New on the Northfield History Collaborative – the City of Northfield’s register of births and deaths from 1883 through 1907!

Back in the day, city officials recorded all the vital information about a person who was born or died in the City on one line of a two-page spread in a large bound book. The births are listed first by year, followed by the deaths. The Northfield Historical Society is carefully preserving the original volume that spans the years 1883 through 1907, and we recently digitized and transcribed it so that the information it contains can be shared more widely.

I am fascinated by the information they thought worth recording. For instance, a baby’s parents’ names were included, as well as the parents’ birth place and the father’s occupation. If you thought all of the people in Northfield were from Sweden or Norway, think again! Many early Northfielders came from England and Canada, as well as places on the East Coast like Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, and New York. And not everyone was a farmer or laborer – even in the first year of this register, 1883, Northfield fathers were employed in white-collar professions like lawyer, doctor, even insurance agent.

Parental information on the first page of the Register of Births, 1883.

Also, many babies were not named in this register when they were born. They are listed either as “No Name” or “Baby Thorson” or simply by their last name. Perhaps their parents only gave them a name if they lived long enough? Which makes sense if you read far enough into this book and see the same names appear in the death register.

1889 births in the City of Northfield

The death records are also rich sources of social and demographic information. Evidence of medical history can be seen here, too, since they recorded the cause of death (if known) for everyone. You can see patterns of diseases striking the community, like typhoid fever, or certain sections of the population succumbing to diseases like pneumonia or consumption (now known as tuberculosis, or TB). But sometimes, the cause was not known or simply attributed to “Old Age.” Reading this list makes me thankful for advances in medical treatment, including vaccinations, intensive care units, and maternal-fetal care, but I can see many diseases that are still common today – heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Some causes of death in 1907.

If you had family members who were born or died in Northfield during this period of 1883 through 1907, take a look! The book is fully transcribed with all names identified, so you can enter them into the search bar on the document. I would recommend starting with the last name only for your search, as sometimes the first name was misspelled or not included at the time. I recognized a few prominent citizens’ names myself as I went through this, including some professors at St. Olaf (Mohn, Ytterboe), Northfield’s first mayor Hiram Scriver, the photographer E. N. James, and more. See what you can find!

Search bar on the Northfield History Collaborative, featuring the 1883-1907 Birth + Death Register.