town or city where said burial
is to take place, and any person who shall bury or cause to be buried
any deceased person, until such notice has been given as aforesaid,
shall be subject to a penalty of five dollars, to be recovered as in the
Sbc. 4. In case notice shall not be given to the clerk of any town
or city, as now required by law, of any birth, death or marriage, it
shall be the duty of such clerk to make a record of such birth, death
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30 BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS.
or marriage, upon such information as he may be able, upon due in-
quiry, to obtain.
Sec. 5. Every person who shall neglect, for the space of thirty
days, to give notice of a birth or death, as required in the forty-seventh
section of the fifleenth chapter of the Revised Statues, shall forfeit the
sum of five dollars, to be collected and appropriated as provided in the
second section of this act.
Sec. G. The said town and city clerks shall, in the month of April
annuall^Pbiake returns to the secretary of the Commonwealth, of all
the births, deaths and marriages, which may have come to their knowl-
edge, and which shall have been recorded in their books respectively
during the year preceding the first day of said , which return
shall be a certified copy of such record ; and any town or city clerk
who shall neglect to make such return in manner aforesaid, shall be
liable to a penalty of five dollars, to be collected and appropriated as
provided in the second section of this act.
Sec 7. The Secretary of the Commonwealth shall prepare and
furnish to the clerks of the several towns and cities in this Common-
wealth, blank forms of returns, as herein-before specified, and shall
accompany the same with such instructions and explanations as may be
necessary and useful ; and he shall receive said returns, and prepare
therefrom such tabular results as will render them of practical utility, â€”
and shall make report thereof annually to the Legislature, and gener-
ally shall do whatever may be required, to carry into effect the objects
of this act, and of the several provisions of the Revised Statutes not
inconsistent with this act.
Sec 8. The said several towns and cities shall pay .to said superin-
tendents and clerks, such sums for compensation for the services
required by this act, as they may think proper and just, and such com-
pensation shall be paid out of the moneys of the several towns and
Sec 9. All acts and parts of acts, inconsistent with this act, are
This bill did not become a law ; but its 2d, 6th and 7th sec-
tions were condensed into two sections, and on the third of
March, 1842, they were enacted, and in this form were approv-
ed, constituting the 96th chapter of the acts of that session, â€”
under the provisions of which, this report is now prepared.
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BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS. 31
The entire insufficiency of the act to produce the desired
results, must be apparent to those who have thus far read this
report ; and it seems somewhat surprising tliat, for the purpose
of improving the old system, a measure like this, which varies
no penalty, and furnishes to town clerks no new means of col-
lecting information, and to the citizens at large, no new induce-
ments to supply the town clerks with materials for their records
and returns, should have been adopted.
I have ventured, with great diffidence, (and, I trust, without
any violation of official decorum,) to sketch the outlines of a
statute, such as I believe would be found to answer the needful
purpose and supply the public wants.
The following is the sketch referred to.
Every town clerk to keep, in separate volumes, duplicate
registers of births, of marriages, and of deaths.
These books of record to be prepared, in a uniform manner, by
the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and by him sent to each
town whenever needed ; the cost of the books to be paid by the
iowns^: 9nd every clerk to keep himself fully and seasonably
supplied, by giving proper notice to the Secretary.
The forms of the registries in these books, to be substantially
like the schedules, A, B, and C, hereunto annexed, so as to
furnish authentic evidence of facts necessary to accurate statis-
tical calculations, and to professional inquiry.
The town clerk every year, in the month of December, to
transmit (properly certified and sealed up,) one set of these
three duplicate volumes, with a full alphabetical index for
each volume, to the Secretary of the Commonwealth ; and to
retain the other set in his own office, to be indexed in like
manner. A copy of said record to be sent annually, in Decem-
ber, by said clerk, to the registry of deeds for his county or
district ; for which copy, the county shall pay to the clerk at
the rate of twelve cents per page of two hundred and twenty-
The duties imposed on the town clerks to be enforced by
suitable penalties and rewards : â€” penalties for all neglect or re-
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32 BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS.
fusal to discharge their duties; and compensation, depending
on the number and accuracy of their entries, say one dime for
every birth, death or marriage properly recorded, without mis-
take, and accurately indexed : â€” the compensation being paid
from the town treasury , in addition to fees from individuals
procuring copies and certificates as herein provided.
All falsification of the records to be very severely punished.
Half the fine in all cases to go to the prosecutor, who shall be
a compilent witness ; said penalty to be recovered in an action
of the case, brought in the name of the town, or by complaint.
To insure accurate returns to the town clerk of the births,
marriages and deaths, the following proviso might be
adopted : â€”
1. In case ofhirths. Parents, or one of them, under pen-
alty of twenty dollars for each omission, within a period of ten
days after the birth of a child, to give notice thereof to the
clerk of the town in which the birth occurs, informing him of
its name, color and sex, and the day of its birth, and furnishing
also the names and color of the parents, the mother's maiden
name, and the father's occupation, as set forth in schedule (A).
The physician-, or midwife, present at any birth, in like man-
ner, and under like penalties, to notify the town clerk of the
birth within the period above named. The keepers of jails,
prisons, alms-houses, hospitals, and all other like institutions,
to give notice in like manner, and under like penalties, of all
births among their inmates, to the clerk of the town where the
institution is situated. The commanders of all vessels of Mas-
sachusetts, sailing to or from any Massachusetts port, under
like penalties, and within ten days after their arrival at a home
port in this state, to notify the town clerk of the port where the
vessel arrives, of all births that have occurred on board during
the voyage ; said notice to contain the particulars above named.
Whenever a foundling is discovered, the person so finding it,
to give notice of the fact to the clerk and inform him of all the