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How Our Ancestors Died by Simon Wills
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How Our Ancestors Died

by Simon Wills

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What were the principal causes of death in the past? Could your ancestor have been affected? How was disease investigated and treated and what did our ancestors think about the illnesses and the accidents that might befall them? Simon Wills fascinating survey of the diseases that had an impact on their lives seeks to answer these questions. His graphic, detailed account offers an unusual and informative view of the threats that our ancestors lived with and died of.

He describes the common causes of death - cancer, cholera, dysentery, influenza, malaria, scurvy, smallpox, stroke, tuberculosis, typhus, yellow fever, venereal disease and the afflictions of old age. Alcoholism is included, as are childbirth and childhood infections, heart disease, mental illness and dementia. Accidents feature prominently – road and rail accidents, accidents at work – and death through addiction and abuse is covered as well as death through violence and war.

Simon Wills’ work gives a vivid picture of the hazards our ancestors faced and their understanding of them. It also reveals how life and death have changed over the centuries, how medical science has advanced so that some once-mortal illnesses are now curable while others are just as deadly now as they were then.

In addition to describing causes of death and setting them in the context of the times, his book shows readers how to find and interpret patient records, death certificates and other documents in order to gain an accurate impression of how their ancestors died.
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To Mike, Annie, Branty, Caf, Kate , and Nick – good friends; and the modern doctors and nurses that we should all be grateful for.
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An ancestor's death can often tell you something about their life, and may turn out to be one of the most thought-provoking things that you know about them. For the past 400 years, my ancestors have all come from the same small town and yet tracing their deaths has revealed the surprising breadths of their wanderings - a nineteenth-century trader died of cholera in Poland, another of yellow fever in Barbados, and one man died of scurvy in Sri Lanka in the eighteenth century. Their deaths also told me about the hardships they suffered in life - I have an ancestor with dementia who was murdered in a workhouse, an alcoholic stepmother who died of a stroke at a young age, and two fishermen who drowned at sea, one of whom had to work well into his seventies because he couldn't afford to stop working.
Chapter 1

Investigation, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Disease

Not all deaths are caused by disease, but a major proportion of this book is devoted to medical conditions that killed our ancestors, so it's appropriate to begin with a chapter devoted to disease and healthcare.
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What were the principal causes of death in the past? Could your ancestor have been affected? How was disease investigated and treated, and what did our ancestors think about the illnesses and the accidents that might befall them? Simon Wills's fascinating survey of the diseases that had an impact on their lives seeks to answer these questions. His graphic, detailed account offers an unusual and informative view of the threats that our ancestors lived with and died of. He describes the common causes of death - cancer, cholera, dysentery, influenza, malaria, scurvy, smallpox, stroke, tuberculosis, typhus, yellow fever, venereal disease and the afflictions of old age. Alcoholism is included, as are childbirth and childhood infections, heart disease, mental illness and dementia. Accidents feature prominently - road and rail accidents, accidents at work - and death through addiction and abuse is covered as well as death through violence and war. Simon Wills's work gives a vivid picture of the hazards our ancestors faced and their understanding of them. It also reveals how life and death have changed over the centuries, how medical science has advanced so that some once-mortal illnesses are now curable while others are just as deadly now as they were then.… (more)

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