Rokiskis death statistics. Causes of Death in my families #general

Stephen Gaffin

Dear Cousins
There were some questions about the causes of death among my extraordinarily
Rokiskis in Linda Cantor’s latest table, published in the 1930s. Thirty
four causes of death were listed among our relatives as follows using quaint
medical terms no longer used:

“Old Age” 12
Heart Disease 6
Disease of Lungs 2
Disease of Kidneys 2
“Weakness” 2
Consumption/ tuberculosis 3
Cancer 1
Pneumonia 1
Trombophlebitis myocarditis 1
Influxion of blood in brain 1
Disease of brain 1
CA ventriculis (bowel cancer?) 1
“Vitium cardis” (heart disease ?) 1

“Old Age” of course in the above table simply means that the doctors had no
idea what system deteriorated so much that death ensued. For “Weakness”,
who knows?

Relatively few cancers (1 or 2) were reported among our Rokiskis family. It
is my recollection in our US family tree that relatively few died of cancer
[although one uncle did] but, similar to the Rokiskis statistics of 6 out
of 34, several of the US family, including my mother, died of cardiovascular

Currently, in the US [according to the CDC] the leading causes of death are
in descending order: heart disease, cancer, accidents, cerebrovascular
disease, diabetes, liver disease, influenza & pneumonia, diseases of
perinatal period, suicide, kidney diseases, HIV.

I wonder if it would be of interest to attempt to compile pooled data >from
all of you SIGers to see what diseases we are especially prone to and what
we appear to be inherently resistant to.

Steve Gaffin,
St Maarten, Netherlands Antilles,
Formerly, Worcester, Boston, Brookline, Troy NY, San Francisco, Rehovot,
Haifa, Durban South Africa, San Diego, Framingham

Ann Rabinowitz <annrab@...>

In regard to Stephen Gaffin's comments about causes of death, I also had
been intrigued by the records he referred to for 1922-1939.

The following is suggested based on my perusal of the entire group of
Rokiskis death records, not just the records which Stephen is referring to,
as well as many other shtetl death records:

1. Causes of death are dependent on the time period viewed. For instance,
during WWI there would have been a greater incidence of cases of influenza
and other communicable diseases.

During 1811, I found in some revision lists for another shtetl that the
majority of the population was listed in hospital.

2. Generally, consumption or tuberculosis, in all of its forms, was rampant
due to the physical conditions of where our ancestors lived. In prior
times, it could ravage an entire family >from infants to adults. It is
treatable now and not such a threat to life.

3. Children often died of diseases for which we have shots or other
treatment now such as diptheria, whopping cough, measles, mumps, scarlatina,

In addition, infant mortality was far greater in Eastern Europe than it is
today due to the physical circumstances of lack of cleanliness, medical
care, etc. The advent of prenatal care and testing, use of obstetricians,
hospital births and new surgical techniques. greatly reduced infant/mother

4. Antibiotics changed the world as many of the diseases prevalent as
causes of death for both adults and children were brought under control such
as pneumonia.

5. Diseases such as appendicitis are no longer immediate causes of death
due to surgical techniques being developed to resolve them.

6. Cancers of various kinds are now treatable as well as heart-related
illnesses which were previously considered death sentences.

7. The upgrade in the modern world to better hygienic conditions have rid
towns and homes of dysentery, typhus, typhoid, and other illnesses of this

8. The discovery and introduction of insulin and modern changes in dietary
habits and exercise has brought much of the rampant untreated diabetes
common in previous times under control.

Generally, the modern world has gained much in the way of new medications,
surgical techniques, and medical care to rid itself of the majority of
diseases that killed our ancestors.

As a last note, the records themselves tend to show the incidence of certain
types of deaths in certain years and at certain times of the year. For
instance, one can see when there were epidemics of measles amongst the
children and when there were particularly hard winters when the death count
for those with pneumonia, coughs, etc., rose above the norm.

All in all, our Jewish death records reflect the history of our shtetls and
what was happening in and around them and are well worth looking at for that
reason alone.

Ann Rabinowitz