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CITY OF BOSTON.
In Board of Aldermen, Feb. 2, 1857. Laid on the table, and five hundred copies ordered to be printed. Attest SAMUEL F. McCLEARY,
R E P O R T.
TO THE HONORABLE CITY COUNCIL :
The undersigned respectfully submits to the City Council his Annual Report, concerning the Births, Marriages, and Deaths in the City of Boston during the year 1856.
In presenting the practical details of his office during the past year, the undersigned ventures to indulge in some observations, which he trusts will not be considered out of place in a document of this character.
But few people have a desire to embark in statistical research ; and fewer still feel any great interest in vital or mortuary statistics. Until late years, the discussion of vital statistics, and the subjects naturally associated with them, was almost wholly confined to physicians, and a few others, men of scientific attainments, who were deemed to have a peculiar aptitude for the dry details of figures and philosophical speculations. The great mass of mankind manifested but little desire to ascertain how they came into the world, still less to learn the probable chances of their continuance in it for a given time, and no appreciable thought concerning the mode of their egress therefrom. They knew they were here, and that they must depart; beyond a knowledge of these two simple facts, they did not appear to consider it of any use to advance.
Although decided progress has latterly been made in the right direction, the subject still occupies a position far below that which its importance deserves; and considerable effort will yet be demanded from those who appreciate its value, before it will take its proper position.
There are various interests of a community which would be materially subserved by a familiar acquaintance with vital statistics, and matters naturally allied to them. Some of these are obvious, and need but little by way of elucidation. In determining, as nearly as may be, the duration of human life, the augmentation and decrease of population, together with the causes of the same, and the character of the materials which make up population, sanative principles naturally assume their legitimate place, and necessarily become a matter for discussion. Whenever or wherever such discussions occur, these subjects at once rise to their just level of importance, and are followed immediately by those acts which are the characteristics of cultivated life. It requires but little effort to see how these in turn engender a multitude of wants, as well as increase the capacity to enjoy them.
It is well known that epidemics, as well as ordinary diseases, find the larger portion of their victims in cities. The cause of this is mainly attributable to density of population, and .to the accumulation of filth, generally found in connection with such condition. While there is a general belief that populations so circumstanced are peculiarly exposed to the ravages of epidemics, there does not appear to be any just appreciation of the laws which govern health, the duration of life, &c., and, con
sequently, little practical benefit is experienced. This defect will be remedied in proportion as the subject shall be understood; and it will be understood just as soon as it shall cease to be treated as an abstruse or mere theoretical question, and be made to appear conducive to the material, moral, and intellectual welfare of the people.
The mode by which a knowledge of vital statistics is to be made effective, is scarcely less important than the subject itself. It is but a few years since a well-defined system of Registration was adopted and put into vigorous operation. The method previously in vogue was excedingly crude, and very imperfectly carried out. More than one instance has come to the knowledge of the undersigned, since his assumption of the duties of his office, where severe losses have resulted to parties from inability to substantiate their just claims by documentary evidence of birth and marriage. An instance is remembered, where the incorrect registration of a name utterly vitiated an undoubted title to an estate. This latter fact, it is true, affects only the competency of those who had in charge the duty of registration; but it is worthy of mention, inasmuch as the failure to record correctly was as disastrous as would have been a failure to record at all.
The system of Registration now in operation in Massachusetts has been digested with great care, and should be carried out with proper spirit and faithfulness. To ensure this result, popular sympathy and co-operation must be obtained ; and this can only be done by convincing people that they have a personal interest in the subject, and that the whole community are concerned alike.