Thursday, June 28, 2007

City Directories: The Statistical Department

Continuing with this series on using city directories in genealogy and family history research, we will next look at the statistical section. Using my R.L. Polk City Directory for Detroit, 1925-1926 as a reference, the section with statistics starts on p. 11 and runs through p. 49... it's a fairly big section with one heck of a lot of statistics!

The section is titled "Statistical Department, Annual Review of Detroit's Civic, Commercial, Financial and Industrial Activities". After the title it goes on to say:

The statistical data regarding Detroit is grouped under the following heads: The Board of Commerce, Federal Reserve Bank, The Banks and Trust Companies, The Stock Exchange, The City, Cities of Highland Park and Hamtramck, The Grosse Pointe Villages, The County, Federal Educational, Industrial, Public Utilities, Public Buildings, Etc., Notable Facts Regarding Civic and Industrial Detroit, Chronological History of Detroit 1669-1925.
Some of the statistics about the city of Detroit are of more interest to genealogists than others. For our purposes today we'll look at one subset of "The City" and "Notable Facts Regarding Civic and Industrial Detroit" and we'll leave the chronology for another post.

Some of the most interesting information for genealogists in "The City" is the subsection for the Department of Health. Here we find a fascinating collection of information about deaths in the city of Detroit. Here's a few samples...

The outstanding features of the [Detroit] health situation for 1924 are:
A saving of 1181 lives as a result of the next to lowest death rate in its history. The death rate of 1924 was 11.4 per 1,000 population as compared with 12.4 in 1923. Only once before has the death rate been as low as it was last year. In 1921 the rate was 11.0.

In 1924 the birth rate was 27.0, in 1923 it was 26.8 per 1,000 population.

Detroit learned the value of vaccination and revaccination in 1924. Sixteen hundred and ten cases of smallpox with 163 deaths. There were more deaths from small pox during 1924 than in the ten preceding years combined.

During 1924 there was a total of 359 cases of poliomyelitis resulting in 60 deaths.
...Very little effective work can be done to prevent the spread of this disease. Most cases give no history of known contact.

In 1923 there were 205 deaths from diphtheria; in 1924 there were 162.

In 1924 there were 1,521 deaths from pneumonia while in 1923 there were 1,949. The death rate for the past year was 134.6 as compared with 185.6 per 100,000 population in 1923. While the death rate does show a gratifying improvement it is still far from satisfactory since pneumonia is still the most important cause of death in Detroit.

During the year 1924 there was such a pronounced rise in the incidence of rabies both in animal and man as to warrant the passage of an ordinance affecting dogs. Such a ordinance was passed May 6th, which provided that all dogs must be either vaccinated against rabies or kept on a leash or muzzled at all times. There were 210 rabid animals examined by the Department's laboratories in the year just passed. Four human beings lost their lives as a result of rabies.

The ten principal causes of death in 1924 were:
  1. Pneumonia
  2. Organic Heart Disease
  3. Congenital Debility, Malformation and Premature Birth
  4. Tuberculosis
  5. Violence (except suicide)
  6. Cancer
  7. Apoplexy and Cerebral Hemorrhage
  8. Bright's Disease and Chronic Nephritis
  9. Diarrhea and Enteritis
  10. Acute Contagious Diseases (Measles, Scarlet Fever, Whooping Cough, and Diphtheria)
Now does that paint an interesting picture of Detroit in the middle of the "Roaring 20's" decade, or what? There is equally interesting information available on a number of other topics of interest but for now we'll move on to the next section.

On p. 34 we have a really great section titled, "High Spots in a World-Renowned City". This section is a treasure trove for tidbits of information about this city of Detroit back in 1924. This is the stuff Trivial Pursuit games are made of ;-) Here's some examples:

Detroit is the oldest city in the United States between the Allegheny mountains and the New Mexican plains; is, with the exception of Washington, the most beautiful city in the country, and is the fasted growing city in its class.

Detroit has an official mermaid - a female athlete as swimming teacher at Belle Isle Beach.

Detroit has the largest music publishing house in the world.

Detroit homes prior to 1851 were mostly lighted with sperm oil and candles, in that year with gas and kerosene and in 1885 with electric lights and gas mantles.

Detroit is a city of contented labor.

Detroit has the tallest hotel in the world - the Book-Cadillac Hotel - opened Dec. 1, 1924. It is 397 feet high, with 29 stories, 1129 guest rooms and 20 stores; cost $16,000,000.

Detroit leads the world in soda and salt production.

Detroit is he third city in the country in number of autos stolen, New York being first.

Detroit leads all cities in America in the production of disinfectants.

Detroit is a leader in the number and completeness of its bakeries. A modern baking plant cost $2,000,000. (Yikes! Could my grandparents' baking company have been worth this kind of money???)

Detroit has among new industries the manufacture of manophones.

Detroit has two of the largest scarf-pin manufacturers in the world.
This sort of information goes on and on for pages and pages. Some of it is impressive, some of it is just a hoot! But where else can you put your hands on this kind of trivia? This book is a must-check when writing up your family history or for period research if you are writing historical fiction.

Coming up next: City Directories: Chronological History

Read my series of articles about city directories:
I Won the eBay Bid
What's In A City Directory
City Directories: The Introduction
City Directories: The Indexes
City Directories: The Statistical Department
City Directories: Chronological History
City Directories: Miscellaneous Information
City Directories: Directory of Names
City Directories: Street Guide and Directory of Householders
City Directories: Classified Business Directory
City Directories: Additional Information

9 comments:

  1. Jasia, I'm really enjoying this series! City (and rural) directories are one of my favorite genealogical resources. Your close examination demonstrates the wealth of information that can be found within them.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Miriam. It's nice to know someone is following this series :-)

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  3. Miriam's not the only one, Jasia. This was a great idea for a series!

    The library in St. Clair Shores has a pretty extensive collection of Detroit city directories, and I spent an afternoon there last summer with my camera. The local history room within the library has very limited hours, so I did surname lookups as fast as I could, photographing pages as I went. (I think a tripod would have helped. The images are readable but not as clear as I would have liked.) I did manage to get through many volumes from the 'teens, '20s and '30s in the time available, but it didn't occur to me to look up businesses, which I regret now, and I would have enjoyed spending time with some of these other sections you're describing. Your detailed descriptions will enable better research planning for the next trip. Thanks!

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  4. Thank you for your comment T.K.! You made my day :-) I'm so glad you're finding this series useful. The amount of information in these directories is amazing. Like you, (and probably many others) I only ever did name/address lookups in city directories... until I bought one of my own and realized what a true information-packed gem they really are.

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  5. Jasia, I'm a big fan of directories, too. Many cities have directories prior to about 1920 in the NARA microfilm series, but then they seem to stop, even though they were published later than that on a regular basis in many cities. Chicago is of particular interest to me. The only one I know of after 1917, 1923, and 1928, is the 1928-29 Criss-Cross directory. Am I missing a consistent source?

    Thanks! Jeff in San Francisco, but born in Chicago

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  6. Thanks for your comment and question Jeff. Unfortunately, the 1928/29 directory for Chicago was the last one produced (I got this information directly from a librarian at the Chicago Public Library). I can't begin to guess why R.L. Polk didn't create annual directories for Chicago like they did for so many other cities but that indeed seems to be the case.

    The librarian did inform me that there are Chicago phone directories for the years 1878-1971 and (1976-current in microfiche). Those certainly wouldn't have the wealth of information available in city directories but they still might be helpful to you for name lookups. Unfortunately I don't know of a source where you could access them outside of the Chicago area.

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  7. The Polk Detroit City is supposed to include a business directory for Windsor, Ontario. Can you tell me if there is a listing for the Doyle ltd company on Sandwich St, in West Windsor in your 1925/26 copy?

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  8. The Windsor portion of the directory is one side of one page only and no there is no listing for the Doyle Ltd company. Sorry.

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  9. Thanks so much for looking. Your old directory is worth every penny you paid for it on ebay!

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