Jul 012015

Looking at the cause of death on our older certificates it can be hard to determine what actually caused the death due to the usage of some archaic terms not normally used today.

Sometimes it is a case the cause given is more of a symptom seen, as many of these certificates were issued before knowledge of infectious diseases. So seeing the “Black Pox” the “Blue Pox” etc is not unusual or even ‘Act of God’

Sometimes you might even see Causa Mortis Incognita  which means the cause of death was not known and the doctor wrote it in Latin rather than admit in English they didn’t have a clue!

To celebrate the release of the second edition of my book Death Certificates and Archaic Medical Terms I am going to share some terms here, with another 1500 terms plus available in the book.

The book also examines the history and evolution of death certificates. When did they start? What is on them and why it can be a case of “Buyer Beware”. 
What were the legal requirements? What does it mean when a death is certified? Why weren’t all deaths certified? Where can you further information about death certificate availability in your geographic area and more.

This title is available in book form from several retailers across the world, along with titles from many other excellent genealogy authors. 
The outlets are: 
Gould Genealogy (Australia)
My History (UK)

Global Genealogy (Canada)
Maia’s Books (United States)

It is also available as an ebook from gen-e-books

I also write a blog Historical Medical Miscellany for which I hope to do more frequent posts this year.

Abdominal Angina: sharp pain in the abdomen caused by insufficient blood supply often occurs a couple of hours of eating

Abdominal Dropsy: Abnormal accumulation of fluid in abdominal cavity

Abortus: Miscarriage (Latin)

Absinthism: symptoms such as delirium tremens seen in Alcoholism. Absinthe is an aromatic herb was used to flavour alcohol particularly in Europe

Act of God: When death has occurred, often suddenly without a known reason, possibly stroke or aneurysm

Addison’s Disease: A rare, chronic condition brought about by the failure of the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and aldosterone. Thomas Addison first identified the disease in 1855 while working at Guy’s Hospital in London. At that time, the main cause of the disease was as a complication of tuberculosis

Aden Fever: Dengue fever

Albuminuria: excess of albumin in urine often seen in kidney disease

Angina Membranacea: see Diphtheria (Latin)

Anthracnosis: Occupational disease of coal miners due to prolonged exposure to the coal dust results in fibrosis of lungs due to deposition of anthracite coal dust in the lungs

Apoplexia Cordis: Heart Attack (Latin)

Autumnal Catarrh: Hay fever

Bacillary Dysentery: Dysentery caused by bacteria Shigella dysenteriae

Bacteraemia: Presence of bacteria in blood

Bad Blood: see Syphilis, an infectious venereal disease

Baghdad Boil: Cutaneous Leishmaniasis caused by parasitic protozoans of the genus Leishmania. It is transmitted by sand flies 

Bang’s Disease: Brucellosis caused by Brucella bacteria: can be found in contaminated milk, dairy products or with animal exposure particularly pigs, goats and cattle

Barometer Makers Disease: mercury poisoning

Belly Bound: Constipated

Bilious attack: Gastric distress caused by a disorder of the liver or gall bladder

Black Consumption: Occupational disease of coal miners. Due to prolonged exposure to the coal dust results in fibrosis of lungs

Black Mortification: Gangrene

Blackwater Fever: Dark urine associated with high temperature and breakdown of red blood cells, seen in malaria

Bladder in Throat: Diphtheria which causes a pseudo-membrane in the throat

Bleeder’s Disease: Haemophilia

Blue Baby: baby born with blue appearance. Usually due to a heart defect (generally a ventricular defect) which does not allow the blood to become fully oxygenated

Bowel Hives: Enteritis, diarrhoea. Could be caused by a range of diseases

Brassfounder’s Ague: Caused by inhalation of metal fumes when heating metals especially zinc

Bright’s Disease: Inflammatory disease of kidneys may be acute or chronic. Ranked high as a cause of death 18thto early 20th centuries. Can be any of a range of diseases with the symptom of albuminuria (increased albumin (protein) in urine) First described by Dr Richard Bright in 1827

Bronze Diabetes: Caused by problem of iron overload which causes the skin to take on a bronze tint such as with haemochromatosis. Usually a genetic condition although iron overload has occurred in people long term home brewing in cast iron containers. Haemachromatosis

Camp Fever: Typhus. May also be typhoid fever caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi or in malaria. Continuing fevers seen in the army, particularly in the US Civil War

Cancrum Oris: Deep ulcer of lip and cheek often seen in young children in poor hygiene conditions

Canine Madness: Rabies, hydrophobia

Carcinoma Prostata: Prostate cancer (Latin)

Causa Mortis Incognita: Cause not known (Latin)

Cerebral Congestion: Bacterial or viral infection of the brain (Meningitis/encephalitis)

Cerebrospinal Fever: meningitis, may be bacterial or viral in origin

Change of Life: Menopause

Costiveness: Constipation, retention of faeces in bowels

Cottonpox: Milder form of smallpox Variola Minor

Cramp Colic: Possibly appendicitis or, food poisoning. As a symptom it is hard to be sure of actual causative medical condition

Dead Palsy: Loss of motion or feeling in a part of the body, probably after effects of a stroke

Death Struck: apoplexy, stroke

Decay of Nature: Old age usually

Decrepita Aetas: Old age

Decrepitude: Feebleness often due to old age

Dentito: Cutting of teeth, often characterised with fevers in children (Latin)

Diphtheria: Contagious acute disease of the upper respiratory tract where a membrane can grow across throat caused by bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The bacteria produces toxins which can affect most of the organs of body

Dock Fever: Yellow fever

Domestic Illness: Mental breakdown (more usually used for women)

Dropsy: Swelling from accumulation of fluid, often caused by kidney disease or congestive cardiac failure

Egyptian Chlorosis: Hookworm causing anaemia

Empyema: Pus often in chest cavity around the external lining of the lung

Enteric Fever: Typhoid fever caused by a bacteria Salmonella Typhi

Epidemic Fever: Typhus

Epidemic Cholera: Asiatic cholera

Epidemic Parotitis: Mumps

Ergotism: A convulsive disease caused from ingesting the mycotoxins from mould on spoiled grain. The Calviceps purpurea fungus produces alkaloids and ingestion of these cause long term poisoning

Ergotoxicosis: see Ergotism

Erythroblastosis Fetali: Haemolytic disease of the newborn (Latin)

Exhaustion From Cold and Want: Starvation and hypothermia

Falling Sickness: Epilepsy

Famine Fever: Typhus

Febris: Fever (Latin)

Febris Delirio: Fever with delirium (Latin)

Febris Dysenterica: Fever with bloody faeces

Febris Morbillosa: Measles (Latin)

Filth Disease: Typhoid caused by Salmonella Typhi

Fort Bragg Fever: Leptospirosis

Galloping Consumption: Tuberculosis with symptoms showing rapidly even though illness would have been present for a time period

Gaol Fever: Typhus

Gibraltar Fever: Brucellosis caused by Brucella bacteria: can be found in contaminated milk, dairy products or with animal exposure particularly pigs, goats and cattle

Glomerulonephritis: Inflammation of both kidneys See Bright’s Disease

Haemachromatosis: Inherited iron overload disordercauses the body to absorb more iron than usual from food. It results in excess iron being stored throughout the body and can result in skin pigmentation, diabetes and heart failure. Over time, the liver enlarges becomes damaged and can lead to serious diseases such as cirrhosis

Halstern’s Disease: see Syphilis

Hanot’s Disease: Cirrhosis of liver

Hansen’s Disease: see Leprosy

Hatter’s Disease: Mercury poisoning affects central nervous system

Hooping Cough: see Whooping cough

Hookworm: Infection by hookworm Ancylostoma duodenale and Nectator americanus parasitic nematode worms are abundant throughout the world, including in the following areas: southern Europe, North Africa, India, China, south east Asia, some areas in the United States, the Caribbean, and South America. Enters body through soles of feet. This hookworm is well known in mines because of the consistency in temperature and humidity that provide an ideal habitat for egg and juvenile development. Ancylostoma duodenal can be ingested in contaminated food and water but most common route and only route for Nectator americanus is through penetration of the skin. Anaemia major effect due to loss of iron and blood

Horrors: Delirium tremens: Hallucinations due to alcoholism

Imposthume: Abscess, collection of purulent matter

Jail fever: Typhus

King’s Evil: Tuberculosis of neck and lymph glands, scrofula. There was a belief the disease could be cured by the touch of the king

Lepra Syphilitica: Syphilis

Little’s Disease: Cerebral palsy first described by William John Little (1810-1894), British physician

Locked Jaw/Lockjaw: Tonic spasm of the muscles of mastication, causing the jaws to remain rigidly closed. Usually refers to tetanus

Lues Disease: Syphilis

Mad Hatter Syndrome: Mercury poisoning affects central nervous system. Occupational disease of hatmakers who used the mercury to stiffen the felt

Malarial Cachexia: Generalised state of debility that is marked by anaemia, jaundice, splenomegaly, and emaciation. Results from long-continued chronic malarial infection

Malignant Fever: Typhus

Marasmus: Severe malnutrition. Failure to thrive, usually used for young children

Marasmus Senilis: Wasting or decay of body in aged persons

Mariner Disease: Scurvy

Mediterranean Fever: Brucellosis caused by Brucella bacteria: can be found in contaminated milk, dairy products or with animal exposure particularly pigs goats and cattle

Membranous Croup: Diphtheria

Miasma: Before knowledge of infectious diseases the poisonous/bad smelling vapours thought to infect the air and cause disease

Miner’s Anaemia: See Hookworm

Morbid Intemperance: Alcoholism, overuse of alcohol

Morbus: Disease, sickness

Morbus Brightii: Bright’s disease, kidney disease which may be acute or chronic

Morbus Sacer: Epilepsy. It has been believed in the past that epileptics were ‘God-Touched’

Nautical Fever: Typhus on board ship

Necrosis: Death of cells, tissue or bone through injury or disease

Ohara’s Fever: Tularaemia

Overlaid/Overlain: To lie over or upon a child so as to cause the child  to suffocate 

Pea-picker’s Disease: Leptospirosis

Phosphorus Necrosis of the Jaw: Disease caused by contact or use of white phosphorous poisoning, often seen in matchmakers. Disease characterised by deterioration of bone especially lower jaw

Phthisis: Tuberculosis

Plague of Venus: Syphilis

Quick Consumption: Faster onset of tuberculosis symptoms, Galloping Consumption

Quintana Fever: Trench Fever

Rag-Pickers Disease: Malignant pustule and febrile disease probably anthrax, caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis

Ratcatchers’ Disease: Caused by Leptospirosis a bacterial disease often found in urine of rodents, (also known as Weil’s syndrome, Mud fever, Field fever, Canefield fever, 7 day fever, Black Jaundice) Can also be the Bubonic Plague depending on time period and occurrence of plague among rats in the area

Rising of the Lights: Believed to be pleurisy, croup or some infection of the lungs

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Acute rickettsial disease (Rickettsia rickettsia) transmitted by ticks. Major symptoms similar to epidemic typhus (headache, joint and back pain, prostration high fever which can progress to neurological symptoms and death).The rash covers whole body including palms and soles of feet. The 20-25% fatality rate in untreated patients makes it the most severe rickettsial infection in the Americas. Can also occur in Canada, the USA Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama and Brazil. Also known as Black Measles, Blue Disease due to the dark rash

Roseola Infantum: Sudden rash affecting infants and younger children caused by a virus Human Herpes Virus 6B or Human Herpes Virus 7 also known as Sixth Disease

Saint Gothard Anaemia: Hookworm

Scarlet Fever: Fever caused by a bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes generally presents as very sore throat, rash and fever. Before the availability of antibiotics, scarlet fever was a major cause of death. It also sometimes caused late complications, such as glomerulonephritis and endocarditis leading to heart valve disease (Rheumatic Fever), all of which were protracted illnesses and often fatal

Scurvy: Caused by lack of vitamin C which is required for collagen production in humans. Seen most often in sailors, soldiers or in starvation situations e.g. Irish Famine where people are unable to obtain fresh fruit or vegetables. Characterised by softening of the gums, haemorrhages under the skin and general debility can lead to death

Senectus Ultima: Old age

Sore Throat Distemper: Diphtheria or quinsy

Spanish Flu: Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. So called as Spain at the time had no censorship of its newspapers and the outbreak was heavily reported there before being reported in countries with censorship due to World War One (even though illnesses had already occurred in those places). Exact origin of this strain of the influenza virus not known, postulated it could be the USA or China or indeed Europe

St Erasmus Disease: Colic

St Fiacre’s Disease: Haemorrhoids

St Gervasius Disease: Rheumatism

St Gete’s Disease: Carcinoma

St Gile’s Disease: Leprosy or Carcinoma

St Hubert’s Disease: Hydrophobia, rabies

St Job’s Disease: see Syphilis

St John’s Dance: see St Vitus Dance

St John’s Evil:  Epilepsy

St Main’s Disease: Scabies

St Vitus Dance: Also called Sydenham’s chorea. Characterised by jerky, uncontrollable movements associated with rheumatic fever caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes

Stonemason’s Lung: Occupational Lung disease suffered by stonemasons due to inhalation of stone dust

Summer Complaint: Diarrhoea usually in infants/young children.. Possibly from spoiled food or milk which is more likely to spoil in summer

Thresher’s Fever: Acute inflammation of the lungs caused by a hypersensitivity reaction of the lung after contact with mould spores from hay, straw and other crops. Occupational disease

Throat Fever: Probably scarlet fever or could be diphtheria

Trench Foot: Condition caused by prolonged exposure to damp, cold, unsanitary conditions. Foot becomes cold, numb, mildly swollen. If untreated can progress to blisters and ulcers, tissue dies resulting in gangrene Particular problem on the western Front in World War One

Tuberculosis: Infectious disease of humans and animals caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and characterised by the formation of tubercles on the lungs (around 90% of the time) and other tissues of the body, often developing long after the initial infection. The M. tuberculosis complex consists of four other TB-causing mycobacteria: M. bovis, M. africanum, M. canetti, and M. microti. M. bovis was once a very common form of tuberculosis but this has markedly decreased as a public health issue with the advent of pasteurised milk in developed countries. The other three mycobacteria are rarer causes of tuberculosis

Tularaemia: Infectious disease caused by the intracellular bacterium Francisella tularensis. Found in rabbits, hares and pikas in North America. The disease is named after Tulare County, California. (also Pahvant Valley Plague, Rabbit Fever, Deer Fly Fever, or Ohara’s Fever)

Typhoid Fever: An enteric fever caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi. This was not known in earlier days so Typhoid and Typhus which had many similar symptoms were often confused. Typhoid was often more common in the summer months and warmer weather

Typhoid Fever of India: Asiastic Cholera

Typhus: caused by the Rickettsia bacterium (Rickettsia prowazeki) transmitted by bites from lice (particularly the human body louse). The epidemic or classic form is louse borne; the endemic or murine is flea borne. It is marked by high continued fever lasting from two to three weeks, stupor alternating with delirium, intense headache and by a copious eruption of dark red spots upon the body. Thirty percent plus of patients die. More commonly seen in winter potentially as spread by bite of insect with the colder weather clothes were not changed as often although can occur all year around

Variola: Smallpox, highly contagious viral disease characterised by fever and weakness and skin eruption with pustules that form scabs that slough off leaving scars in around 65-80% survivors. Has around 30-35% mortality rate. Blindness occurs in around 5% survivors. Last case seen in 1977 and the disease is believed to be eradicated

Variola Major: Most severe and most common form of smallpox, had around 30-35% mortality rate

Variola Minor: A milder form of smallpox causing less mortality (only about 1% of cases are fatal compared to 30-35% in Variola major

Variola Sine Eruptione: Smallpox with rash seen in some vaccinated people

Visitation of God: When death has occurred, often suddenly without a known reason, possibly stroke or aneurysm

War Fever: Epidemic Typhus caused by the Rickettsia bacterium transmitted by bites from human body louse see Typhus

White Plague: Tuberculosis

Yellow Fever: An acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by bite of mosquito A. aegypti infected with a Flavivirus. Found in Africa south of the Sahara and equatorial South America. (Yellow jack, American Plague, Bronze John, Dock Fever)

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