Death records

When a person was nearing death, the parish priest was called in to confer the sacrament of extreme unction. During the final hours, the closest relatives walked around the dying person carrying lighted candles that had been consecrated. They opened the windows so that the soul, upon its reIease from the body, would not have to leave the room by way of the chimney and become black.

Shortly after death, before rigor mortis set in, the body was washed, dressed, and laid in a coffin. All the domestic animals on the farm were informed that their owner had gone to their reward. The entire village came to say goodbye to the deceased, and each sprinkled holy water on the body.

The funeral procession was led by the village priest. If the deceased was a man, he was carried by male pallbearers; if the coffin held a woman, the pallbearers were female; in the case of a young person, the coffin was carried by young men, preceded by girls with garlands on their heads. As the casket was taken from the house, it was customary to touch the coffin to the doorstep to allow the deceased to bid farewell to their home. The procession commonly stopped for the same purpose in front of the chapel and at wayside crosses along the route to the cemetery.

In the late-1700s, the average lifespan was less than 30 years. In 1870 it was prolonged to 35 years for men and 38 years for women. The reasons for such low average longevity were an absence of medical care, rampant poverty, poor social conditions, and, above all, the very high rate of child mortality. Until the late-1800s, about 27% of children died within one year and 50% by the age of seven. A man who survived adolescence in 1870, had a good chance to live till 61 years; women till 63. In the late-1700s, it was 54/57.

Early records were very brief and usually contained the name & address of the deceased, age, date of death, date of burial, and the name of the priest. Beginning in 1851, the cause-of-death had to be recorded. However, other than cholera and small-pox, the information was usually very vague. By the 1870s, the cause-of-death was categorized into 16 groups distinguished by seven acute infectious illnesses including tuberculosis & cancer. In the case of children & seniors, the vague expressions persisted. The most frequently ascribed cause-of-death for children was weakness or convulsions, and in the case of seniors, the coroner (priest or reeve) typically put down decrepitude. These vague expressions were, however, only symptoms of the underlying pathology. Our ancestors typically died at home and autopsies were very uncommon.

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 Death record 1757  (Regional archive in Zámrsk, Latin language)

Death record from a nicely decorated register from the parish of Chrudim reports that on 3 January 1757 in the village Bylany, 14-day-old Barbara, daughter of Mathias and Elisabeth Kučera died. She was buried at St. Mark's Church (in Chrudim) by Father Georg Pivečka, the local chaplain.

 Death record 1877  (Regional archive in Třeboň, Czech language)

Death record of Marie Landstein née Moravec. Starting in 1781, a pre-defined format with standardized sections came into use and Latin was replaced either by Czech or German.

English translation of this record

WHY were they collected?  Church evidence of deceased
WHEN were they collected?   16th century – present. Few registers from the end of 16th century have survived
WHO collected the records? Parish offices, district offices, and municipal authorities
WHAT information can be found? Name, date of event, status, religion, address, name of spouse, names & occupation of parents, last unction, cause of death
In which ARCHIVES are they held?

State regional archives, town hall registrar offices

In which archive FILES can they be found?  Registers
LANGUAGE of records Czech, German, Latin

Very well preserved

What must be KNOWN before getting started? Name, date, and place of death
Czech expression Matrika zemřelých (matriky zemřelých)