Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Getting Paid for Praising the Doctor – Medical Testimonials, a unique genealogical record group

Genealogists are familiar with many types of records, including vital (birth, marriage, death), church, court, and land documents. But the medical testimonial is a new one for me. Here is an example:

Patent Medicine "Elixir of Life" ad, c. 1901,
Infrogmation 15:49, 9 May 2008, Wikimedia.

The Wikipedia definition of a “medical testimonial” is:

  “…a testimonial or show consists of a person's written or spoken statement extolling the virtue of a product. The term "testimonial" most commonly applies to the sales-pitches attributed to ordinary citizens….” 1

TheFreedictionary.com adds to the above definition that these 

“…consist… of individual personal accounts of healing without statistics or controlled scientific experiments.” 2

All records have a purpose. Let’s see what the impetus was for medical testimonials that became wildly popular in late eighteenth and nineteenth century America when the advantages of modern medicine were lacking. 
Broussais instructs a nurse
 to carry on bleeding a
 blood-besmeared patient.
 Wellcome Library no. 16372i, Wkimedia.

So many ailments and diseases that in the past could make your life very uncomfortable or might even kill you, nowadays are controlled by early detection and/or effective medical interventions. But our ancestors, who lived in America up until the early twentieth century, did not have access to the medical knowledge and treatment available today.

Medical knowledge and care was not very developed in America in the 1800s. The average person had a healthy suspicion of the chances for getting better under a doctor’s care because so many did not. People often treated themselves with the herbs and later patent medicines that became necessities for nearly every home partly due to the rise and spread of advertising and medical testimonials in newspapers from the mid-19th century.
Kilmer's Swamp Root (a patent medicine),
 Edmonds Historical Museum, 
Edmonds, Washington,
 Joe Mabel, 2009-04-30, Wikimedia.

What was medical education like in America in the 1800s? I consulted the online article, Gale Encyclopedia of US History: Medical Education.   From this site, I learned that medical schools were sparse in 19th century America. They were simply businesses, and those who ran them were in it for the student fees. Courses were short, and there were no labs or opportunities to work with patients.

Why was it important for patent medicine hawkers to have ads and testimonials? Patent medicines, like any product, need recognition by the public for sales to occur.
Dr. Miles' Anti-Pain Pills, Edmonds
 Historical Museum,
 Edmonds, Washington,
 Joe Mabel, 30 April 2009, Wikimedia.
 Although several brands of patent medicines had been available in England and America since the 1600s, it wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century that this industry could say its products were found in almost every American home. And this happened for three reasons (rise in literacy rates, spread of newspapers and with them newspaper advertising) which Peggy M. Baker, Director & Librarian, Pilgrim Society & Pilgrim Hall Museum, explains in her article, “PATENT MEDICINE: Cures & Quacks”:

 “The expansion of public elementary schools meant that everyone could read newspaper ads that promised (unproved) cures and provided (unreliable) testimonials. The craving for news from the front during the Civil War meant that more Americans read more newspapers, giving patent medicine manufacturers access to more customers. 

Oregon Paper Mill, “…piles of pulp… made from wood and
 which…will be made into great rolls of paper.” 
OSU Special Collections & Archives, 10 July 2009, Wikimedia.  

The discovery of cheap wood pulp paper and improvements in the printing process meant that advertising volume could grow by leaps and bounds. Newspapers became filled with ads promising quick, easy, inexpensive and sure cures for diseases both dreadful and mundane.” 

But what does all this have to do with genealogy? Medical testimonials are actually a unique genealogical record group, one that I never came across before finding one through GenealogyBank.com by one of my ancestors.
Logo used by permission
 of GenealogyBank
Many of you are familiar with GenealogyBank and already have used its huge newspaper database. For those who haven’t yet mined this vast resource, this is how a Wikipedia entry describes the company:

“GenealogyBank.com is a commercial genealogy website housing a database that contains over one billion digitized records from U.S. newspapers and historical documents for researching family history online.” 3

I was doing a search on my cohort families in GenealogyBank. In my years of searching databases, I have learned a few techniques to make the search more focused, such as using quotation marks around the target name or phrase. 

When you log in to GenealogyBank, you see a simple search screen. But I wanted to limit my search to Illinois newspapers, so I scrolled down to “Historical Newspapers” and clicked on “Newspaper Archives.” The screen that appeared had a list of states in which to search and I checked “Illinois.” But you can “drill down” even further. When you double click on “Illinois,” you will see a listing of cities/towns. I clicked on “Chicago.” (note: Many times you will not want to limit a search, especially at the beginning. Putting too many limits may result in your missing an important article.)

Next, I filled in the search box fields:

Ancestor's Last Name:           “Cosgrove”
First Name:                           “Matthew”
Include Keywords:                 “Chicago”
Exclude Keywords
 Date Range:                     1850-1880

I clicked on “Begin Search” and the initial results screen appeared:

Date: Sunday, June 24, 1888
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Paper: Daily Inter Ocean
Article type: Ad/Classified

When I clicked on “Ad/Classified,” the second results screen appeared. At the top of the page, GenealogyBank gives you source information, including the type of newspaper article, the date, the name of the newspaper, the volume, issue, section and page. For my Cosgrove search this is what came up:

Advertisement Date: Sunday, June 24, 1888  Paper: Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL)  Volume: XVII  Issue: 96  Section: Part 3  Page: 20  

Below this citation is the actual article. And what a surprise it was!! GenealogyBank highlights your search terms in yellow, so I scrolled down the page, looking for “Matthew Cosgrove.” This jumped out at me:

“Miss Katie Frances Cosgrove is the 13-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Cosgrove, whose residence is at No. 303 South Desplaines street, this city.”

What a treasure trove in the first sentence –  names and addresses! And the details fit my research into the Cosgrove family in Chicago city directories and federal census documents.

As I scrolled down, I came to a line drawing of Katie – perhaps the only existing depiction of her.

In the text, we read that according to her mother, Mrs. Cosgrove, “Ever since Katie was 6 or 7 years old she has been troubled with catarrh…and though we tried many things, nothing seemed to do her any good.”

Next is the point of the testimonial, for this is where the reason for this whole story in the advertisement comes out:

Again in the words of Mrs. Cosgrove, “We heard of some of the remarkable cures of chronic catarrh by Dr. J.G. Carroll, now at No. 96 State Street. Several months ago I took Katie to the doctor’s office for the first time….She took the doctor’s treatment at once and one month afterward she was very much better. She has continued to improve right along ever since, and now feels and looks better than she had for years.”

And the testimony does not stop with Mrs. Cosgrove. Katie herself is also called upon to praise Dr. Carroll:

“The doctor’s treatment cleared my head at once, and made it feel as if nothing had ever stopped it up.”

After discovering this document on GenealogyBank, I wondered how the Cosgrove family came to be featured in a newspaper. They were an ordinary family with no renown or fame. That’s when I began researching medical testimonials and found how prevalent this type of advertising was at this time. But how were these “testifiers” located? How were they persuaded to testify?

As early as 1849, the American Medical Association (AMA) was warning the public of the dangers of “quack remedies and nostrums.”  In 1911, the AMA published several articles investigating the fraudulent use of medical testimonials under the title Nostrums and quackery. It appears that enterprising entrepreneurs realized the value of the personal touch in building trust of would be customers of patent medicines or doctors who provided quick cures. Often inventors of the products would pursue advertising themselves but as the field grew, they would seek partners.

According to one of the articles in the set mentioned above, a whole new job was created by the industry called “medical testimonial gatherers,” and men were solicited through newspapers to fill the jobs as reported in the American Medical Association articles mentioned above. These gatherers would offer small remuneration or even photos to perspective testifiers.
Still from the American silent film Traveling Salesman (1921), 
from page 60 of the July 1921 Photoplay magazine, Wikimedia.

The American public remained avid users of patent medicines and quack cures pedaled by “doctors” through advertising and were unaware of the actual ingredients that were in these products into the early twentieth century. As explained in a Wikipedia web page on patent medicines, it wasn’t until the First Food and Drug Act of 1906 that the industry faced its first regulation: 

“This statute did not ban the alcohol, narcotics, and stimulants in the medicines; it required them to be labeled as such, and curbed some of the more misleading, overstated, or fraudulent claims that appeared on the labels.”4
Harvey Washington Wiley,
  "Father of the Pure Food and Drugs Act,
” Ca. 1900, DCPL Commons, Wikimedia.

But it would be another 32 years, until 1938, when the statute would be amended to ban patent medicines.

To read more about the history of testimonials in American advertising, you might consult the book TestimonialAdvertising in the American Marketplace: Emulation, Identity  by Marina Moskowitz and Marlis Schweitzer, a resource suggested to me by a reference librarian at the Newberry Library.

  1. Testimonial, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, online < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testimonial>, downloaded March 2014.
  2. Detoxification, TheFreeDictionary, online <http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Detoxification>, downloaded March 2014.
  3. Genealogybank.com, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, online < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GenealogyBank.com >, downloaded March 2014.
  4. Patent medicine, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, online <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_medicine>, downloaded March 2014.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

E-Reading for Genealogy

This is a companion piece to my post on Digitizing Records where I will discuss e-readers,
Fotografía de Mariana Eguaras
 rodeada de elementos
 que representan 
la edición impresa y edición digital…,21
 August 2013, Wikimedia.
their effect on the digitization of print materials, and more places to search for digitized copies of genealogical records, journals and books.

When did e-readers first become available? According to a web piece by PC Magazine:

“Starting in the late 1990s, e-book readers began to appear; however, it took a decade to gain real traction due to the many different e-book formats on the market.”

The popularity of e-readers has opened a new market for digitized materials. Although many people prefer to read their e-material on the larger screens of computers and tablets, others use e-readers or even mobile phones. This is a boon to genealogists: as the market grows so the availability of family history information in electronic format increases. 

George McKinney wrote an article about e-books, “Free ebooks for Genealogy Research,” which appeared in the  New England Historic Genealogy Society’s (NEHGS) genealogy blog, "The Daily Genealogist," on June 29, 2012. McKinney talked about the availability of free e-books and which types might be of interest to genealogists:

“A number of websites offer free eBooks — generally out-of-copyright books or works made available by their authors. Categories of particular interest to the family historian are family genealogies, compendiums of genealogical facts (such as military records), directories, and local histories.”

Many of these books, if not in e-format, would be out of reach for most genealogists. Often times, these books are part of special collections that aren’t available through interlibrary loan. The only way you can see such books is to go to the institution that owns them.

George McKinney lists some websites to search for free or low-cost e-books. He mentions books.google.com, a site that is familiar to many readers. Google includes books in different formats on this site. Some are still in copyright and available in print only or in both print and electronic versions that you can purchase from on-line retailers. In some cases, Google will offer a preview of the book; in other cases no preview is available.

To the Homeless of the Chicago Fire,
Chicago History Museum, City of Chicago, Wikimedia.
On the opening page of books.google.com, you will see a search box. I searched for “Chicago history” and several books came up, including History of Chicago Volume 3 by Alfred Theodore Andreas, in a free e-book format. It was here that I first heard of the Chicago Relief and Aid Society. On October 13,1871, the general relief society turned over the charge of assisting victims of the Great Chicago Fire

Chicago in ruins after the The Great Chicago Fire of 1871,
he New York Times photo archive, Wikimedia.
to The Chicago Relief and Aid Society. The statistics below give just a partial picture of the great work this Society accomplished:

“The total number of families aided by the Chicago Relief and Aid Society from October 18, 1871, to May 1, 1873 was thirty-nine thousand two hundred and forty-two….”
(p. 604)

The nationalities that made up this number were: “Irish, 11,623; German, 14,816; American, 4,823; English, 1,406; Scandinavian, 3,624; French, 382; Canadian, 323, Scotch, 526; Italian, 207; Welsh, 35; Polish, 143; Swiss, 55; Holland, 60; Bohemian, 565; Negro, 600; Belgian, 54.” (p. 604) 

This is the kind of information that is often very difficult to find but offers greater understanding to periods of history such as the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Another website McKinney lists is the Internet Archive, a non-profit that works with libraries to offer a rich collection of books. To learn more about the Internet Archive’s digital book collections, click "Text" on the menu bar at the top of the first screen. Georgia is participating in the Internet Archive’s Open Library which gives you access to thousands of e-free books.

http://bcpls.org, bing.com
In my post on January 16, 2014, I mentioned the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA)  page on digitized collections. At the top of the main page under “Contents,” click  “E-Book Collections (Full-text).”  Under this category, scroll down to: “Online Texts Collection” and click. You will be re-directed to the Internet PublicLibrary, hosted by DrexelUniversity, where you will be immersed in the world of e-books.

iSchool at Drexel, College of Information Science and Technology,
Thesab, 14 February 2008, Wikimedia.
On the main Internet Public Library page, I put “Kentucky History” in the search box. Up came several listings, including “Kentuckiana Digital Library” with images, historic newspapers, oral histories, and maps about historic Kentucky. In just a few minutes of searching this site, I found a 1909 map of Livermore, KY where my great, great grandfather, Franklin Allis, worked as a tailor in 1870.
McLean County Public Library, located at 116 E. Second Street in
 LivermoreKentuckyUnited States, Nyttend, 2013, Wikimedia.

In conclusion, genealogists have an ever increasing number of on-line resources to check to see if records, journals, or books pertinent to their research are available in e-format. Universities, public and private libraries, archives and other institutions are teaming up to provide electronic access to their collections. And you have many different ways to view electronic material: computer, tablet, mobile phone and e-reader. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Has a Record You Need Been Digitized?

Collections Access | Balboa Park.bing.com
The digitization of print materials from archives, libraries, and many genealogical societies is an on-going phenomenon and a wonderful gift to genealogists. More and more records are becoming available online everyday. This being said, we must remember that even today with so many digitization projects springing up all over, the majority of records are not online. We still need to be thorough and diligent in our hunt for documents that exist only on paper or microfilm/fiche
File:2004 microfilm reader 1117365851.jpg -
Wikimedia Commons, bing.com
 in some small courthouse, church or local library. Still, it is always beneficial to keep up with what organizations have put some of their records online.

Before we talk about new ventures in digitizing records and books, we need to begin with the two mega providers of online genealogy information, FamilySearch.org (free) and Ancestry.com (subscription.)
These two organizations have been offering census records, vital records, passenger lists and many other types of documents online to eager genealogists since the 1990s.

In her book, The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy, Kimberly Powell discusses many governmental agencies and companies who offer online records, including the following:
 extension.oregonstate.edu.bureau of land management.bing.com

1.  US Bureau of Land Management has over 2 million federal land records for public-land states from 1820-1908 at www.glorecords.blm.gov (p. 120)
Ellis Island in 1905.jpg - Wikipedia, 
the free encyclopedia.bing.com

2. Ellis Island has passenger records for immigrants who came to Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924 at www.ellislandrecords.org (p. 160)

(note: Since The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy 2nd edition was published in 2011, newer digital projects aren’t covered, but the book gives an excellent overview to records one can find online.)

For more information on digitized records in America, the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Virtual Library web page is a great place to visit. You will find links to online collections including American Presidential Inaugural addresses from Columbia University, Foreign Relations of the US from the University of Wisconsin and Trails of Hope: Overland Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 from Brigham Young University.
National Archives And Records
 Administration Royalty Free Stock Photo.bing.com

The public’s amazing embrace of the internet has shown archives and libraries the need to provide online access to their records. But the budgets of many of these institutions are not able to cover the costs associated with moving into the digital arena on their own.

Digitizing records isn’t cheap. In an online article, APPENDIX VI: Comparative Costs for BookTreatments, from the Council on Library and Information Resources, we read:

“The average cost for digitizing a book page, including scanning, metadata creation, automated generation of OCR and minimally-encoded text, and associated activities, including identifying and preparing materials, quality control, and project management, is $5.32. For a brief, 300-page book, this works out to $1,600.00.”

Because of the high costs of digitization, some institutions are joining together in this effort to make records available for all online. As Kimberly Powell states in her online genealogy book:

“Collaborative databases, in which several libraries or societies pool their records and resources, are also becoming common online.” p. 127

An example of this type of partnership is Hathitrust Digital Library. In her about.com article, “HathiTrustDigital Library - A Researcher's Guide,”
Kimberly Powell describes this Digital Library as:

“…a growing partnership of over seventy major research institutions and libraries, offers online access to over 10.7 million digitized books, about 30% of which are in the public domain.”

Be sure to check out Ms. Powell’s Guide to HathiTrust to familiarize yourself with what the site has available and to learn how to navigate the site.
Digital Public Library of America
 | starMedia.bing.com

Another partnership for record digitization is the DigitalPublic Library of America (DPLA.)  In the institution’s website, it says that DPLA

“brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world.” 

I tried a search on DPLA’s site. In the search box, I put “Irish in Chicago,” and a screen opened which listed several responses to my query. The first item in the list was: Biographical history of the American Irish in Chicago  by Charles Ffrench. I clicked on “View Object.” The screen that came up was a surprise – it was the HathiTrust site with bibliographic information on the book and a “Viewability” section with a button, “Full View,” that brings up the complete contents.  

We mentioned FamilySearch earlier in this post as a pioneer in the digitization of documents. The organization has launched a new project, a commitment to the genealogy community to digitize all of its own holdings, and it has teamed up with several public libraries to include their family history materials in the project as well. With this new project the organization is digitizing books that could previously only be accessed at its
LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City,
lonetester.com, bing.com
 Library in Salt Lake City. This is a monumental effort and will take some time, but FamilySearch periodically announces its progress in its blog

Thanks to the digitization of many records, books, periodicals and journals, researchers now have access to so much more information right in their own homes. Be sure to check institutions in your target localities to see if they have made any of their material available online or if they have become partners in a consortium of institutions dedicated to digitizing their holdings.

Finally, we end with the question that we started with: Has a record you need been digitized?

To find the answer, start with the name of the target ancestor and check FamilySearch.org and/or Ancestry.com. Use the name search function in either program to see what records, if any, are available for that name. Next, go to the state where the particular record you are looking for may have been created. Check to see where different records (vital, military, land, court) are kept in the area in question. Then go to the record holder and see if it is a court, church, university, archive, or library. Finally, check the website of that entity to see if it is part of a collaboration to digitize records. You just might get lucky.


  1. HathiTrust Digital Library - A Researcher's Guide, Kimberly Powell, online  <http://genealogy.about.com/od/history_research/a/hathitrust.htm>, downloaded January 2, 2014.
  2.  APPENDIX VI: Comparative Costs for Book Treatments, Council on Library Information Resoures, online, <http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub103/appendix6.html>, downloaded January 2, 2014.
  3. What is the DPLA? Digital Public Library of America, online, <http://dp.la/info/about/faq>, downloaded January 2, 2014.
  4.  Kimberly Powell, The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011).