Illnesses and Causes of Death Genealogy Guide

Illness and death are the final and conclusive part of life. Death was recorded in a variety of methods, and using old terms that are now outdated. I put together a comprehensive guide to some of the most common causes of death listed on old death certificates and schedules of death.

This post is in conjunction with a previous post I made about common genealogical terms. You can find that one here.

Acute Dilation of Heart: it is when the heart’s ability to pump blood is affected by enlargement of the left ventricle which leaves it weak. Modern medicine labels it as cardiomyopathy.

“Affection of:” the cause of death involves a specific organ attributing to the cause of death. Usually there is a time period that follows the cause of death that describes how long the particular organ or system was a problem prior to death.

Ague: see malaria.

Apoplexy: it is more commonly known as a stroke. It is bleeding within the internal organs and causes a loss of consciousness and paralysis.

American Plague: see yellow fever.

Arteriosclerosis: thickening and hardening of the artery walls. Typically occurs in old age.

Asystole: a cardiac rhythm that shows that the heart is not functioning.

Bilius Fever: see typhoid Fever.

Black Plague: bubonic plague. Bacterial infection spread by diseased fleas.

Brain Fever: a Victorian term that describes inflammation of the brain, usually accompanied by a fever. Also known as meningitis.

Bright’s Disease: inflammation of the kidneys.

Canine Madness: rabies.

Carcinoma: cancer.

Cardiomyopathy: see acute dilation of heart.

Catalepsy: seizures or fits.

Cerebral Embolism: a blood clot which blocks blood flow to the brain. It is a type of stroke.

Cerebral Hemorrhage: an intracranial bleed that occurs in the brain tissue or vessels.

Cerebral Thrombosis: a blood clot which forms in the brains venous sinus’.

Charges Fever: see malaria.

Chilblains: a painful inflammation of the small blood vessels after being exposed to cold. It can also leave red patches on the skin, as well as swelling and blistering on the hands and feet.

Cholera: an infection of the small intestine which usually results in watery diarrhea and dehydration. It is spread through contact with the bacterium vibrio cholerae which is passed through food and water.

Confinement: directed as a result of or shortly after child birth.

Consumption: tuberculosis. It is caused by bacteria infecting the lungs.

Debility: being weak, feeble or fragile.

Diphtheria: caused by bacteria creating a thick layer at the back of the throat, and can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure and death.

Dropsy: more commonly known now as edema or congestive heart failure. It is a condition where fluid builds up in the cavities and tissues within the body.

Drowning: inhaling fluid into the lungs.

Endocarditis: an infection of the endocardium through bacteria attaching to it via the bloodstream.

Erysipelas: inflammation of the skin. It is caused by the same bacteria that causes scarlet fever.

Fits: seizures.

Fracture: broken bones.

Gangrene: a condition where body tissue dies.

“Hooping Cough:” whooping cough or pertussis.

Inertia: failure to thrive.

Infirmity: is described as a “physical or mental weakness.” Usually goes hand in hand with old age.

Jaundice: caused by high levels of bilirubin in the liver which is produced by breaking down red blood cells. Often caused by liver disease in adults.

“La Grippe:” influenza.

Laryngitis: inflammation of the voice box.

Lock Jaw: tetanus.

“Maladie de Roger:” see Roger’s disease.

Malaria: a virus that produced a high fever transmitted by mosquitos.

Mania: mental illness or dementia. It was also described as “insanity.”

Marasmus: severe under nourishment causing extreme low weight in a child for their age.

Measles: a super contagious virus that presents as a high fever and rash.

Mental Health Disease: a categorization of mental illness.

Mitral Regurgitation: blood that leaks through the mitral valve each time the left ventricle contracts to pump blood.

Myocarditis: an inflammation of the heart muscle. It reduces the hearts ability to pump blood and can cause irregular heartbeat and rhythm.

Nervous Prostration or Neurasthenia: a mental breakdown which renders you incapable of work. It attacks the nervous system and leaves one physical exhausted with accompanying heart palpitations and insomnia.

Panama Fever: see malaria.

Peritonitis: inflammation of the peritoneum as a result of a bacterial infection in the blood or from an organ rupturing.

Phthisis: another term for tuberculosis. See consumption.

Pneumonia: an infection of one or both the lungs. Bacteria pneumonia causes infection of the alveoli in the lungs and they fill with fluid and pus which makes it difficult to breathe.

Pox: French, Spanish or German pox were terms used to describe sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis.

Puerperal Fever: puerperal refers to after childbirth. A lot of women and babies perished during child birth due to infection.

Putrid Fever: see diphtheria or typhoid Fever.

Quinsy: tonsillitis.

Remitting Fever: see malaria.

Roger’s Disease: a small ventricular septal Defect, or hole in the heart.

Sarcoma Mediastinum: a mass which attaches to an organ in the body.

Scarlet Fever/Scarletina: usually accompanies strep throat. It is caused by bacteria and produces a high fever and a red rash that covers the entire body.

Stillborn: a child who is deceased at birth.

Swamp Fever: see malaria.

Syncopia: sudden fainting or loss in blood pressure that results in cardiac arrest.

Teething: infections of the teeth.

Typhoid Fever: waterborne illness found in unsanitary conditions. It is also known as salmonella typhi.

Uremia: chronic kidney disease and acute kidney injury.

Yellow Fever: a viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitos. The “yellow” refers to jaundice suffered by patients along with high fever.

I will continue to add to this list as I come across more terms during my searches of archives. Thank you for reading! I hope it was helpful for you to understand more about your family genealogy.

4 thoughts on “Illnesses and Causes of Death Genealogy Guide

  1. Pingback: Common Genealogical Terms Dictionary (Genealogy#12) – Publishing Motherhood

  2. Pingback: Organizing your Discoveries (Genealogy#14) – Publishing Motherhood

  3. Marilee Hird

    I would be surprised to see Chilblains (the correct spelling) listed as a cause of death. It is certainly not malaria, it is a painful inflammation of the hands or feet caused by cold.

    1. Thank you for pointing out the needed correction. My phone must have auto corrected the proper term and I clearly was not paying attention as I added the description (the entry directly above it shows the malaria reference). Thank you for pointing this out, and please let me know if you see any more errors. I apologize.

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