FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Archaic Medical Terms

When researching our ancestors, we often encounter causes of death that have ‘funny’ names and are meaningless to us today. In one family, a child died of complications from ‘Quincy’. Did that mean that her cousin, “Quincy” tripped her and she hit her head? No, she died from infection due to tonsillitis.

Almost all of us will find records of ancestors who died of ‘Dropsy’. The term shows up so often that it must be a common ailment. But what ailment? As it turns out, it was most often used to describe congestive heart failure but the term was used in many other applications as well; renal dropsy or disease of the kidney; dropsy of the head or hydrocephalus, etc.

We also see the term ‘Consumption’ used frequently. Was that cancer? No, it usually meant tuberculosis although there were some other diseases that were also called ‘consumption’.

How do you find the meaning of all of these old medical terms? Fortunately, a website has been created that explains them. See Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms and you’ll probably find the meaning for those ‘archaic’ death causes listed on your ancestors death certificates.


23 June 2007 - Posted by | Research Tips

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