Friday, March 24, 2017

Diseases That Plagued Our Ancestors

Title page of Robley Dunglison's
medical dictionary
In 1867, Ohio's county probate courts began to record every death in the county as a single line entry in a bound volume called a register. This was the method for keeping death records until December 19, 1908 when deaths were recorded by the Ohio Department of Health in certificate form.

You can look at images of the 1867-December 18, 1908 death records in the Probate Clerk's office at the courthouse in Zanesville. Because the death register is essentially a ledger, you see many entries on a single page--and are likely to see at least one unfamiliar cause of death on a page.

Our ancestors lived with and sometimes died of conditions and diseases that no longer plague us, thanks to medical advances. But they also suffered from health problems and diseases that are still around--we just might not recognize the disease names our ancestors used. For example, I had one ancestor who died of scirrhous pylorus (cancerous tumor of the stomach), another who suffered and then died from apoplexy (paralyzing stroke), and another whose sister died of "the wasting disease", also known as consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis).

1842 medical article about my g-g-g
grandfather, William Burdett
Thanks to the internet, we can "translate" the old medical terms into something recognizable. If you're interested in more in-depth information (and in a resource probably known to your ancestor's physician) you might want a copy of Dunglison's Dictionary of Medical Science, published in 1865. It's a collection of medical terms, anatomy, chemistry, Latin names for diseases, diagnoses, treatments, prognoses, and even suggestions for American and European health spas where your ancestor might go to "take the waters" and recuperate from whatever was ailing her.

Dunglison's has been scanned and can be purchased as a CD or download from Archive CD Books USA.

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