What was our Ancestors’ Cause of Death ? – Fraisen (infantile convulsions)

„Da krieg’ i ja die Pockerlfras!”

This is an old Austrian saying used when someone is very agitated and starts trembling because of fury.

The word “Pockerlfras” includes the cause of death of many infants in previous centuries: Fraisen (also known as Fraißen, Fraser or Freisen) which were infantile convulsions.

Origin of the term

The word Fraisen derives from the Middle High German term “vreise”, meaning anxiety, fury or horror. (1)

(“Pockerl” is an old Viennese term for turkey, by the way.)

Fraisen was used as for all infant diseases involving convulsions. (2)

Disease Pattern and Cause

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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?