They Died of What? Old Diseases Explained

Posted April 11, 2018 by Amanda | One Comment

While researching your ancestors, have you come across a cause of death that you do not recognize? When looking at old records, it’s not uncommon to find a cause of death or illness whose name is no longer in use today. You may find these terms in old historical records such as obituaries, death certificates, probate records, or census mortality schedules.


Here’s a quick roundup of a few terms you may encounter:

  • Croup – a swelling of the airways caused by a virus typically in children. It typically produces a hoarse, “barking” cough
  • Apoplexy – a stroke or a bleeding of an organ from hemorrhage. Death was usually sudden beginning with a sudden loss of consciousness.
  • Bilious cholic – a disorder of the gallbladder. This occurs when a gallstone blocks the bile duct, causing pain in the abdomen
  • Bilious fever – a general term for a fever that exhibited the symptoms nausea or vomiting in addition to an increase in internal body temperature
  • Flux – dysentery, an excessive flow of fluid like diarrhea
  • Scrofula – tuberculosis of the bones and lymphatic glands, causing tumors and swelling on the neck. Affected young children especially. It was also known as King’s Evil.
  • Lax – loose bowels
  • Hooping cough – whooping cough
  • Milk leg – a thrombosis of the leg veins after childbirth
  • Lung fever – pneumonia
  • Canker rash – a form of scarlet fever characterized by ulcerated or putrid sore throat
  • Childbed fever – an infection following childbirth
  • Colic – pain or cramping n the abdomen or bowels, an infection of the colon
  • Red gum – also known as strophulus. It is a skin disease affecting infants characterized by an eruption of red blisters on the skin
  • Lockjaw – tetanus, an infection characterized by muscle spasms

Check out more modern names for old diseases here!

What old or unfamiliar terms have you found in your genealogy research? Share them in the comments below!

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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