What was our ancestor’s cause of death?

This is the start of yet another new series of posts which covers the cause of death in earlier times. The list of causes of death in church books is long and there are many terms and names of diseases which need explaining today. Beside the historic diseases, there are individual accidents, epidemics or other tragedies.


Today, I start the series with a cause of death which “fortunately” can be found quite often in my family tree, death of old age, senility. In church books, the term “Marasmus senilis” is also used which stands for the decay of body and intellect through age.

As of what age was someone “old”? What was the expected life span in previous centuries?

This table shows the life span for men (in grey) and women (in red) at the age of 60 years in the course of time and thus does not take the high death rate of newborns and children into account. While expectancy for men and women in 1868 was little above 70 years, it is approximately 10-15 years more today. As you can read on Wien.at, in 1856, only 0.7% were elder than 75 years.

I cannot give you a serious statistical analysis of my family tree research, thus I will just give you some special examples of ancestors who reached a high age and died of senility:

  • I already introduced you to Leopoldine Hetzendorfer (born Hofbauer) in another post. She died after an exciting life aged 88 in the year 1943. Her daughter Walburga even was 91 years when she died.
  • Veit Putschögel was born in 1707 and reached an then almost incredible age of 90 years.
  • Mathias Schindl was 88 when he died in the year 1829 due to senility.
    (Transcript/Translation: Name of the deceased: Mathias Schindl, “Ausnehmer”meaning basically a person living at the farm of their children/ religion: catholic, Sex: male, age: 88 years/Illness, Cause of death: of senility)

  • Magdalena Petz (born Weinmayr) died in 1888 aged 86.
    (Transcript/Translation: Petz Magdalena, born, Weinmayer, born in Paasdorf, widow, here, age 86 years, senility according to certification of death no. 7)

  • Katharina Schmölz was 95 when she died in 1950.Bildschirmfoto 2017-03-30 um 18.56.42

What age did your ancestors reach? Did you discover unusual causes of death in your research?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s