Friday, September 24, 2010

Alpena Co - 1918 Death Records Transcribed!

Over this week I transcribed all of the 1918 death records from Alpena County found on Seeking Michigan and compiled them into a database which can be found here.  Presque Isle County is up next and should be completed by the end of next week.

Information included in the database is city/township of death, date, name, name of father and mother (when available), and cause of death.  Maiden name, if available, is shown in parentheses after the married name. Information is only as accurate as written and transcribed - I tried my best!  Additional information, including place of birth, address, spouse, place of burial, and more can be found by visiting Seeking Michigan and searching for the (free!) actual death certificate.

Why only 1918, you ask?  1918 was the year of the great Spanish Influenza pandemic (also known as La Grippe), in which many Alpena and Presque Isle residents, most of them healthy young adults, lost their lives.  One family hit particularly hard was that of James Arbuckle, who lost his wife, a son, a daughter, and a grandson to the flu.

The numbers are astounding:

For the year, there were 304 death certificates available (*not all are included, May-August is especially sparse.) Of those 304 deaths, 107 were caused by influenza, making up 35% of the total number of deaths for 1918.  This figure may be elevated due to the absence of records from the summer months during the "eye" of the influenza storm, but is generally in line with the national rate of 32%.

Before October, when the second and most deadly wave of the epidemic hit, the death rate for the county averaged 24 deaths per month.  But in October, when the epidemic was at its worst, there were 56 deaths - a mind-blowing 233% increase over the January-September average.  78% of the deaths for October were caused by influenza.  And November wasn't much better, with 51 deaths.

By December, the flu was still rampant but the worst of the epidemic had passed - the number of deaths was down to 36, with 44% of the deaths being influenza-related.

The second highest percentage of deaths, at about 20%, sadly belonged to infants who made up 61 of the 304 total deaths.  Of those 61 infant deaths, 13 were stillbirths, 10 were premature births, 10 were caused by influenza, 6 were caused by cholera (of which there was also an outbreak in October of that year), and 5 were caused by eating/stomach related issues.

Leading causes of death for 1918 (based on the available information):

Influenza - 107 (35%)
Infancy-related - 61 (20%)
Heart Disease - 20 (6%)
Accidental - 17 (5%)
Cancer - 12 (4%)
Tuberculosis - 8 (2%)

Can you imagine living in a time where the flu caused 35% of deaths, and infants made up 20% of deaths, yet heart disease and cancer only made up 10% of deaths combined?

By comparison, here are current US figures, as released in 2002:

Heart Disease - 28.5%
Cancer - 22.8%
Accidental - 4.4% (virtually unchanged)
Infant Deaths - <1%

During the recent H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak, the P&I (pneumonia & influenza) death rate rose to 7% at its very worst. Once you comprehend the full magnitude of the Spanish flu outbreak, it's a little easier to understand why the medical community was so concerned about the swine flu.

I hope you enjoyed learning about this difficult time in our history, and hopefully some of you were able to utilize the records.  Have a great weekend!