Thursday, 27 October 2011

Royal Historical Journals Free Access

Researching historical medical and scientific matters has been greatly enhanced with the news today that the Royal Society has digitised and made available journals greater than 70 years old for free access.

The Royal Society journal was founded in 1665 and eminent scientists and men of enquiring minds have been submitting information to the Society ever since (women also submitted but much later in the piece). The journals are searchable at  Historical Journal Search

You are able to access PDF copies of articles such as this one:

An Account of Several Persons Seized with the Goal-Fever, Working in Newgate; And of the Manner, in Which the Infection Was Communicated to One Intire Family; by John Pringle, M. D. F. R. S.Phil. Trans. 1753 48:42-55; doi:10.1098/rstl.1753.0007  ( spelling as per the journal)

It is interesting to look at the evolution of science since 1665. The Journal is the first ever peer reviewed journal and it is fantastic that everyone have been granted free access.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Update on Surgeon's Logs

Recently I wrote about the value of   Surgeon's logs  to health research. Apart from the 14 Journals available for download from the UK National archives previously there was not much available online, apart from an occasional transcription.

However that has now changed with announcing the release of two record sets of Surgeons reports on their blog. An excerpt is shown below.

"These collections are journals that were penned by ships’ medical officers, who were required to keep a record of all patients, treatments and outcomes during a sea voyage.
UK Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1815-17 and UK Surgeon Superintendents’ Journals of Convict Ships, 1858-1867 include over 43,000 records depicting vivid and often gruesome details of ‘contemporary’ treatments and medical practices, as well as stories of life aboard convict ships, from the perils and prevalence of grog-related accidents to a simple chronicle of the daily routine on a 19th century sailing vessel."

They are fully indexed with images.

These are a valuable addition to our research but do not cover much of the early convict transports. To get a picture of the conditions and illnesses aboard some of the earlier convict ships, the UK National Archives have four early journals available for download. These are not indexed but the image quality is good

ADM101/1/9  Albion male convict ship to New South Wales 9 May-14 September 1828
ADM 101/23/3  Eliza male convict ship to New South Wales 19 June- 26 November 1822
ADM101/38/2  John Barry convict ship to New South Wales 16 May- 10 November 1821
ADM 101/57/8 Ocean convict ship to New South Wales 21 June 1817 - 16 June 1818

Whilst earlier than the new release from Ancestry these are still later than the very early voyages which are primarily available on microfilm of the  Australian Joint Copying Project and should be available at your State Library and in many Family History Society Libraries.

Other journals have been transcribed and are available on the Net, often as a PDF file and so worth doing a Google search.   
From a health perspective it is excellent to see these type of resources becoming available for research.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Sickness in Railway Camps

The Brisbane Courier Queensland Saturday 19 May 1877 page 6 column 2 

There is an alarming prevalence of sickness among the men, employed on the railway extensions of the colony, but more particularly on the Western Railway extension, from Dalby towards Roma. Fever and ague and typhoid fever have struck down many of the men, and in some instances their wives and families also. Much misery and destitution prevail in consequence. As, however, the cool and dry season is now setting in, it is only reasonable to anticipate that this sickness will soon disappear.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Surgeons at Sea: Medical Journals, UK National Archives

The UK National Archives, supported by funding from the Wellcome Trust , has done an extensive cataloguing project of ADM101- Surgeons Journals (Royal Navy Medical Officers Journals). The journals are compiled by the Surgeons aboard the the Naval ships and detail the health and medical treatment provided to those in their care.

They have digitised fourteen journals which are available for free download. The fourteen are a mixture of Navy, convict and emigrant voyages.

The fourteen journals are:

ADM101/1/9  Albion male convict ship to New South Wales 9 May-14 September 1828
ADM 101/23/3  Eliza male convict ship to New South Wales 19 June- 26 November 1822
ADM101/38/2  John Barry convict ship to New South Wales 16 May- 10 November 1821
ADM 101/57/8 Ocean convict ship to New South Wales 21 June 1817 - 16 June 1818
ADM101/76/9  Elizabeth emigrant ship of Irish settlers from Cork to Quebec  4 May-21 July 1821
ADM101/77/8  John Barry  emigrant ship of Irish settlers Cork to Quebec and to Upper Canada 22 April - 25 July 1825
ADM 101/77/9  Juliana emigrant ship from Gravesend, Kent England to New South Wales 17 October 1838 - 21 May 1839
ADM 101/85/4  Arab voyage to West Indies 27 March 1799 - 27 March 1800
ADM 101/86/1 Arethusa  Europe and voyage to West Indies 15 May 1805 - 13 June 1806
ADM 101/97/5 Dryad  Mediterranean 1 November 1827 - 31 March 1828
ADM 101/103/5 Griper on discovery voyage to Arctic and West Passage 10 June - 8 November 1824
ADM 101/110/3 North Star voyages in Arctic Seas  21 February 1852- 19 August 1853
ADM 101/115/3  Princess Royal employed in Channel service 7 February 1801-7 February 1802
ADM 101/245  Dido January - December 1875

HMS Dido built in 1869 (

These are reasonably large PDF files, averaging around 30 MB with some at 70MB so it is best to download them and then view them.

The Archives have done a great job in the cataloguing and you can search by ship, name and disease. 

I like the new Discovery search, where if you ask for the search only to be done within the ADM101 series, gives you very directed results.

Unfortunately none of my Quested One Name Study people were aboard but a search for Busby found two entries one of which is below from ADM 101/285/2:

Folio 6: William Busby, aged 27, Seaman; disease or hurt, attacked with fever; taken ill, 14 October 1804 during passage from Surinam to Barbados; discharged to hospital in Barbados, 16 October 1804.

Also listed in Folio 6  were the below
Folio 6: James Webb, aged 21, Mariner, disease or hurt, attacked with fever; taken ill, 14 October 1804 during passage from Surinam to Barbados; discharged to hospital in Barbados, 16 October 1804.
Folio 6: Murphy Johnson, aged 28, and Jonathan Stephens, aged 26; disease or hurt, attacked with fever; taken ill 14 October 1804, died 16 October 1804. 
Folio 6: Thomas Sawer, aged 25, marine; Jonathan Philips, aged 24, marine; Robert Douglas, aged 25, Seaman; Thomas Bennet, aged 25, marine; Charles Glandy, aged 14, boy; Mr Irons, aged 34, Boatswain; Jonathan Farrow, aged 24; Jonathan Johnson, aged 29; Eli[?] Ferguson, aged 33; Mr Grey Martin, aged 27, Mate; Mr Waddy, aged 18, Midshipman; George Kemp, aged 20; Mr Cooper, aged 30, Purser; Michael Cronin, aged 32; Robert Joblin, aged 25; Lawrence Ward, aged 36; Jonathan Holding, aged 33; [Soro Noguard], aged 30; Jonathan Dunn, aged 35; Thomas Smith, aged 28; William Smith, aged 26; were all attacked with fever between Surinam and Barbados on 15 October 1804, all discharged to the hospital in Barbados, 16 October 1804. 
These particular files are not downloadable at this stage, but copies can be ordered, so it is worth having a search for your family as there are many names listed.

In the downloadable files the writing is generally quite readable and there are a number of post-its attached to the files which are transcriptions of the file.

The amount of detail varies between journals but you usually get the date of sick call, the name, the age and what illness they presented with. You also get a description of the treatment given, this may be only a few lines or go on for pages.

You can search for specific diseases but remember to be flexible in your spelling and in what the disease may be named as at this time there was no standardisation of disease names. There are 708 examples of syphilis and six of syphillis. Search results for venereal does bring up Lues Venera which is excellent.

The Journals are also a fascinating glimpse into conditions aboard the ships and also the general health of the convicts compared to the Irish emigrants compared to the Naval seamen.

These journals are a fantastic resource for family, social and medical historians. I can see many hours ahead looking at the medical terminology used and some of the interesting treatments, many of which we would shudder at today.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Infectious Disease: Typhoid

Typhoid is caused by infection with the bacteria Salmonella Typhi, usually spread via food or water that has been faecally contaminated. In most cases it is an enteric infection causing diarrhoea with a small percentage of sufferers getting an invasive disease ending in septicaemia. A very small percentage (1-3) of people become carriers of the disease and can continuously excrete the bacteria as the bacteria have colonised the gall bladder.

The most famous of these was Mary Mallon, better known today as Typhoid Mary . Mary was a cook who while not ill herself,  was the cause of a number of outbreaks although Mary herself never believed she was the cause. At that time it was not well understood that there could be healthy carriers. 

The Health Department incarcerated her in a cottage near the hospital. She was released after two years after promising not to work as a cook.  For a time Mary complied, working as a laundress and other related occupations but Mary was not able to earn as much doing the other jobs and went back to cooking as a profession. She changed her name and the typhoid cases continued resulting in a number of deaths.  The Health authorities again incarcerated Mary until her death.

Typhoid was fairly common in the early 1900s and before when water supplies were not chlorinated. This was particularly true when the sewage which was also not treated entered the water system and then that water was used for a town supply. An example of this is given below in a quite nice piece of public health investigation.

From Daily News ( London, England ),  Friday, September 24, 1897

Despite the efforts of the sanitary authorities at Maidstone to check the typhoid fever epidemic in the town, the number of notifications of cases has considerably increased this week. On Monday no fewer than 129 were reported, and the total has now reached about 320. The deputy medical  officer has very little doubt as to the cause of the outbreak.

The county town is supplied by the waterworks company with water from three different sources, and on Sunday the springs at East Farleigh, from where a greater bulk  of the supply is obtained, were examined by Mr. ADAMS , in company with the manager to the waterworks company.  In consequence of his investigations, the medical officer had some of these streams cut off, being of the opinion they had been polluted in some way -  perhaps by the large number of hoppers who have recently been in the district. His opinion that it is  Farleigh water supply alone that is polluted is confirmed by the singular fact  that out of 306 cases notified up till Wednesday morning, 295 were in houses supplied with water from Farleigh. This supply has now been cut off entirely, and the company are making a great effort with the sanitary authorities to stop the spread of the disease.  

Newspapers are a great source to find out further information on outbreaks in your area of interest. In Australia, we are very lucky to have Trove  which has an increasing number of digitised papers from 1803 to 1954 from around Australia. It is also a wonderful site for photos, books, articles and so much more. There are 106 000 mentions of typhoid in the newspapers digitised to date. There are also 62 theses where typhoid is mentioned. Theses are a wonderful resource but are often a neglected resource for many family historians. 

New Zealand has Papers Past and we are all eagerly waiting on the release of the United kingdom papers in the joint work between the British Library and FindMyPast. The USA has which is a pay site. 

Many papers have been indexed by family history societies in the area and of course there are many transcriptions on the Web. Google is as always a great way of finding these.
Internet Archive is another great resource for out of copyright books that you can download in a variety of formats including PDF and for your E-Book reader. This contains a book which is a summary of waterborne outbreaks identified in Great Britain and Ireland between 1858 and 1893 and another one on an investigation into a  typhoid outbreak in Ithica, New York in 1903. This one has photos of the area and some interviews with the people. It would be great if your ancestor was named, but even if they are not, if they lived in the area at the time ,this outbreak would have affected them.

As  a public health microbiologist, I still see cases of typhoid today. Usually they are acquired overseas and brought back to Australia although with our global food supply there is always a risk of importation. With modern medical treatment fatalities are rare but this was not the case in the past.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Death Certifcates

Death certificates are fantastic documents in their own right but were never designed for family historians. The cause of death is of intense interest to researchers whether for family history or the increasing numbers of people researching their medical family history. 

We receive the certificate and the first thing we look at is the cause of death which can be very informative. A certificate showing “Burns and suffocation following explosion of fire damp at Universal Colliery due to accident” is fantastic and leads to further research. When you see as a cause of death terms such as marasmus, inanition, Visitation of God, just what do these terms mean?

Knowing who determined the cause of death and knowing something of the medical knowledge of the time can help in deciphering the cause. In a time of few or no diagnostic tests such as X-rays or laboratory tests many diseases were diagnosed on their visible symptoms. In many places it was not a requirement that a doctor had to certify the cause of death so in many early certificates seeing causes of death such as black pox, wasting, senile decay were not unusual and of course, "Act of God",  the term for an unexpected death with no visible cause.

Names for the same diseases could vary by geographic region or by ethnicity within a region. 

I'd recommend acquiring an early (pre 1920s) medical dictionary. These are often available at old book sales or you can buy online via second-hand shops such as AbeBooks. These will give a good snapshot of the knowledge at the time. I would be hesitant though to use any of the remedies!

Online options are to Google the term or try an online medical dictionaries are available although most do not contain the old terms. 

One place that does is Rudy's List of Archaic Terms which is very comprehensive and best of all has lists of terms in a variety of other languages. He is very interested in any new terms you may have that are not on his site. Well worth a visit.

I would also be interested in any unusual terms you have seen for cause of death. I am happy to help interpret possible modern day meanings of any terms.