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Death Record in German

Updated: May 3

In this blog, I have looked at both baptism and marriage records. Now, it's time to look at death registers in German. What is indicated in them and where to look for help?


Cemetery in the evening
Created by Dalle-E

A death record isn't usually the first document we search for in genealogical research. Initially, we tend to look for baptism and marriage records. However, sometimes a death record can be the only source to uncover ancestral origins.


For instance, if the birth details of the earliest known ancestor are unknown, their death record can provide crucial clues for further research, as it contains information about the place of birth and the age of the deceased.


What is written in the death register? Let's examine an example from one Riga parish.


First, we have the left side of the entry with a German language transcription. As mentioned in a previous entry, printed text can be translated using the Google Lens app, available on both phones and computers.


On the left side, you can find:


  • the death date,

  • the burial date,

  • deceased's name, surname, occupation, or status.


Deathr ecord
Left side of death record

In this case, it concerns a deceased child. Usually, such records list both parents along with their status or occupations. However, this record only mentions the mother, indicating the child was born out of wedlock.


In rural parishes, it's sometimes specified whether the father is a farm manager (Wirth) or a farmhand (Knecht).


The right side of the record includes:


  • the birthplace,

  • deceased's age,

  • gender,

  • family status (verheirathet -married, ledig - single, verwittwet, Wittwe, Wittwer -widowed, Kind -child),

  • cause of death,

  • additional notes.


Often, the exact farm or, for larger parishes, just the manor/civil parish where the deceased was born is noted.



Death record
Right side of death record

Age is usually listed in years (Jahre), but more precise information, like years and months (Monate), may sometimes be provided. There are instances when children have died just a few days old (Tage).


The age of the deceased in the example is only 3 months (Monate), which could easily be confused with 3 weeks (Wochen). If there are doubts, finding the baptismal record will clarify the age.


If the deceased is elderly, the age listed is often inaccurate. Not everyone had their birth year accurately recorded in the Bible; sometimes, no one knew the exact age, and it was evidently estimated "by feeling."


Notes sometimes contain information about the cemetery, but such details are rare in most parishes. In this case, 'free cemetery' are mentioned. According to Tezaurs.lv, these were cemeteries in Riga where the deceased were buried without distinction of nationality or faith.


Deciphering the cause of death in the record is often the most challenging. A list of the most common causes of death can be found at Ciltskoki.lv > Baznīcu grāmatām un dvēseļu revīzijām> Vācu valoda> Skaidrojumi> Nāves cēloņi/slimības.


There is a lot of useful information online. Here are some useful databases for assistance:


The German society Computergenealogie's Wiki repository with terms for diseases and medical conditions. Many words are in Latin. Clicking on a word will display an explanation in German. Google Translate or the DeepL websites can be used for translations.


On Rudy’s page of archaic medical terms, you'll find both the German name and translation into English, and in many cases, an example in Gothic script.


The German Wikipedia page also offers explanations of what various historical disease terms might mean in modern understanding. However, the introduction explains that a precise medical diagnosis cannot be determined from a historical cause of death. For example, Ludwig van Beethoven's diagnosis of "consumption" (German "Schwindsucht") could, according to newer sources, have been caused by various diseases – typhus, liver cirrhosis, sarcoidosis, or lead poisoning.


Good luck in learning to read! ;)



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