Lucky Dip #8 – Infectious Diseases Notification Register

Today I’m back with an ole favourite, a Lucky Dip post. Lucky Dip posts are an experiment of mine where I grab a random record then try to prove how *any* document, however unlikely, can be fascinating.

This Lucky Dip was not picked out by me in the usual way, but was noticed by a work experience volunteer recently. It caught both our eyes (and nearly caused back injury) because it has an all-metal binding. Not just the spine, but the boards as well. How intriguing… definitely worth looking closer.

Infectious Diseases Notification Register 1960s- Acc 157/389

It’s certainly an impressive beast. It is labelled on the front ‘Infectious Diseases Notification Register’. I’m not sure what type of metal it is made out of, other than that it is heavily pitted (though not rusted). Has anyone come across these before and can tell us more?

Brass doesn't rust which is why we also use it for archival paperclips.
Brass doesn’t rust which is why we also use it for archival paperclips.

The hinges appear to be made of brass. They have a lovely chunky feel and smooth action.  Inside there is a pasted label from the supplier, where we find out that this is a ‘Kalamazoo’ binder. Apart from the comedy value of the name, there is further info on the label. Firstly, that the binder was bought in the 1930s, though the earliest entries in it date from the 1960s. Secondly, that it was guaranteed for 7 years – I find this quite surprising, due to the substantial nature of it, you would expect a much more ambitious promise, such as 50 years! A different marketing culture to today perhaps… It looks like an expensive bit of stationery invested in for something consciously intended for permanent value, which we still assess it to be today.

Stationer's labels often have interesting quirks to share.
Stationer’s labels often have interesting quirks to share.

Ok, let’s delve inside the physical object to the information within. As I learnt whilst researching council functions, many individual activities of local government came about as the result of very specific pieces of central legislation. When regulatory changes occurred, central government sent out circulars to inform local government of their new or amended responsibilities.  Where new committees have been formed due to an Act of Parliament, or a particular record required like this register, you often find a copy of the legislation tucked or pasted at the front of the record series. Useful context for both the original creator, and the user today.

Collected useful circulars and letters on changes to regulations were included at the front of the record.
Collected useful circulars and letters on changes to regulations were included at the front of the record.

This binder is divided into sections, with one each for the different diseases that required a return. Reporting incidences of infectious diseases is quite a long term function in local government, which became expanded with numerous Acts and regulations. The list of diseases covered by this register is quite large, and includes many ‘nil’ returns for what we think of as more ‘historical’ diseases such as cholera, leprosy and ‘plague’ *phew!*

For the government or NHS to know the levels of disease, every local area has to report it somehow. No leprosy here!
For the government or NHS to know national levels of disease, every local area has to report it somehow. No leprosy here!

Others are far more prevalent, such as measles which is the busiest part of the register. Most cases relate to children, and were compiled on a daily basis, giving the name of the child, their age, address and school. In this register you can therefore see the illness spreading through a school very easily, or you could extract the data and display a distribution on a map of York. This is why the record was created, to gather such statistical data and ‘notify’ it upwards to a central authority.

It's important that I cover up the names and house numbers in this photo, as the information in this register relates to living individuals, and so must be treated in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
It’s important that I cover up the names and house numbers in this photo, as the information in this register relates to living individuals, and so must be treated in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

When archivists appraise a record, we always look to see if the information in a record is duplicated elsewhere, and then preserve the efficient ‘compilation’ version instead of the bulky low level paperwork. So, we’d keep a register like this instead of every single scrap of paper sent to the person who compiled it. (This is a generalisation of a nuanced process, but a guiding principal nevertheless). This register is a great example of where very fine level detail (names, addresses and sickness relating to individuals) has been brought together in a clear compact high-level compilation. A definite ‘must keep’.

A rough draft of an annual report, the final copy will be recorded in another series in the archive.

In addition there are some annual summaries of diseases which compile at an even higher level – listing numbers for diseases in a year. Even better maybe? Well, not necessarily, as we would expect the data to be published formally by the Medical Officer of Health or in the council minutes, and so would advice someone to consult the published version as the easy to use, most authoritative source for that particular level of detail.

Immunisation information for each person.

The register also records whether the child had been immunised for measles or not. This was added in a different colour pen and precisely included the date of immunisation, so another source must have been consulted later to build up this picture. It’s surprising to me, knowing nothing about epidemiology, how many of these children had been immunised but caught measles anyway. Why is that different today? What changed? Did statistics gathering on a local level, fed up to a national level, lead to more investment in research and development into measles? Or was it simply that the disease was more common so you were more likely to be exposed to it?

I don’t know! But now I know that I don’t know, and this chance encounter has given me an avenue to explore, a learning experience to follow, not proscribed by a course of study, or broadcast by the media, but personally triggered from just from having a nosy and trying to understand one individual civic record.

‘Using archives’ is simply taking information that someone has recorded or expressed for a purpose, then using or appreciating it in either a) the manner it was intended, or b) some way completely new!

So, we could map the spread of measles in one street in a week, compare the proportions of diseases between cities or decades, or find out how statistics were collected by central government. The record doesn’t care, it just is. Part of why we preserve archives is because we know that we don’t know the full extent of their value, and that value will be uncovered as our own and future generations dig deeper.

Zooming in to tiny detail, or out to the macro level, gives us new insights into our past, based on the raw stuff of recorded history, these individual records.

10 thoughts on “Lucky Dip #8 – Infectious Diseases Notification Register

  1. Yes, I believe, Measles, chickenpox, mumps, scarlet fever and diphtheria
    polio were all notifiable diseases when I was a child in York.
    we had to be off school for three weeks at least.
    the advent of inoculation and vaccination did a lot of good in bringing the number of people and children getting these diseases.
    TB was a scourge when my mother was a child in York.
    families passed it on from one to another.
    We have much to be thankful for the p[resent system of prevention rather than cure.

    1. Infectious Diseases Register
      I don’t think the ‘Immunisation’ dates refer to Measles. As a child of the 1940/50s ‘Immunisation’ meant to me protection against Diptheria, Tetanus and Whooping Cough, given in 3 separate injections.
      Dates given in the Register seem to be Dec1947, Mar1951, Mar 1960 etc.
      According to Wikipedia, Measles vaccine first became available in 1963 with that for Mumps in 1967 and Rubella 1969. The MMR vaccine became available in 1971. After my son’s birth in 1972 I was the first woman of child – bearing age in York to be considered for this but I didn’t need it as I’d had Mumps & Measles as a child and, according to a blood test, Rubella. When I could not remember having this they told me that it could have been very mild and I may have just thought it a bad cold.
      Agree with Audrey Richardson that we have much for which to be thankful.

      1. Hi Bobbie, Thanks for that information that’s really interesting. I didn’t realise how recent the measles vaccine was. Preventative public health is such a huge subject, there’s more to learn every day! It’s also fasciniating to see the changes over time, from things like building sewers and ensuring clean water, to today’s campaign’s to get us more active.

        much handwriting of course. before biros too.
        pen,, ink, fountain pens!!!!
        One office I was in had a massive printer I had to fit plates on, and use. I was always covered in the ink.
        I used the system in a business I had of my own also.
        Our computers are extensions of the typewriter, adding machines
        etc. much more convenient I guess too for quick communication of
        the material we produce.
        I worked on big wide ledgers too, adding long columns in my head.
        I could run up a row of the old pounds, shillings and pence with great speed.
        Nowadays there are computers to speed things up thank goodness,
        but it was all good training and useful to me over my many years
        working at diverse jobs and businesses of my own.

  2. The first Measles / MMR immunisation only protects about 90% of children who have it from catching Measles. So even though most children were immunised, about one in ten of the immunised children would still have been able to catch measles, which is enough to keep it spreading around York. That’s why these days, children are given two doses of MMR, which provides 99% protection.

    If more than 95% of children get two doses, immunity across the whole population is so high that Measles isn’t usually passed from person to person – we call this ‘herd immunity’. This protects people who can’t have the immunisation themselves too, for example people who are immunosuppressed after organ transplant.

    I’m doing research in Public Health at the University of York, about how people make choices about giving their children the MMR immunisation. Thank you very much for this interesting piece of local history.

    1. Hi Ceri,
      Thanks for your comment, that’s great. I love highlighting random documents and hearing back from people who have the specialist knowledge to understand them in context! Maybe you can come and see our public health records when we reopen, there may be information about campaigns in the past you can use.

  3. It might be a complete coincidence but Google threw up a patent for a loose leaf book filed in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1908. I couldn’t find a direct link between this and the Birmingham-based company, but it’s a suggestive hypothesis about where the odd name might have come from. The curious can find the patent and technical drawings here:

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