Antiquus Morbus: New Insights into Death and Dying

April 8, 2015  - by 

You may think you have gathered all the details you can about your ancestors, but Janet O’Conor Camarata has work for you to do. In fact, Ms. Camarata can lead you to minutia you never dreamed existed.

Camarata is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and lectures at genealogy societies, libraries, and conferences. One of her specialties is Antiquus Morbus: Diseases and Causes of Death.

Antiquus Morbus refers to a collection of archaic medical terms and their old and modern definitions related to causes of death. As causes of death have changed dramatically over the past few centuries, the search for ancestors may be enhanced with just a few hints. Death certificates are retained by most states in the United States. In Missouri, for example, death certificates are searchable online.

Death certificates will generally provide a cause of death and other contributing factors. They will show the time of death, then doctor’s name, and sometimes leads to stories behind the names.

A mortality schedule is a secondary census providing: place of birth, date of death, profession, and some family details. If an ancestor died during a time of an epidemic, they might be found through old medical records. These records also illustrate the conditions of the community an ancestor lived in.

Camarata says clues about ancestors are often found in family bibles, family letters, military records, pension records, cemetery and burial records. She says one often overlooked resource is funeral home records. Mortuaries keep extensive records of the families of people who died.

As these records are searched, it’s possible to get an idea of why families moved or migrated—or stayed in an area. Disease was often a contributing factor in decisions families made about where they lived or where they had to leave.

Many causes of death have old names. For example, barrel fever is now called alcoholism, dropsy is edema, and qunicy is tonsillitis. An extensive glossary of terms is available for researchers to identify the modern names of causes of death found on death certificates.

When obituaries are added to the information mixture, extensive family connections are often discovered. Who knew death could be such a rich source of information on ancestors?

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  1. I tried to index Idaho Birth certificates and the certificates that come up are for marriages. Some one at HQ needs to look into it!!!

    1. Earl, I am just an Indexer like you. You are supposed to send them back marked NED.
      No extractible data. If you do Facebook, you can go to the Family Search Indexing Facebook page and leave a message. Some helpful person will answer your question. HQ doesn’t look at anything here 🙁 1-866-406-1830 is the number to call Salt Lake.