Archive for September 13th, 2011

September 13, 2011

Musing about the Cholera Epidemic of 1831

by C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon

I frequently browse my blog’s web analytics (who refers, what they searched on, etc.). I noticed that someone landed on my blog searching about Cholera in the Biechow parish (in Piestrzec to be specific).

First let me take a moment to pay due to Rosemary Chorzempa(Toledo Genealogical Society, author) whose book, Polish Roots, was my first genealogy book and from whence I began the study of this craft. I still refer back to it — a real classic. I bring her book up because it has a timeline in it and one of the entries is 1831 – “First[sic Second] Asiatic Cholera Epidemic“. This is when Cholera came to the villages: Biechow, Piestrzec, Wojcza, Chrzanow, etc. Besides the obvious HIGH death rates, we also saw low birth rates too.

Stanczyk has mentioned this before, but one of my ancestors, Marcin Heliasz, age 50 (b. about 1781) was listed as death number 232 (the last one) and Marcin and number 231 did not even have death dates or witnesses. I surmise that the parish priest as he visited on or before the Feast of Epiphany to inscribe the door lintel with the three wise men’s initials (K,M,B) he found these two villagers dead. Their record is after the other records and the end of year notation the priest usually makes.

The number of deaths were between 49-88 (from 1816-1827). Then 1828- 122 deaths, 1829- 149 deaths, 1830- 142 deaths, perhaps these might have been due to a growth spurt, but in 1831- 232 deaths (and cholera was noted in the church registers). In 1832- 80, 1833- 61, 1834- 71. So we see a return to normal death rates of the early 1820’s. This may also reflect the low birth rate in 1831- just 46. Typically, the birth rate exceeds the death rate by a handful (or a couple dozen in times of plenty) in this parish.

So for the year 1831 with only 46 births and then 232 deaths meant this parish had a net drop in population of 186 in ONE year! If we assume/project from the Parish Censuses (at the top of this blog) that Biechow’s parish population was between 1800-1900 people, then in one year they lost about 10% of the people ! Perhaps half a million Europeans died during this epidemic. In many countries there were actually Cholera Riots — as people were suspicious of their governments.

For more information on epidemics or Cholera Epidemics see Wikipedia.

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