What was our ancestor’s cause of death?

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?

Joseph Prankl, Blacksmith in Gaming, Lower Austria

Gaming is a village close to the mountain Ötscher in Mostviertel in Lower Austria and is situated on the Iron Trail. The Iron Trail has been an important site for the production and processing of iron since the 16th century. Subsequently, grand forges, but also many smaller hammer mills were built in the area.

Due to the Napoleonic Wars, the region was cut off from trade and from new technologies and could no longer compete with other areas with better infrastructure.

My ancestor Joseph Prankl, was a blacksmith for horseshoes and nails who settled in Gaming. He was married to Anna Maria (nee Eder) from Purgstall. The couple had 16 children. At least five of whom did not survive infancy. The children were born in the time period between 1795 and 1814 in Gaming.

The Viennese newspaper “Wiener Zeitung” published the following article in May 1813 about Joseph Prankl:

In this article, the foreclosure sale of the house of Joseph Prankl with the address Hofstadt in der Au no.7 which he has only built two years before was announced.

The house is described in detail: There were two rooms on the ground floor, a spacious kitchen, a pantry and a cellar. On the first floor, there were seven rooms and a kitchen. There was also a stable for two horses, three cows and a big barn.
Close to the house was the smithy.

Joseph Prankl tried to succeed as blacksmith in Gaming, but it was right at the time of economic downturn of the region. He seems to have overextended himself on the new house and could not repay his liabilities.

So far, I could not find out, where Joseph Prankl came from, nor where he and his family went after the foreclosure.  A brick wall, I still have to overcome!

I do know that two of his sons settled in Gresten, a village nearby and were blacksmiths there.