When you think of the Town Clerk’s Office, you probably think of things like certificates of birth, death, marriage; licenses for your dog; or permits for your block parties or events. You may have also heard that the Town Clerk is the keeper of the records, but what does that mean exactly?
Sure, we have official town records that date all the way back to the mid-1600s, and we keep mandatory records of our Villages and Special Districts. But we are home to so much more.
The town clerk’s Office has been protecting valuable documents for centuries, since the creation of the Town of North Hempstead in 1783.
We keep these records to preserve our town’s history, but also to serve and support our Constituents. We are able to look back on records as needed, and compile information from various sources for any number of reasons.
Even in this age of modern technology where much information is stored digitally, on a cloud or system network, the need for actual paper documents still exist. We have specialized, temperature-controlled vaults to protect these precious documents from natural and catastrophic disasters.
But more than all of this, some of the documents that we hold give us a glimpse into what life was like in our town, both in our lifetimes as well as the years that pre-date us all.
We have a framed marriage certificate from 1806 that was recently gifted to the Town of North Hempstead by the family of Richard Hallock Davis. On it are dozens of signatures of “witnesses” of the wedding couple, including many names that have been long time residents for generations in the town. Relics like these are fascinating and relevant to our Town’s rich history.
Also in our possession are attendance books kept by the truancy officers. On Jan. 6, 1897, truant officer John W. Mitchell wrote “Charge: Absent from school; Disposition: Found child sick with La Grippe.”
The following day, the same truant officer wrote this about another child: “Charge: Truancy; Disposition: Had boy arrested and brought before Justice Allen who warned him if he did so again he would be sent to a truant school.”
On Feb. 15, 1897, there was nothing written for a charge and simply had written “Disposition: Had no shoes.”
On May 16, 1917, truant officer Jacob Feuerstein from Great Neck Lakeville wrote “Charge: Illegally Absent; Disposition: Found child at home as send shoe to shoemaker for repairs will be at school in morning.”
In the book from 1917, chicken pox is often cited as the disposition in which the child was not in school. These books give us an idea of what life was like at the turn of the 20th century.
Can you imagine if you couldn’t call your school’s absentee hotline to report an absence, and instead, an officer would come knocking on your door every time your child missed school?
These are pages of a ledger book of communicable diseases maintained by the town health officer, Dr. Joseph H. Bogart, covering the period of July 1914 thru July 1922.
The town health officer was responsible for enforcing state and town health ordinances, investigating nuisances to the public health, compiling statistics, reporting to, and advising the town board and town board of health.
In 1918-1919 the great Spanish influenza pandemic struck the world. It hit in three waves; and it is estimated that worldwide 20 million perished. The estimate of the dead in America reached 675,000 out of a population of 105 million.
In New York City, the first week of November saw 12,357 deaths. In the previous six weeks, 30,736 deaths were reported. (4)
On Oct. 28, 1918, Dr. Bogart penned the following report to the Town Board of Health:
The worldwide epidemic of influenza has dealt severely with the Town of North Hempstead; Influenza not being a reportable disease, it is not possible to give the exact number of cases in the town, but a conservative estimate, as made by the physicians and others, would be at least 1,000.
One Hundred and 13 cases of pneumonia have been reported by physicians, with 29 deaths, a percentage of 26. The greatest incidence of the disease has been in Port Washington where 59 cases of pneumonia were reported.
As a preventive measure in restricting the spread of the disease all schools, moving pictures theaters and lodge rooms have been closed. Reports from different sections show that the epidemic has reached its height and is giving a less number of new cases. I hope after this week we can do away with many of the restrictive precautions.
It’s easy to see how history repeats itself when reading Dr. Bogart’s words. And even those who are not self-proclaimed history buffs will, I’m sure, find value in some of the remarkable documents that I have the honor of having stewardship over.
And I, like Dr. Bogart, look forward to the day that we can do away with the many restrictive precautions set by the current pandemic.
Special thanks to James Procopio, our records center manager, for his assistance and expertise in helping to gather information for this glimpse into the town clerk’s historic role of Records Management in the Town of North Hempstead.