Prologue Magazine

Researching the Career of a 19th-Century Physician

Summer 2004, Vol. 36, No. 2 | Genealogy Notes

By Claire Prechtel-Kluskens


refer to caption

Dr. William Hayford lived and practiced medicine in Hartland Township, Michigan, for nearly fifty years. (Courtesy of Pam Mardos Rietsch)

Although numerous county and local histories have been published over the past one hundred years, there is still a paucity of biographical studies of locally prominent persons and their interactions within the community. These kinds of studies would immeasurably enhance our understanding of life in America.

Using the example of Dr. William McCullar Hayford, a typical country doctor of the nineteenth century, we will see how federal records in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) can fill out details of the life and community relationships of a locally notable individual.

Dr. Hayford practiced medicine in Hartland Township, Livingston County, Michigan, from 1852 until sometime before his death on December 8, 1899. He was born at Salem, Washington County, New York, June 2, 1826, the son of James Hayford and Sabra McCullar. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Baptist clergyman William McCullar. In the spring of 1831, both his mother and maternal grandfather died. Within a year or so, his father married Chloe Waste.

In 1833, all the Hayfords—William's father, grandparents, and uncles and aunts—moved their families to Chester Township, Geauga County, Ohio. William's brother, James Tackles Hayford, eventually took over the management of their father's farm, keeping it until 1883, and their half sister, Emma Eliza Hayford, married a nearby farmer. Meanwhile, on reaching adulthood, William McCullar Hayford chose a different career path.

William McCullar Hayford entered medical school as a member of the Cleveland Medical College Class of 1851, which graduated fifty-five students in the spring of 1852. In those days, medical school lasted just one academic year—from autumn until the next spring. Dr. Hayford settled in Hartland—a village within Hartland Township, Livingston County, Michigan—about 1852 and remained there until his death in 1899.

He was a member of the Livingston County Medical Association, formed in 1876, and served as its president in 1880. At its meeting on June 19, 1878, Dr. Hayford read a paper on "Puerperal Convulsions" that strongly favored the use of chloroform and discouraged blood-letting. He was elected township school inspector in 1857, 1865, 1871, 1874, and 1879. He married three times and had three children.

Census Records

Census records are essential building blocks that provide evidence of place of residence on a particular date, as well as names, ages, and birthplaces of family members in the 1850 and later censuses. Even though the 1790 through 1840 censuses indicate the name of only the head of household plus the number of household members in different age categories, the information is helpful in reconstructing the family by corroborating other sources. The 1860 census enumeration of Hayford's household includes a medical student, John Pratt Waste, who was his stepmother's kinsman. In those days, it was common for medical students to serve an apprenticeship with an established doctor for a period of time in order to gain clinical experience.

Internal Revenue Tax Assessment Lists

Internal revenue tax assessment lists for the Civil War period are a useful source for documenting the residence of physicians during that time as well as identifying luxury items they owned. The Michigan records have been reproduced as NARA microfilm publication M773, Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Michigan, 1862–1866 (15 rolls). As a physician, William was subject to the ten-dollar tax (or "license") upon physicians in 1862–1866, but he did not own a fancy carriage, gold watch, or other taxable property or have taxable income.

Nonpopulation Census Records

Data on the nation's agriculture, manufacturing, and social statistics was collected at the same time as the taking of the 1850–1880 decennial population censuses. They are referred to as "nonpopulation" census schedules because they are about things, not people.

Agricultural and Manufacturing Schedules. A rural physician might supplement his income or his family's tablefare by farming either through his own or hired labor. He might own or operate a small manufacturing establishment. A search for William Hayford through the 1860, 1870, and 1880 agricultural and manufacturing schedules for Hartland, Livingston County, Michigan, did not turn up any listings.

Mortality Schedules. In 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, information was collected about persons who had died during the census year (June 1–May 31), including each decedent's name, age, race, marital status, cause of death, and birthplace. The 1860 mortality schedules for Hartland include a listing for Hayford's first wife, Amanda, which discloses that she died in March 1860 from consumption (tuberculosis) after a ninety-day illness.

The 1880 mortality schedules provide an added bonus by reporting the name of the attending physician during the decedent's last illness. A search for William Hayford in the 1880 mortality schedules for Livingston County, as well those for neighboring Oakland County, revealed Dr. Hayford listed as the attending physician for six persons from June 1, 1879, to May 31, 1880: two in Hartland Township, three in Oceola Township, and one in Tyrone Township, all in Livingston County.

Post Office Appointments

Physicians found it helpful to get supplemental income from sources other than patients, who might not pay their bills in full, if ever. The postmaster was a position of some local prestige, as well as added income, the extra amount depending upon the business generated by the particular post office. It is therefore worthwhile to check whether the physician obtained such an appointment.

Postmaster appointments after 1832 are reproduced in NARA microfilm publication M841, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832–September 30, 1971 (145 rolls), which provides the date(s) of appointment of each postmaster. The records are arranged by state, then by county, time period, and post office. Although the date of the postmaster's resignation or removal is not indicated, the date of his successor postmaster's date of appointment provides an approximate guide to length of service. For example, Dr. Hayford was appointed postmaster at Hartland on January 15, 1853, followed by Abraham F. Chambers, who was appointed on January 30, 1856, whom Dr. Hayford then succeeded on January 23, 1857. Dr. Hayford's third appointment was on January 28, 1859, followed by Chauncey P. Worden on March 19, 1861. Finally, his fourth appointment was on June 5, 1885, followed by G. Winfield Wallace, who was appointed April 24, 1889.

Postmaster earnings are found in the Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, which is often known by its shorthand title, The Official Register of the United States. This serial, first published in 1816, and then biennially from 1817 to 1959, provides each federal employee's salary (or other compensation) and other information. For example, Dr. Hayford's earnings at Hartland, and the profits (net proceeds) from his post office were as follows:

January 28, 1853–June 30, 1853
  Compensation: $22.64; net proceeds, $21.78
July 1, 1854–June 30, 1855
  Compensation: $76.29; net proceeds, $45.97
February 2, 1857–ca. March 30, 1857
  Compensation: $16.09; net proceeds, $3.57
February 21, 1859–June 30, 1859
  Compensation: $25.03; net proceeds, $11.48
July 1, 1860–April 16, 1861
  Compensation: $47.31; net proceeds, $43.41
July 1, 1884–June 30, 1885
  Compensation: $252.70
July 1, 1886–June 30, 1887
  Compensation: $255.79

These are not spectacular sums, but they were undoubtedly helpful added income. To put the amounts in perspective, during July 1884–June 1885, postmaster J. E. Beurmann at Howell, Michigan, the Livingston county seat, earned $1,700, and postmaster George C. Codd at Detroit earned $3,700.

Civil War Pension Files

Because Dr. Hayford was thirty-four years old when the Civil War erupted in April 1861, he never enlisted in any regiment. If he had done so, his own military service record and pension file, as well as other records created by military officials during the war, would be essential to learning more about his life and work.

Affadavit by Hayford stating how long he had practiced medicine and names his medical school

Hayford's affadavit in Silas Bullard's pension file states how long he had practiced medicine and names his medical school. (Records of the Veterans Administration, RG 15)

Instead, however, the Civil War pension files of his patients can be used to great benefit. Dr. Hayford practiced medicine for about thirty years after the close of the war, and he could therefore be expected to have had veterans and their families among his patients. As a result, the veterans' Civil War pension files are a prime source of data about the names of his patients, the length of time he treated them, the nature of their medical conditions, administrative details about his medical practice, and even his character.

To use the pension files for this purpose, it is necessary to develop a strategy to identify those most likely to mention the physician. The first step was to develop a list of soldiers who lived in Hartland before or after the war. Four widely available sources provided an excellent base from which to work:

  • History of Livingston County, Michigan (Philadelphia: Everts & Abbott, 1880). Lists by regiment the names and, in many cases, the town of residence at enlistment (1861–1865) of men who served from this county. The place of residence data must be used with caution, however, because men might have been residents of a different township than that for which they are listed.
  • List of Pensioners on the Roll, January 1, 1883 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1883; repr. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970). Pensioners are listed by state, then by county, then by locality.
  • NARA microfilm publication M123, Schedules Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War, 1890 (118 rolls). Arranged by state, then by county, then by locality.
  • The 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1900 federal decennial censuses of Hartland Township were used to construct a list of male residents who would have been between ages fifteen and fifty-five in 1865. This list was compared to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System index to determine possible service. Next, each potential candidate's compiled military service file or pension file was searched.

Additional names and data came from gravestone transcriptions from Hartland Township cemeteries, the 1894 Michigan state census, and miscellaneous directories such as the Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1863 (Detroit, MI: Charles F. Clark, 1863) and the Roster No. 3, New York Soldiers, by the Organization of New York Soldiers Living in Michigan, July 1891.

These and other sources resulted in a list of 188 veterans who lived in Hartland between 1850 and 1930 or who were buried in Hartland cemeteries. NARA microfilm publication T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934 (544 rolls), provided the pension file numbers necessary to request the actual files be retrieved from the stacks. In some cases, it was necessary to consult T289, Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900 (765 rolls) when the information on the index card in T288 was incomplete, incorrect, or when the soldier's name was spelled in a different way than its spelling in the sources noted above. Finally, each pension file was searched for affidavits or letters by Hayford or by other persons that mentioned him. Although this research was quite time-consuming, it yielded excellent results. Of the more than 150 pension files examined, 30 contained one or more document mentioning Hayford. By way of comparison, 33 files mentioned Dr. Wells B. Fox, and 18 files mentioned Dr. John J. Boyd, who was in Hartland circa 1880–1900. A more detailed analysis of these files shows they contain 124 individual documents mentioning Hayford, compared to 64 for Fox and 39 for Boyd.

Since the 1880 mortality schedules suggest that Hayford also frequently saw patients in nearby Oceola and Tyrone townships, it is likely that expanding the search to Civil War veterans who lived there would net additional information. To maximize the results received for the effort expended, it might be wise to limit the search to pension files of 1883 and 1890 veteran residents of those towns.

How was Hayford mentioned in the pension files? Hayford made affidavits describing the medical condition of his patients and the treatment he provided. He had attended births of the veterans' children. He testified at hearings conducted by special medical examiners sent by the Pension Office to investigate questionable pension claims.

In establishing his credentials in his affidavits or testimony, Hayford frequently noted that he had graduated from the Cleveland Medical College, 1851–1852, or simply the number of years he had practiced medicine.

We learn that he had at least three partners in his medical practice. Dr. Wells B. Fox was said to be Dr. Hayford's partner "for a few years after the [Civil] war," 1 but it may have been a much shorter time. Charles E. Haight was his partner in 1866, which is implied in James Walsh's pension file, and confirmed by a cryptic note on the 1866 federal income tax records. 2 Dr. Orson W. Tock was his partner from about 1870 to 1876, and "when he left he took the books with him." 3 To explain why he did not know the dates upon he had treated John W. Andrews prior to 1875, Dr. Hayford stated that "From 1864 up to 1876 I had three different Partners the Books at close of Partnership were put into the third mans hands [Tock] for collection." 4

In the 1860s Dr. Hayford "had a large practice and charged [recorded] almost everything on my books" regarding patient examinations and treatment. 5 During the Civil War, he obtained a thirty-day furlough extension for John Graham due to Graham's chronic diarrhea. 6

In March 1883, Dr. Hayford "was suffering from the effects of a fractured wrist and was unable write" a letter himself. 7 In October 1887, Drs. Hayford, G. H. Brett, and Edmond Bachman conducted an autopsy on Patrick O'Connell, who died of an overdose of opium, which he normally took as a pain reliever.

Comments by the Pension Office's special examiners give good—but conflicting—insight into Hayford's professional reputation and credibility. In John W. Andrews's pension file, Special Examiner B. M. Stoddard's report dated December 31, 1884, said that Hayford, "age 60," was unbiased and had a good general reputation, "but is old and memory seems entirely gone—His testimony is almost worthless." 8 Just a few years later, in the case of Gideon Martin, on June 15, 1888, a different Special Examiner, R. P. Fletcher, reached a more positive opinion about Dr. Hayford. After discussing the unreliability and bad character of Dr. Wells B. Fox, Fletcher commented: "Dr. Hayford is not mentally as bright as Dr. Fox but from his long medical experience he is fairly well informed medically and is undoubtedly honest and would tell only the truth as he recollected." 9

Postmaster Z. E. Chambers, on August 11, 1882, gave his opinion of his next-door neighbor. Writing in response to a Pension Office inquiry as to Dr. Hayford's "general reputation for truth and standing in the community," Chambers replied that Hayford "is not only unimpeachable but unquestionable." 10

Civil War Compiled Military Service Records

In addition to the pension files, each relevant soldier's compiled military service record (CMSR) should also be examined, although finding information relating to a physician "back home" is extremely unlikely. The CMSR contains abstracts and, sometimes, original records relating to the soldier's service in a regiment. The CMSRs of selected Hartland soldiers yielded one, for Mark H. Chamberlain, that included a notarized letter from Dr. W. M. Hayford dated May 20, 1864, requesting an extension of Chamberlain's furlough on account of his chronic diarrhea, dry hacking cough, high fever, rapid pulse, sweating, and other symptoms. 11


Using a variety of records, a fairly detailed biography of Dr. Hayford's life can be written. Federal records in NARA's custody provide insights into the physician's connections with his community that are unavailable elsewhere. Weaving together information from federal records, local government records, newspaper articles, and other sources, a narrative of one person's interactions with his neighbors can be crafted. By extension, his life becomes a lens by which to examine the life of one American village.

Claire Prechtel-Kluskens is a genealogical microfilm projects archivist in the Research Support Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.


1. Report by Special Examiner R. P. Fletcher, June 15, 1888, in Gideon Martin, Company Unassigned, Fifteenth Michigan Infantry, Civil War Pension File SC 419,391, Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 15, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

2. Affidavit by James Walsh, Feb. 26, 1881, in James Walsh (widow Bridget), Co. I, Third Michigan Cavalry, Civil War Pension File 631,933, RG 15, NARA. NARA microfilm publication M773, Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Michigan, 1862–1866, rolls 13, Target 2, District 5, Division 8, Annual List, May 1866, lists Hayford and Haight together as being "No. 261" on the abstract from which the list was compiled.

3. Letter of W. M. Hayford, June 30, 1883; also undated letter by W. M. Hayford, filed March 1885, written in response to Feb. 14, 1885, letter from the Pension Office; also Deposition by O. W. Tock, M.D., Feb. 25, 1886; all in Robert Graham, Co. I, Third Michigan Cavalry, Civil War Pension File SC 734,297, RG 15, NARA.

4. Affidavit of William M. Hayford, Apr. 14, 1882, in John W. Andrews (widow Loraine), Co. C, Fifteenth Michigan Infantry, Civil War Pension File WC 213,683, RG 15, NARA.

5. Deposition of William M. Hayford, Jan. 14, 1886, in Robert Graham, Co. I, Third Michigan Cavalry, Civil War Pension File SC 734,297, RG 15, NARA.

6. Declaration for Increase of Pension by John Graham, Oct. 12, 1898, in John Graham, Co. I, Third Michigan Cavalry, SC 420,795, RG 15, NARA.

7. Letter by Z. E. Chambers, Mar. 16, 1883, on reverse side of letter by Wm. M. Hayford, M.D., Mar. 16, 1883, in Amos J. Beebe (widow Julia E.), Co. I, Third Michigan Cavalry, Civil War Pension File WC 731,642, RG 15, NARA.

8. Report of Special Examiner William T. Sullivan, Dec. 31, 1884, in John Wesly Andrews (widow Loraine), Co. C, Fifteenth Michigan Infantry, Civil War Pension File WC 213,683; RG 15, NARA.

9. Report of R. P. Fletcher, June 15, 1888, in Gideon Martin, Company Unassigned, Fifteenth Michigan Infantry, Civil War Pension File SC 419,391, RG 15, NARA.

10. Letter, Z. E. Chambers, P.M., to Commissioner of Pensions Aug. 11, 1882, in David C. Smith, Co. I, Third Michigan Cavalry, SC 232,613, RG 15, NARA.

11. Mark H. Chamberlain, Private, Co. I, Eighth Michigan Infantry, Civil War Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917, RG 94, NARA.

Note on Sources

For more information about the Hayford family, see Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, "Descendants of Jonathan Bonney Hayford, Sr.," in Raconteur [newsletter of the Geauga Co. (Ohio) Genealogical Society], 15 (January–September 1992), and 16 (January 1993). Some details about Dr. Hayford's civic life appear in History of Livingston County, Michigan, pp. 373–374 (Philadelphia: Everts & Abbott, 1880).

Information about Dr. Hayford's medical training and practice was found in Frederick C. Waite, Alumni Catalogue of the School of Medicine of Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio: Western Reserve University, 1930); A Register of the Graduates of Western Reserve College, 1830–1873; Together with a Catalogue of the Theological Department, 1831–1854, and a Catalog of the Graduates of the Cleveland Medical College, 1844–1873 (Cleveland, OH: Fairbanks, Benedict & Co., 1873); and C. B. Burr, ed., Medical History of Michigan, vol. II, p. 504 (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: Bruce Publishing Co., 1930). For background on the medical profession at this time, see William G. Rothstein, American Physicians in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1985).

Civil War–era tax records are in Records of the Internal Revenue Service, Record Group 58. Assessment lists for Michigan have been microfilmed as Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Michigan, 1862–1866 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M773). Cynthia G. Fox, "Income Tax Records of the Civil War Years," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 18 (Winter 1986), discusses these records more fully.

Nonpopulation census schedules are discussed in "Nonpopulation Census Records," available online at
Michigan schedules have been microfilmed as Nonpopulation Census Schedules for Michigan, 1850–1880 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T1164).

For an introductory discussion of Post Office Department records, see "Post Office Records," available at Postmaster appointments have been microfilmed as Record of Appointment of Postmasters, October 1789–1832 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1131) and Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832–September 30, 1971 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M841).

The Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States is often found in U.S. Government depository libraries and is in Publications of the U.S. Government, Record Group 287, in the National Archives. Volumes from 1913 onward omit postmasters and other local postal employees.

Military Service Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1985), and Robert M. Kvasnicka and Anne Bruner Eales, eds., Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States, 3rd ed., chap. 5, "Service Records of Volunteers" (Washington, DC: NARA, 2000), describe compiled military service and pension files.

Information about Livingston County cemeteries is found in "Griswold Cemetery," "Hartland Cemetery," and "Parshallville Cemetery" in Michigan DAR GRC Report, Series 1, Vol. 233: Rural Cemeteries of Livingston County, Michigan, Vol. 3 (1950); Hartland Township Cemeteries: Grave Locations (Hartland, MI: Hartland Twp., 1998), as well as online cemetery transcripts on the Livingston County, Michigan, History and Genealogy Project site at

The Census of the State of Michigan, 1894, comp. Washington Gardner, vol. 3 (Lansing, MI: Robert Smith & Co., 1896) is online at The roster of New York soldiers living in Michigan is at The resulting list "Civil War Soldiers Who Resided in Hartland Twp., Livingston Co., Michigan" is online at

The URLs cited here were correct as of May 12, 2007.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.