Over the years, the meaning and use of the title “physician” has changed. By the mid-1800s, a physician would attend a Medical School, and then serve a series of apprenticeships with individual physicians. In the 1900s these apprenticeships were formalized into internship and residency.

There were four major schools (philosophies): Allopathy, Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Naturopathy

  • Allopathy is a therapeutic system in which a disease is treated by producing a second condition that is incompatible with or antagonistic to the first. This isn’t quite how we look at it today, but this is what most “modern” physicians practice.
  • Homeopathy is a system of therapy developed by Samuel Hahnemann based on the “law of similia,” from the aphorism, similia similibus curantur (likes are cured by likes), which holds that a medicinal substance that can evoke certain symptoms in healthy individuals may be effective in the treatment of illnesses having symptoms closely resembling those produced by the substance.
  • Naturopathy (Eclectics) is a system of therapeutics in which neither surgical nor medicinal agents are used, dependence being placed only on natural (nonmedicinal) forces. As it is practiced today, naturopathic medicine integrates traditional natural therapeutics-including botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, traditional oriental medicine, hydrotherapy, and naturopathic manipulative therapy.
  • Osteopathy is a school of medicine based upon a concept of the normal body as a vital machine capable, when in correct adjustment, of making its own remedies against infections and other toxic conditions; practicioners use the diagnostic and therpeutic measures of conventional medicine in addition to manipulative measures.

In addition, the term “doctor” may refer to any number of professions besides the practice of medicine, i.e. dentistry, pharmacy, divinity (clergy), veterinary, etc.

There have been numerous diseases which have run rampant throughout the world. I have gleaned a list of mostly US oriented epidemics from a variety of sources on the web. Several of these show disturbing recurrences (Yellow Fever over and over, Measles repeatedly, etc). I have also assembled a partial listing of diseases, with both the old, colloquial names and the current ones. Note that many of the names folks ask me to “translate” are just the proper medical terms (which means they’re derived from Latin and Greek roots).

The American Medical Association (AMA) was founded in 1847 by Dr. Nathan Davis. The AMA Council on Medical Education was appointed upon formation of AMA. It established standards for preliminary medical education and for the degree of M.D. During 1906-1907 the Council inspected 160 medical schools and classified them into 3 groups: A=acceptable, B=doubtful, C=unacceptable. In 1910, “Medical Education in the United States and Canada,” funded by the Carnagie Foundation and supported by the AMA, facilitated new standards for medical schools. It cited many diploma mills and is frequently described as “the Flexner report” for its author.

The AMA Directories (Physician Master File)

Although a comprehensive publication of all US physicians was a goal of Dr. Davis, this was not accomplished until after1904. Until this time, the only directories that existed were those which required a physician to pay a fee or subscribe to the directory for inclusion. The AMA directory differed from other directories three ways:

  • It was a directory of the American medical profession, published and owned by the physicians themselves;
  • Information regarding college and year of graduation and date of licensure and society membership should be verified from official sources;
  • The directory should furnish the same information regarding each physician whether a subscriber to the directory or not.
  • Physicians were encouraged to provide their information to the AMA from its inception. The original information was kept on 4″x6″ cards until 1969, when it was computerized. The directories were published periodically (2-8 year intervals). The information contained in each contemporary volume may differ slightly. In 1987, the Library and Information Management division began to convert the old cards to an electronic database. The first group was for those physicians who died between 1804 and 1929, and has been published as The Directory of Deceased American Physicians: 1804-1929. This directory has additional information summarized, including information about obituaries in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
    Perhaps the most useful of these for genealogical research is The AMA Directory of Deceased Physicians, 1804-1929, in 2 volumes, published 1993. Listings are alphabetical.
    The items listed are: [1] name / date of death (gender) [2] place of death [3] date of birth [4] place of birth [5] type of practice [6] practice specialties [7] board specialties [8] states and years of licensure [9] places and dates of practice [10] hospital affiliations [11] medical school (and “G” means graduate) [12] other education [13] professorships [14] JAMA citation for obituary, where it is “vol:page” [15] licensure action [16] cause of death [17] death notice information (M) AMA Member. Not every space is filled in for every physician.

    Sample listing:
    GALEHOUSE, Frank Clark; 7/29/24 (M); [2] Long Beach, CA; [3] 11/1/1872; [4] Vallejo, CA; [5] Allopath; [8] CA 1903; NV; [9] Fresno, CA 1903, San Rafael, CA 1909, Taft, CA 10/1/1913; Santa Rosa, CA 5/12/1922; [11] College of Physicians and Surgeons of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 1902 (G); [12] public schools; [14] 83:1018; [16] cirrhosis, liver (M).

    The AMA Directory of Physicians, published periodically since 1904, is a geographically based directory. Physicians are listed by city within a given state. If you know the city, a search is fairly easy; searching the index if you don’t know the city and have a common name can take a while. Each edition has a listing of the medical schools and their shorthand listing. The shorthand may change over the years, as various states were admitted to the US. The current listing of states includes the US Territories as well (Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.) so Wyoming is [53?]. This is great if you know where someone was, and just want more details, or an exact address. It can be particularly helpful for military physicians, since there are still only so many places they can be stationed.

    Sample listings:
    1d/1904: McSWAIN, Thomas Omar; Visalia CA: Cal.7,’99; l’99 office First National Bank Bldg; 1-4
    (edition/year: Name; City: school, grad year, licensed year; home address, office address, office hours)
    In this case, “Cal.7” is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of San Francisco.

    21d/1961: MONTY, Anthony Jack; San Jose CA 12; 278 N. 2nd St; 01 025-06-27 28 C* D03 D05 1T +
    (edition/year: Name; City; office address; 01 – school/grad license – specialty – professional orgs – full/parttime – member)
    In this case, 025-06-27 is Nebraska’s sixth school, Creighton, graduating in 1927, licensed 1928, Specialty Cardiology (* = board certified), D03 and D05 are two specialty organizations, 1T is full time specialist, and + is AMA member

    32d/1990: DOYLE, Christine Anne; San Francisco CA; Univ CA San Francisco-GS 94143 #030-06 GS *011
    (edition/year: Name; City; office address – #school – specialty – practice type)
    In this case, #030-06 is still Creighton, but Nebraska is now the 30th state. GS is General Surgery, *011 means that the person is in their first year of post-doctoral training (internship).


    [1] Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, 26d, 1995 (Williams & Wilkins).
    [2] The Directory of Deceased American Physicians: 1804-1929, Introduction, pages v-x, published 1993 by the AMA.



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