Michigan did not begin to record births and deaths until 1867, so events before that date were often difficult to track. One source that partially steps into that breech is the mortality schedules that were taken in connection with the federal censuses. Mortality information was collected for the 12 months preceding the official census date from 1850 through 1900, although the ones for 1890 and 1900 were later destroyed. Details vary from year to year, but include at least the name of the deceased, the sex, age, place of birth, date and place of death, occupation (for an adult) and cause of death. The Local History Collection holds the schedules for 1850 and 1860. The Kalamazoo County entries are indexed in our Local Information Database, with 160 and 180 items respectively.
If one reads carefully, interesting stories begin to emerge from these cold records. In the example below, three infants, all of the same age, surname and place, all died in September 1859 of "sore throat" (probably Scarlet Fever). They were undoubtedly triplets, born prematurely, and simply hadn't the strength to fight off the infection. There was only one Courtney family in Pavilion Township in the 1860 census, John and Ellen. They were Irish immigrants with seven older children. Although there are church and burial records for several other members of the family, there are none for the triplets. The mortality schedule entry may be the only existing record of the lives of these little girls, and of the very difficult year that it must have been for their parents. Ellen had one more child, and then died in the spring of 1861.