Moderpassion as a cause of death
In the old days, when women gave birth to as many children as their marriage history and their health allowed, with only the aid of neighbouring women or a local midwife, it is no wonder that "sufferings of the womb" would be a a fairly common cause of death among those who did not die in childbirth or childbed fever. In the death record this might be entered by the vicar as moderpassion, modersjuka or moderkolik.
The word moder in Swedish means mother; the Swedish word for the uterus is livmoder (mother of life). In older language moder could be used synonymously with livmoder. Passion is suffering, sjuka is illness and kolik is attacks of severe pain. The terminology used for causes of death in older death records describes symptoms rather than underlying causes, so any term may cover quite different pathologies.
Unfortunately medical science since Hippocrates has linked the uterus to a wide range of psychological and psychosomatic ailments under the name of hysteria. This linkage of moderpassion to hysteria is repeated in many of the texts about obsolete Swedish terms for causes of death, which seems quite insulting to all the rural women dying in the consequences of too many childbirths (or other physical afflictions of the female reproductive system)
A case study from Skinnskatteberg
The death records for Skinnskatteberg parish from 1721 to 1774 are a goldmine for the genealogist. They contain informative obituaries for most of the deceased (on a few occasions the vicar has forgotten to fill in the empty space he meant to get back to), recapitulating their births, marriages and number of sons and daughters, concluding with a statement about the manner of their death.
Browsing the second book, F 2, from the beginning and ten years on (=1756-1765), we find the following women dead from moderpassion (page numbers are from ArkivDigital, SVAR uses even numbers).
Sara Carlsdotter (1690-1756)
p.9, #53: 66 years, 7 months, 17 days. Married when she was 30, 7 children (1 son, 6 daughters), survived by 2 daughters. Ill from moderpassion 15 September, died on the 17th.
Anna Persdotter (1700-1756)
p.11, #62: 56 years, 3 months, 22 days. Married when she was 27, 7 children (3 sons, 4 daughters), survived by 2 sons ans 3 daughters. Was afflicted by moderpassion since 24 September, bedridden from 8 days after Michaeli, died 12 December.
Anna Larsdotter (1684-1756)
p.11, #64: 72 years, 5 months, 7 days. Married at the age of 27, had 11 children (2 sons, 9 daughters), survived by one son and one daughter. Afflicted with moderpassion since a difficult childbirth 19 years ago. Was bedridden for 7 years, then well for 3 years, finally bedridden again for the last 9 years. The last four daughters seem to have been stillborn and not entered in the death records.
Maria Thomasdotter (1688-1757)
p.15, # 23: 69 years, 1 month, 6 days. Married at the age of 20, 13 children (6 sons, 7 daughters), survived by 4 sons and 4 daughters. Was sickly all winter with moderpassion, took to her bed 10 April, died on the 12th.
Karin Jacobsdotter (1725-1757)
p.15, #31: 32 years, 3 months, 14 days. Married at the age of 20, had 5 children (3 sons, 2 daughters) survived by 2 sons and 1 daughter. In the sickbed with moderpassion since Jan 6, died 14 July.
Kerstin Larsdotter (1716-1758)
p. 23, #22: 41 1/2 years 14 days. Married at an age of 24 years, had 9 children (4 sons, 5 daughters), survived by 2 sons and 3 daughters. Was severely ailing for 1 1/2 years from moderpassion, bedridden since Michaeli (29 Sept), died 3 April.
Anna Andersdotter (1703-1761)
p. 51, #42: 58 years, 3 months, 3 weeks. Married at an age of 23 years, had 7 children (5 sons, 2 daughters) all surviving her. For almost a year ailing with Moderpasssion, died 6 December.
Beata Gråberg (1699-1762)
p. 55, #15: 62 1/2 years. Married at the age of 18, had 15 children, survived by 2 sons and 2 daughters. Complained about chest pains for some time, died of moderpassion 20 March.
Kerstin Andersdotter (1700-1762)
p. 59. #51: 62 1/2 years. Married at the age of 20 years, had 2 sons and 1 daughter, survived by one son and one daughter. Died from moderpassion 18 October.
Kerstin Andersdotter (1616-1763)
p. 75, #98: 53 years less 7 weeks. Married at the age of 12 (if we are to believe the dates), had 7 children (6sons, 1 daughter), survived by 2 sons and 1 daughter. Has been ailing for 8 years, bedridden at times from moderpassion. Died 1 November.
Kerstin Olofsdotter (1700-1764)
p. 77, #5: 63 years 3 months. Married at an age of 22 years, had 8 children (3 sons, 5 daughters) survived by 3 sons and 4 daughters. She died 7 February after being bedridden for 12 weeks with moderpassion and blodstörtning - the latter is usually assumed to mean a lung bleeding, but may in this context be a bleeding from the womb.
Brita Larsdotter (1703-1764)
p. 79, #20: 61 years 4 months 10 days. Married twice, the first time when she was 33 years. Had one son and one daughter, not surviving her. Died in moderpassion 20 July 1764.
Karin Larsdotter (1707-1764)
p. 83, #49: 57 years 8 months 23 days. Married at an age of 26 years, had 2 sons and 4 daughters, survived by one son and three daughters. Ailing from moderpassion since the death of her husband in 1755, finally bedridden with håll och styng (pneumonia). Died 29 November.
It turns out that Moderpassion of one kind or another is a lot more frequent in the studied record than deaths directly connected with childbirth.
The dominant cause of death among adults is håll och sting - usually interpreted as pneumonia, but could probably be any severe respiratory infection that does not have the symptoms of TBC. The elderly often die of ålderdomsbräcklighet.
- ↑ Moder in Svenska Akademins Ordbok
- ↑ Hysteria in Wikipedia
- ↑ These obits are in volume F 1 and F 2 of the Skinnskatteberg church records: Skinnskatteberg death records at SVAR
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