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How Our Ancestors Died: A Guide for Family Historians [Paperback]

Simon Wills
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.99
Price: 10.46 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

18 April 2013
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.

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How Our Ancestors Died: A Guide for Family Historians + Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records: A Guide for Family Historians
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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Books Ltd (18 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781590389
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781590386
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 300,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Wills's novel "Lifeboatmen" is a surprising but true story set in 1866. Seen through the eyes of Richard Stokes, the lifeboat coxswain, it tells the story of the early days of the lifeboat service when faced with the worst weather at sea for over 150 years. Lifeboatmen are famed for their courage and volunteer to risk their lives to save others. But what happens when things don't go according to plan in the middle of a hurricane?

Simon Wills has been researching maritime ancestors for over twenty-five years, and writes for many genealogy and social history magazines including Discover Your History, BBC Who Do You Think You Are magazine, and Family Tree. In his non-fiction books he is noted for his engaging yet practical approach that focuses on telling a story as well as the information needs of his readers. Simon uses archive materials and historical accounts to illustrate his books, as he believes that contemporary detail brings readers closer to events that affected our ancestors. He likes to guide readers on how to take their own interests further, and reviewers have noted that he manages to do this whilst creating a very readable account.

Simon also has a longstanding interest in the history of healthcare and works part-time as an information adviser to the NHS. When he's not working, his interests include cycling, cricket, and wildlife.

Due out in 2014 is Simon's "Voyages From The Past: The History of British Passengers At Sea". This book tells the true stories of ordinary people who travelled by sea between 1600 and 1940, using their experiences as illustrations of what life was like for our ancestors who ventured into the oceans. Each voyage is full of the amusing, tragic, or everyday anecdotes of real people - from the passenger who complained that the captain smelled so much that it put her off her breakfast, to the man who watched many of his fellow travellers die of ship's fever. Taken together they show how the passenger experience has improved over the centuries.

Product Description


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

About the Author

Dr Simon Wills is a genealogist and journalist and a regular contributor to Family Tree, Your Family History, Family History Monthly and others. He writes mainly about history and maritime genealogy and he has a special interest in health and disease in the past. He also works as an information specialist, writer and advisor to the National Health Service and other healthcare organizations.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant read, couldn't put it down. 18 Aug 2013
By Abers04
I bought this book, purely as an impulse purchase. I'm so glad I did, what a great read not only was it very interesting but it was also very informative and well written. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to research their family history or even if you just have a passing interest in your ancestry. Well worth the money.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and engaging 23 Jun 2013
I have just finished this book and would thoroughly recommend it for both genealogists and casual interested readers.
The informative introductory chapters detailing 'Investigation, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Disease' and 'Finding a Cause of Death' are followed by 24 bite size chapters detailing the common causes of death our ancestors succumbed to in both recent times and centuries past.
From cholera to smallpox, accidents to mental illness and scurvy to starvation, this book is extremely accessible and engaging.
Dipping into chapters in any order makes reading about the causes of ones ancestor's death very straightforward.
With frequent references to a variety of resources throughout the book, each chapter also provides clear and helpful guidance regarding further research on the subject matter.
The book concludes with further information about specific places to visit which may have an association with the death of ancestors.
Thoroughly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and thought-provoking 17 Jun 2013
I bought this because I wanted to understand a bit more about a couple of specific events in my family. I had an ancestor who died of cholera and another who died in an asylum, and this book helped me understand what my ancestors went through and put it all into context. But the book holds your attention and I ended up reading it right through. There are lots of fascinating stories here, and it's good to come away feeling you've been entertained as well as informed. The author says somewhere that their death may be the most interesting (or only) thing you know about an ancestor and that's often proved right in my case. There's a great chapter near the beginning on how to find out about causes of death and that's encouraged me to pursue this with interesting results, as I found an ancestor who was murdered and another who died in a shipwreck. Nice to have a practical sort of book that's also good reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting helpful book 15 Jun 2013
By Shirl21
I found this to be quite intriguing and most helpful. We all have ancestors who died from various diseases, and this book gives details on why they died and how they may have been treated. Nowadays, with advances in medicines and technology, many of these illnesses would not have been fatal, or they no longer exist eg smallpox. I enjoyed reading it, and it is a book one can dip into when an illness reoccurs, eg polio or whooping cough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How our ancestors 14 Sep 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good read, very informative and a good addition to my bookcase. I am sure that I will dip into it time and time
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