1879 causes of death, Bridgewater Township recordsI love genealogy, so it’s no big surprise that one of the first projects I crossed off the list in our new Northfield History Collaborative grant was uploading Bridgewater Township’s birth and death records.

There are two books to see: Book L covers 1871 to 1899, and Book M covers 1899 to 1907. Both books are fully transcribed, meaning they are searchable, and you can copy and paste the typed text. The books were always available to the public on request from Bridgewater Township (and more recently the Rice County Historical Society), but now you can view (and search!) them from anywhere on the planet whenever you like.

These particular books are of note for genealogists and local historians because they are the two earliest books of vital records kept by that jurisdiction (to my knowledge). At this time, a birth or a death probably wasn’t registered at the county or state level – the township may have been the only place to record it, if it was reported to any jurisdiction at all.

Things that I noticed:

  • Ages: When I think of pioneer women, I tend to think of them getting married around 17, and then popping out babies ’til they’re 30 or 35 — which these records often do reflect. But there are also cases of women having babies – sometimes first babies – in their late 30s and into their 40s.
  • Infant mortality: So many of the deaths listed here are children, and I’d say most are under 1 year old. Very sad to read through.
  • Causes of death: Of the adults, a significant number of the deaths are due to tuberculosis (called consumption then), especially early on. Diptheria makes a regular appearance, and you’ll also see typhoid, meningitis, and a couple cases of cholera. “Old age” is listed as cause of death in people from their early seventies into the nineties. And then there are a few things that make me scratch my head: Congestion of brain, lung fever, brain fever, throat disease. On the whole, people seemed to me to die significantly younger than they do now, and of things that aren’t fatal now.
  • Immigrants: The early records show that a lot of the settlers in their childbearing years were from Canada. This surprised me at first. But, when you think about it, some of the Dundas-area milling folks, like the Archibalds, came from Canada — and the original “Dundas” is in Ontario, too. There were plenty of German immigrants in the records. I didn’t see as many Norwegian or Swedish immigrants listed as I expected, but I wonder if they simply weren’t as faithful about reporting births and deaths to the township.

A few tips for researchers:

  • The first part of the book is births; the second part (but more than halfway in) is deaths.
  • A complete birth or death entry occurs first on a left-hand page, then continues onto the next right-hand page. You’ll find the combined transcriptions for the spread attached to both the left- and right-hand pages.
  • Births and deaths are not listed in the order they occurred. All of the births or deaths for a particular year are listed together (with one or two exceptions), but they appear to be listed by either the date the event was reported or the date that the recorder had time to record it!
  • In many cases, the name for a child is not listed for a birth. Try looking for a parent’s name.
  • Keep in mind that parents sometimes reused a name if a baby died.
  • In the case of twins: the two babies’ births are not always listed in order! Also, the fact that two babies are twins might not be noted. Or, in one case, only one line occurs in the book to report a set of twins, rather than two separate entries.

Again, I’d like to commend Bridgewater Township for taking an active and proactive role in preserving the life of their records. Read more about their other six books in the Northfield History Collaborative here.

On a related note, the History Collaborative will also be adding some early birth and death records from the city of Northfield sometime between now and June 2014. Stay tuned!