Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cause of death: Normal

While doing some research on some Trojanovice Czech ancestors today, I came across an interesting cause of death: gewöhnlich



Honestly, it took me a while of plugging things into google translate for me to figure out what in the world this word was.

What was weirding me out so much was the occurrence of this word! Pretty much every single person, young and old, page after page died from this same cause. It didn't make sense, until I found the word gewöhnlich.

This word translated to English means usual, common, ordinary, normal, customary, simple, everyday, run-off-the-mill.

Everybody dies. I feel ridiculous writing the sentence, "death was extremely common back in the early 1800's." Death is common today! What I mean, of course, is that death of young children was common. I read somewhere that the mortality rate for children under the age of 3 in the Czech lands was ~25%.

Even if it was, "gewöhnlich," I'm sure it deeply affected the parents and siblings. Can you imagine losing your children at such a young age? I don't believe that it ever was easy. I remember a school teacher telling us that sometimes parents didn't try to be emotionally attached to their infants because they knew it was such a high probability that they would lose them.

To that I say, "bull."

I mean, there have got to be all kinds of weird parents out there, but I can't believe that these God fearing Catholic Czech ancestors would accept infant death as gewöhnlich in their heart. I'm sure it was devastating. I guess this touches a nerve for me today, as I think of my two month old baby. She is so adorable. I can't imagine my life without her.

In many ways, my little family is similar to that of my Czech ancestors. Our child spacing certainly is! How many modern day American families do you know with kids ages 5, 4, 3, and 0? I mean, that "break" in there is the typical amount of space that most of my friends have between their kids.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I find "gewöhnlich" as cause of death a bit absurd. It's sad because it's a nod to how high their infant mortality rate was in 1802. It's funny because the clerk keeping this record was so impersonal that they didn't even bother to find a more specific cause of death (I mean, I've seen records with the cause of death as "weakness"!). It's also funny because that short description was acceptable, apparently.

Mostly, I wonder what the families would think if they knew how it was recorded. Would they shrug and say, "Well, the purpose of recording the cause of death is really for the parish priest to quickly scan through the pages in order to know of the needs of his parishioners, so it's not that big of a deal to me that the incredibly tragic death of my infant was described as, "normal."" Would they roll their eyes and say, "Well, that clerk was certainly lazy! My kid died of lungensucht (aka consumption)."

I'm making an assumption, actually. The truth is that I don't know exactly why the cause of death was recorded. I assume it was for the parish priest's benefit, but then, I know that the records were mandated from a much, much higher government level in the Austrian Empire. Why would they have been interested in that? I thought their primary interest in data gathering was for military drafting purposes?

Maybe this helped them keep track of whom to exempt from their military duties? I think I remember reading that some farmers were exempt from serving in the army, for example if they were the primary laborers in their family and everyone depended on their work to live.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad they kept the records at all. My personal opinion on "gewöhnlich" as a cause of death is that the clerk was amusingly lazy. I mean, he took the time to write something, which is good, but what he wrote doesn't really impart that much information.