Illnesses from the past

Historical death certificates state the cause of death. But have you ever scratched your head and wondered what the strange cause of death actually was, and what it that would translate to in today’s medical terms?

One of my colleagues pointed out a very helpful resource of Old Names for Illnesses and Causes of Death and it can be quite revealing about the types of medical conditions our ancestors were diagnosed with.

Below are a few from the list for you to ponder . . . can you work out what they are?

  • Black Blood             • Podagra
  • Bladder in Throat     • Phthisis
  • Erysipelas                 • Milk Sickness

Scroll down to the read what today’s equivalent is . . . .

An Apple a Day keeps the Doctor away
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19200610-32-3
Heritage Images, Digital Library

Showing the sick bay at St Stephen's College, 1922
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-4144
Heritage Images, Digital Library

Illnesses and Causes of Death is accessible at the link below under the heading Articles to help your Genealogical Research.

  • Black Blood - Syphilis
  • Bladder in Throat - Diptheria
  • Erysipelas - Contagious skin disease, due to Streptococci with vesicular and bulbous lesions
  • Milk Sickness - Disease from milk of cattle which had eaten poisonous weeds
  • Podagra – Gout
  • Phthisis - Chronic wasting away or a name for tuberculosis (TB)

For further information on this topic the Central Auckland Research Centre also has a reference only book A Dictionary of Medical & Related Terms for the Family Historian by Joan E. Grundy. The call number is 1 GEN AID.



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