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A Death Record: 1860

Time Frame

2 class periods of 45 minutes each

Group Size

Small Groups




In 1860 life expectancy was much lower than it is today. By studying death schedules from the 1800s it is quite obvious that people often died from causes that rarely cause death today.


If possible, have students obtain copies of death schedules from various decades from local government offices. Check with your county clerk for local death records. The state archines is another possble source for death records. The Federal Census Records for the years 1950-1970 each contains death records as part of the census.

Background for Teachers

Death records are records of those who died with a given year. They are government records and may be found in different locations. The United States Cenus records for the years 1850-1870 include death records. By studying death records you can analyze the impact of death upon a family.

Intended Learning Outcomes

The students will be able to:

a. Find and research death schedules.

b. Contrast causes of death in the past with those of today.

c. Identify diseases that no longer exist.

d. Compare the average age of death of men and women in the 1800s.

Instructional Procedures


Have students list their ideas of diseases or illnesses that caused death in pioneer times that are not fatal today. The United States Census for the years 1850-1870 contain the mortality schedule for each town in the United States. This activity is an analysis based upon actual census records. To obtain copies of death schedules, check with your local county clerk. Request death records for years from 1850-1870. College libraries will have copies of the US Census for the years 1850-1870. The names you see here are fictitious but the other statistics are taken from actual death schedules. Explanation of Terms:

  1. consumption=tuberculosis
  2. dropsy=edema,filling with liquids
  3. dyspepsia=stomach ailments
  4. teething=practice of cutting swollen gums with a knife sometimes caused infection.
  5. child bed=death of a mother while bearing a child

Steps 3 through 7 make up a list of 35 names from a death record census in the year 1860. Each step is a list of individuals within a particular category who died in 1860. Each step is one part of the total census death record. Of 35 names listed for the year four females age 21 or older died. First names and causes of death are listed:

  1. Tamarah 93 old age
  2. Casmhine 101 old age
  3. Ann 77 consumption
  4. Eliza 28 child bed

Compare this with other census records/with the death of men in step 3. Of the 35 names listed seven were males ages 20 and older. The first names, ages, and causes of death are as follows:

  1. Stephen 35 spasms
  2. Charles 20 rhumatism
  3. Simon 54 heart disease
  4. Sam 90 old age
  5. James 38 consumption
  6. Charles 32 consumption
  7. John 70 dyspepsia

Of the 35 names listed two were teenagers. Their names, ages, and causes of death are listed below:

  1. Cornelius 19 consumption
  2. Charles 16 consumption

Of the 35 names listed on the death schedule four were ages 5-12 years of age. Their names, ages, and cause of death are listed here.

  1. Alice 5 sore throat
  2. Alfred 5 sore throat
  3. Elizabeth 8 drowned
  4. Louisa 5 sore throat

Of the 35 names listed on the death records eighteen were under the age of 5. Their names, ages, and causes of death are listed here.

  1. Leslie 1 mo spasms
  2. John 10 mo inflamation of lungs
  3. Robert 1 yr scalded
  4. William 11 mo sore throat
  5. Fanny 2 yrs. inflamtion on brain
  6. Herbert 2 mo inflamtion of lungs
  7. Mary 11 mo congestion of brain
  8. Mary 2 yrs. scarlet fever
  9. Cora 1 yr scarlet fever
  10. George 11 mo fit
  11. Jane 2 mo congestion of lungs
  12. James 11 mo consumption
  13. Carrie 1 yr scarlet fever
  14. Walter 6 mo sore throat
  15. George 1 mo teething
  16. Clara 8 mo dropsy
  17. Mannie 3 mo sore throat
  18. Francis 2 yrs. sore throat


  • Have students collect obituraies in the same categories and compare the causes of death.
  • Discuss how crossing the plains might change the cause of death in various age groups.
  • Research medical practices in the 19th Century.

Place names of those on death list in a container and have students draw for their character. Write obituaries, family letters, poems, or doctor reports.

Visit a graveyard with your class and do similar activities. Some may find ancestors. A family history activity might be a good follow up.

Create a blank journal with each of these statements placed on the top portion of a blank sheet of paper. You might add your own talent kick off statement:

  • Write a poem about the death of the very young.
  • Sketch a tombstone and place vital statistics, and a message.
  • Write a conversation between a doctor in 1850 and a modern doctor.
  • Make up a list of cures for diseases of the nineteenth century that really would not work.(Look at list of causes of death)
  • Write about a family cure that modern families use that wouldn't be recommended by your doctor.
  • Make a list of modern diseases or illnesses that would not have been a problem in the nineteenth century.
  • Write a 19th-century newspaper editorial condemning the dangers of vaccinating children to ward off disease.

Assessment Plan

Assessment will likely be based upon projects that come out of the information provided here.

Created: 09/24/1997
Updated: 02/05/2018