Causes of death - Norwegian Genealogy and then some

Causes of death

Causes of death in the Norwegian Church records

When dealing with death causes in old church records we need to keep in mind that they did not have the diagnostic tools that we have today.  Looking at these death causes, all collected from Norwegian church records, we see a number of diagnoses that are at best, vague. Some of the conditions that are listed are not fatal in them self (even in the 1800’s). One may therefore suspect that some of the causes listed, in fact have been complications such as a whole-body inflammatory response to an infection. It may seem that when a person with a non fatal chronic disorder, dies of no aparent reason, the the chronic disorder is listed as the death cause.I have added the names of some organs (e.g.  lever – liver) to make you able to combine some general conditions (e.g. kreft/kræft -cancer) and get the full meaning of a larger number of records.

As we get some years into the 1900*s the physicians started to record the death causes by their latin name.

  • Aarefolkalning – old description of dementia. Not an condition that causes death in itself.
  • Acute….. – sudden inset of a condition causing death.
  • Afkræftelse/Avkreftelse – fatigue.
  • Alderdomssvaghet – weakness of old age.
  • Anfald – Undefined seizure.
  • Ansiktsrosen – Erysipelas  “red skin”; also known as “ignis sacer”, “holy fire”, and “St. Anthony’s fire” located to the face (ansikt).
  • Apoplexia – apoplexy. Sudden impairment of neurological function, especially that resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage; a stroke.
  • Arteriosclerosis – the thickening, hardening and loss of elasticity of the walls of arteries.
  • Arteristisk gikt – rheumatoid arthritis  or some other rheumatic disorder.
  • Barselfeber – Puerperal infections, also known as postpartum infections, puerperal fever or childbed fever.
  • Betennelse/Betændelse – inflammation or infection.
  • Blev myrdet – was murdered.
  • Blodbrækning – vomiting of blood (Hematemesis). May be caused by a number of conditions in the esophagus (food pipe) or stomach/upper intestines.
  • Blodforgiftning – Sepsis. A whole-body inflammatory response to an infection.
  • Blodgang – Dysentery is an inflammation of the intestine causing diarrhea with blood.
  • Blodstyrtning – extreme bleeding.
  • Blodtab/tap – death from bleeding.
  • Bløde sig til døde –  bled to death.
  • Brok(k) – Hernia. While not fatal in it self, death can have been caused by several complications.
  • Bronkit(t) – Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchi (large and medium-sized airways) in the lungs.
  • Bryst – Chest. Female breast.
  • Bryst betennelse – probably pneumonia. With nursing mothers it could be Mastitis, a potentially fatal mammary glandinfection.
  • Brystsygdom – Probably Pneumonia. Sometimes used about Tuberculosis
  • Bylder – Abscesses.
  • Cholerine – actual  precursory symptoms of cholera. Probably used to describe a stomach inflammation sometimes accompanied by diarrhea.
  • Cuikuede – probably a misspelling of suicide.
  • Difteri – Diphtheria. Symptoms often come on fairly gradually beginning with a sore throat and fever. In severe cases a grey or white patch develops in the throat. This can block the airway and create a barking cough as in croup. Some of the other death causes on this list relating to the throat, may in fact have been Diphteria.
  • Dysenteri – Dysentery is an inflammation of the intestine causing diarrhea with blood.
  • Druknede – drowned.
  • Embotis – probably meaning embolism.
  • Engelsk syke – Rickets.
  • Enteritis – inflammation of the small intestine. In some cases, the inflammation includes the stomach and large intestine.
  • “Falt…..” – death from falling from an  elevated position.
  • Epileptisk anfald – Epileptic seizures. In most cases not fatal in it self. Death may sometimes have been caused by trauma to the head when falling or during the convulsions.
  • Falt over bord – Fell overboard from a boat.
  • Forbrændning – death caused by severe burns.
  • Fordøielsessygdom – Illness in the digestive system.
  • Forkjølelse – normally used to describe a common cold. Death must have been caused by complications.
  • Forlist…. – lost at sea.
  • Forrådnelses feber – Litt “Rotting fever”. This may be some sort of gangrene.
  • Forstoppelse – Constipation.
  • Forulykedes – Death by accident.
  • Gikt – Rheumatoid arthritis  or some other rheumatic disorder. Could also be Gout.
  • Grasserende sykdom – Grassere means raging, so this probably means some kind of  rapidly spreading of infectious disease.
  • Gulsot(t) – Jaundice, also known as icterus. Often seen in liver disease such as hepatitis or liver cancer. It may also indicate leptospirosis (field fever, rat catcher’s yellows) or obstruction of the biliary tract, for example by gallstones or pancreatic cancer.
  • Halsesyge/-syke – «Throat disorder». Could be a number of conditions afflicting the throat.
  • Helvedesild – Shingles, also known as zoster, herpes zoster, or zona.
  • Hjerne – brain.
  • Hjerneslag – Stroke, also known as cerebrovascular accident (CVA), cerebrovascular insult (CVI), or brain attack.
  • Hjernebetennelse – probably referring meningitis.
  • Hjerte – Heart.
  • Hjertefeil – May refer to several hearth conditions.
  • Hjerteklap –  probably Myocardial infarction (see below).
  • Hjertelammelse – probably Myocardial infarction (see below).
  • Hjerteslag – Myocardial infarction (MI) or acute myocardial infarction (AMI), commonly known as a heart attack.
  • Hjertesyke – undefined heart condition.
  • “Hængte sig” – suicide by hanging.
  • Influensa – Influenza, commonly known as “the flu”.
  • Kighoste – Pertussis (also known as whooping-cough or 100-day cough).
  • Kjæve/kjeve – jaw. Often in combination with “over/under” meaning “upper/lower”.
  • Kjærtel/kjertelsygdom – undefined disorder in a gland. Possibly Hypothyroidism. May have been used to describe Mycobacterial cervical lymphadenitis, also known as scrofula or King’s evil, refers to a lymphadenitis of the lymph nodes in the jaw and neck area. Associated with tuberculosis as well as non-tuberculous (atypical) mycobacteria.
  • Kolik –  cholic. undefined pain that starts and stops abruptly. Could be Renal colic, a pain in the flank, characteristic of kidney stones, Biliary colic, blockage by a gallstone of the common bile duct or cystic duct.  May, of course occur with infants caused by intestinal gas, but this is rarely fatal.
  • Kolorine – actual  precursory symptoms of cholera. Probably used to describe a stomach inflammation sometimes accompanied by diarrhea.
  • Kopper (abr kop) – Smallpox.
  • Kramper – Convulsions. Possibly epileptic seizures. May also be caused by high fewer in children or Tetanus, also known as lockjaw in adults. With pregnant women this could describe Pre-eclampsia/preeclampsia (PE).
  • Kræft/kreft – cancer.
  • Lever – liver.
  • Leversyke – Undefined liver condition.
  • “Ligeså” – Ditto
  • Lungebetennesle – pneumonia.
  • Lungesykdom (sygdom) – undefined lung condition.
  • Mage/mavekrampe – undefined stomach condition.
  • Mage/mavekreft – stomach cancer.
  • Mage/mavetilfælde – undefined stomach condition.
  • Medfødt – Congenital.
  • Meslinger/Mæslinger – Measles, also known as morbilli, rubeola, or red measles.
  • Mineskud – Death from an explosion.
  • Nephritis chronica (latin) – a cronic kidney infection/inflammation.
  • Nervefeber/Nærvefeber – Typhoid fever.
  • Nervegigt –  This may be the same as Typhoid fever. Nervegikt is also explained as Neuralgia:  a stabbing, burning, and often quite severe pain that occurs along a damaged nerve. This is however a more modern definition that may not be applicable in the 19. Century.
  • Nyre – Kidney.
  • Nyrebetændelse – Infection of the kidney.
  • “Omkom paa havet/sjøen” – lost at sea.
  • Overkjørt – Run over
  • Paa barselseng – died while giving birth.
  • Rosen – Erysipelas  “red skin”; also known as “ignis sacer”, “holy fire”, and “St. Anthony’s fire”.
  • Selvmord – suicide.
  • Sindsygdom – Insanity. Psychiatric condition. With an elderly person this may have been used to describe dementia.
  • Sinn/sindsforvirring – actually confusion. May be referring to psychiatric condition. With an elderly person this may have been used to describe dementia. Sometimes used as possible explanation of suicide.
  • Skarlagensfeber (abbr Sklfbr) – Scarlet fever, also called scarlatina.
  • Skjørbug – Scurwy, a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C.
  • Slag/Slagtilfælde – undefined stroke. Hearth or brain attack.
  • Solstik(k) – Sunstroke. Disease caused by direct exposure to heat from solar radiation with local heating of the brain.
  • Sottesykdom (sygdom) – Sometimes used where the deceased has been ill and often bedridden for some time, when the true cause of death is not known. It could also be used to describe death in an epidemic.
  • Spedalsk(het) – Suffring from Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD).
  • Stensmerte –   a pain in the flank, characteristic of kidney stones, Biliary colic, blockage by a gallstone of the common bile duct or cystic duct.
  • Strube/Strupe – Larynx/throat.
  • Strubehoste – probably Tracheolaryngobronchitis/Croup in children. May be larynx cancer in adults.
  • “tilfælde/tilfelle” – means occurrence/condition. Used in connection with the name of an organ to indicate illness in this area.
  • Strubetæring – May be larynx cancer. “Tæring” usually refers to Tuberculosis.
  • Suicid(e) – this word is also used in Norwegian.
  • Sukkersyke – Diabetes.
  • Svaghed/svakhet – weakness. Sometimes used in connection with the name of an organ to indicate illness in this area.
  • Tarmslyng – Rotation of the intestine causing blockage of flow and necrosis of the intestine.
  • Tungetæring – Larynx cancer. May also have been used to describe Tuberculosis.
  • Tyfus/Thyphus – Typhoid fever.
  • Tæring – Tuberculosis (MTB, TB).
  • “Ubekjendt” – cause of death is not known.
  • Ulykkestilfelde – Death by accident.
  • Vatersott – Edema  i.e. some sort of circulatory problems.
  • Ventriculis – referring to the stomach.
  • “Vides/vites ikke/ei” – cause of death is not known.



Jakobsen, Arnt: “Norsk medisinsk ordbok” Sem & Stenersen, Oslo 1984

Tetmo, Terje A: “Ordbok for slektsforskere”  Grøndahl Dreyer  Oslo 1999

“Store norske leksikon” web edition

Wikipedia – various articles

If you look for other words related to Norwegian genealogy, be sure to check out my Norwegian genealogy dictionary

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