Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mortality Schedules

I wish that all my ancestors had the forethought to die in a year where their death would be recorded in a mortality schedule. I was fortunate to have a couple who were kind to provide me with their cause of death. Barbara Yoder Lantz died of consumption in 1870. John Hester died in 1879 of erisypelas. I really began thinking of the mortality schedules with the onset of the flu epidemic. I knew that I had seen influenza listed as a cause of death among them. The CDC's map for this week (dated February 9) shows widespread outbreaks in all but 6 states. Five of those other states (Oregon, Utah, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Maine) show regional outbreaks. Florida shows local outbreaks. Schools here in East Tennessee have been cancelling classes because of illness. I heard that it was so bad that the substitute teachers were calling substitutes before some of the districts closed.

I decided to explore a few of the transcribed schedules available online to see what causes were recorded.

In the 1850 mortality schedule for Potter County, Pennsylvania, we see the usual entries for dysentery, "tyfus" fever, croup, child birth, dropsy, consumption, various types of influenza, etc., but we also see some rather interesting causes of death. Nine month old Mary Ellis died from "eating caterpillars." Sarah A. Hitchcock died because she "choked on a bean." Two year old Mary Lawton "swallowed a brass button" and apparently was sick for 60 days from her accident before dying. There is also an unfortunate drowning of two year old Lorinda Nichols recorded.

Scarlet fever appears to have ravaged the population of Grayson County, Virginia according to its 1860 mortality schedule. We also see old age, croup, dropsey, pneumonia, influenza, and cancer among the causes of death. Ten year old Amanda W. Delp died from a fall.

The 1870 Jefferson County, Colorado schedule also gives us a few causes. We have a still born baby on the list and a few infants whose cause of death is listed as "debility." We have eye cancer, stomach and bowel influenza, lung fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, old age, and even a sore throat among the culprits. However, the most interesting entry is 3 month old Samuel Derby's "gravel."

Wright County, Iowa also has some interesting deaths. In their 1870 schedule, a 34 year old carriage maker by the name of Joseph Fulton was "killed in machinery." Nine year old George A. Peterson was "killed by eating ?" I'd love to know what that question mark was that he ate! Even if this transcription did not have a footnote describing the tragedy, one could look and see that the four deaths due to drowning in April 1870 must be from one incident. Dudley Gelman (age 65), William Rowen (age 30), Robert P. Rowley (age 35), and George Royce (age 28) apparently tried crossing the Iowa River when it was too high. Their 1880 census records Andrew Nelson's being crused in a sorghum mill and 10 year old Sherman Slaight's being "struck by Capston Sweep?" I don't know what a Capston Sweep is, but I don't think I'd like to be struck by one.

Roane County, Tennessee's 1880 schedule yields the murder of Dick Woods (age 38). Same Jones (age 35) was lynched. William Burnett (age 23) died of a pistol shot. Three year old William Sharp was burned. One year old Laura Renshaw died of worms and teething. That's the first time I've seen teething listed as a cause of death. John Keyhole (age 21) died from a kiln. John Eaton (age 12) was killed by cars on the railroad. James H. Day (age 30) "fell from trestel." One day old Bertheny Clark was "hurt by midwife." There is also a wide variety of disease listed among those enumerated.

Don't forget to check out the mortality schedules for the areas where your ancestors lived. They may add to your picture of what life was like for them in those days.


Miriam said...

Lori, I enjoyed this post for a multitude of reasons. First of all, it was well written and informative. Not many people know about the mortality schedules, and they can be so helpful, especially in locations where vital records were not kept until the early twentieth century.

Secondly, I can identify with several of the locations you mentioned. My PECKs, JACKSONs, and one of my two ROBBINSes lines all lived in Potter County, Pennsylvania, while my husband had a multitude of family lines from Grayson County, Virginia!

By the way, "gravel" is an archaic term for kidney stone. You can see many archaic terms for diseases as well as a list of major epidemics that swept the U.S. here.

Apple said...

Great tip! I don't see any one place where all of them are kept but with a bit of searching they do all seem to be available either online or on microfilm. My great- great-grandmother should be listed on the 1880 schedule but that would be too easy. ...sigh...

Terry Thornton said...

Lori, This is most interesting --- in a morbid sort of way. The Capstone Sweep as an instrument of death is a mystery --- do you think that another term for a well sweep? Children were encouraged to use a well sweep to help with the chore of drawing water from a well. If a well sweep fell or broke I can see where the impact could be deadly, especially for a child. If you discover more, please let me know about Capstone Sweep. Thanks,