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How Our Ancestors Died (Paperback)

A Guide for Family Historians

Family History

By Dr Simon Wills
Imprint: Pen & Sword Family History
Pages: 214
ISBN: 9781781590386
Published: 4th April 2013
Last Released: 12th September 2018



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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.

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.

Acknowledged at the end of author article 'Tracing Lifeboatmen'

Family Tree, October 2019

Acknowledged at the end of author article 'Tramps, tinkers & travellers'

Family Tree, September 2019

As featured by

Bradway Bugle, Spring 2019

Author article: Researching your ancestors' mental health as featured by

Family Tree, January 2019

As referenced in author bio

Family Tree, October 2018

'Simon Wills learns about a fascinating Scottish family history society project to capture the stories of local convicts over a period of nearly a century'

Family Tree, June 2018

Author article 'Headstone hunter' as featured in

Family Tree, April 2018

Author article as featured in

Family Tree, February 2018

Author article on finding Peterloo roots as featured in

Family Tree, January 2018

Author article on preserving the past online as featured in

Family Tree, January 2018

As featured in part of author article

Family Tree, October 2016

As featured in part of author Q&A

Family Tree - September 2016

As featured in.

Family Tree Magazine August 2016

As featured in.

Family Tree June 2016

As featured in.

Family Tree Magazine May 2016

As featured in...

Family Tree - April 2016

As featured in...

Family Tree - March 2016

Fascinating survey of the diseases. Unusual and informative view of the threats that our ancestors lived with and died of.

Kent Family History Society Journal

A fascinating guide on how to investigate you ancestor's cause of death. His graphic, detailed account offers and unusual and informative view of the threats that our ancestor's lived and died from.

Family Chronicle

A fascinating read. Rather than a morbid subject, of you are interested in social history, this really is a book for you.

West Middlesex Family History Society

A fascinating survey of the causes of death in the past and it will interest family and medical historians.

B&A FHS Journal

This is a fascinating guide to a bygone way of death.

The Guide

At last, a book that helps us to interpret those death certificates with their references of 'griping in the guts,' 'ship fever' or dipsomania.

Who Do You Think You Are?

A Fascinating new book How Our Ancestors Died, by Simon Wills, takes a backward look at the problems, illnesses, and afflictions that dogged earlier generations

Southern Daily Echo

In this fascinating book, well-known genealogy writer and NHS advisor Simon Wills brings his two interests together to explore the most common causes of death and how we can learn about them to illuminate our ancestors' lives. Inevitably, the focus is on the last 200 years, thanks to civil registration providing death certificates with details of the cause of death, but Wills looks back through time at the history of diseases such as the plagues of the past centuries and other issues such as famine. He also shows how parish records, newspapers, legal records and monumental inscriptions can sometimes tell us more.

Your Family Tree
Dr Simon Wills

About Dr Simon Wills

Dr Simon Wills is a maritime genealogist, researcher and author, who writes for many genealogy and history magazines including Who Do You Think You Are?, Family Tree, Discover Your History, and Your Family Tree. He has over 25 years' experience researching maritime history and also works part-time as an information adviser to the NHS and other healthcare organisations.

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