Ancestry Sunday Week 1- Teething as a cause of death

Ancestry Week 1- Teething as a cause of death


The topic of the week is teething, but first y’all are going to get some background information on my Ancestry journey.

I’ve always been fascinated by genealogy.  I frequently tell myself that I’m going to spend half an hour on, and by the time I’ve finished, four hours have passed.  It just sucks you in.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m the nosiest person I’ve ever met, or what, but I have an insatiable desire to know where I (and Michael {my husband, for all those who are not familiar with my wonderful mountain man} and my friends and you, probably) come from.  I don’t really care what the answers are; I just have to know what they are.  Even when I find unsavory answers, I’m still glad that I asked the questions.  Ignorance might be bliss, but knowledge is power, and the more knowledge that I have about myself and my family’s history, the better.

And now a little background info on our families!

Despite being raised in Mississippi, I was born in Tennessee, as were both my parents, my two brothers, all four of my grandparents, and seven of my eight great grandparents.  Eight of my sixteen great great grandparents (all of whom are on my mom’s side) were also born in Tennessee.  Of the eight great grandparents on my dad’s side, two were born in Ohio, one each were born in Germany, Wales, Kentucky, and Ireland, and two are unknown because one of my great grandfathers was adopted.  This is super technical and involved a large dry erase board to figure out, but I am ½ English, 1/16 Welsh, 3/16 Irish, 5/32 German (sadly a small number for someone with such a German last name), and 3/32 unknown.

Most of my mom’s ancestors settled in North Carolina and Virginia in the 1600s and 1700s before eventually making their way to Tennessee.  They were almost exclusively farmers up until the 1960s when my grandparents moved to Memphis.

My dad’s family is a little newer to the US.  Most arrived shortly before the Civil War and lived in New York and Ohio before moving to Memphis.  They worked in more urban settings like factories, offices, and the railroad industry.  They’re still mainly clustered in the Memphis area.

Michael’s family is a bit more of a mixed bag.  He was born in Pennsylvania, his younger sister in Georgia, his father in Wisconsin, and his mother in Kansas.  His grandparents were born in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Iowa.  He’s ¼ German (slightly higher than me, and with an equally German name!), 1/8 Hungarian, 1/16 English, 1/32 Norwegian, 1/32 Austrian, and ½ unknown.  I hate that so much of his ancestry is unknown, but his mother’s maiden name is Jones, and that is incredibly hard to research.  Not much is known about one of his great grandmother’s family as well.  His family lived (and still lives) all across the Midwest.  The rural ancestors in Connecticut were farmers, the Wisconsin ones worked in factories and mills in Milwaukee, the Oklahoma ones worked in zinc mines, and one great grandfather was a chauffeur for a doctor.

Not going to lie, part of my motivation for researching Michael’s family was to make sure that we aren’t related.  I can almost certainly confirm that we are not.  But most of my motivation was because he didn’t know much about his history.  He’s not nearly as into this as I am, but he patiently listens to everything that I find.  All of his grandparents have passed, so with the help of his mother, I gathered the information I needed and have tried to go from there.  Like I said, some branches are hard to research, and sometimes you just hit a dead end.  But I keep digging just in case.

I hope you enjoy the tidbits that I find about my general findings on Ancestry, and if it isn’t enjoyable then I hope you at least learn a few things.  Now onto the mystery of teething!

I have a morbid fascination with death records, and luckily Tennessee seems to be one of the few states that has released most of theirs up until about the 1940s.  Obviously modern medicine has progressed leaps about bounds even in the last few decades.  But it’s amazing to see the things that killed people back in the day.  An abscessed tooth?  Really?  That’s terrifying.

No one in my family seems to have this listed as their cause of death, but I was looking at a cause of death list for a small community and came across “teething” as the cause of death for several babies, all under the age of one.  Now, I certainly didn’t go to medical school, but I don’t feel as though teething is a deadly process.  Painful?  Yes.  Deadly?  Nah.  So obviously I did a little digging.  Since all babies teeth in their first year, other common illnesses were attributed to this common phenomenon.  The belief was that the nerves in the teeth became inflamed or infected and spread to other parts of the baby’s body.  Babies died much more frequently than now, especially in the first year of life.  Since teething can make babies fussy and seem sickly, doctors and parents assumed they were symptomatic from the teething, not the actual illness that plagued them.  I looked to see if one particular illness was mistaken for teething, but it seems to be a wide variety.  Some of the babies probably died of what we now know as SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Others died from other infections and illnesses such as cholera and tuberculosis.  Possibly the scariest part of this is the treatment for teething.  Doctors would cut babies’ gums to relieve the pressure and give them medicines laced with the once-deemed-therapeutic lead and mercury.  I can’t imagine how miserable that must have made the already pained babies.  Im sure some of them died simply from the treatment instead of another illness.  It makes you wonder what things we think now that will end up being crazy.  By the 1900s, teething had basically disappeared as a cause of death. I suppose doctors finally figured out that teething is a completely normal process.  It’s fascinating to get a peek into the thought process of people who were using all of the information that they had to make the best decision that they could, especially through the lens of a more advanced medical field.

This concludes the first Ancestry Sunday!  Thanks so much for making it to the end of this post.


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