Researching those who died and recording their existence is a form of paying respect; by ‘naming’ them genealogists complete a cultural ritual that is evident worldwide.
High mortality rates for infants, young children and women after childbirth were the norm in an era before the development of disease control (vaccination) and the advent of new drugs. We have to view our ancestors through the eyes of their eras – which means accepting high mortality rates as a norm and not as ‘shocking’. Even in the first decades of the 1800’s when on these islands the State began to become involved in welfare (PLU’s, Dispensary Districts, etc), understanding of disease, hygiene, etc., was minimal.
Mortality rates were linked to occupation, social class and the urban/rural divide. In 1842 Edwin Chadwick
published his 'Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain' showing that life expectancy in the country was much higher than in the cities.
But epidemics like TB (phthisis),cholera, typhoid) and crises e.g. peritonitis (burst appendix) hit everyone. Rich as well as poor died from causes that today could be cured by a pill. For example, Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of Winston, in 1921 slipped when wearing new shoes and broke her ankle. Gangrene set in so her leg was amputated but medical difficulties persisted and she was dead with a fortnight. An antibiotic pill or cream, common two decades later, would have saved her life.
In England, smallpox vaccination was in use in the early 1700’s (long before Jenner who is credited with its ‘discovery’ in the late 1700’s). Supposedly it was first introduced to England by Lady Wortley Montagu in about 1720. She had encountered it in Turkey where her husband was ambassador. There were heavy pro and anti campaigns, one bishop stating that it was against the ‘will of God’ Caroline, Princess of Wales in 1722 had her children vaccinated but only after it was tried on six orphans and on six condemned criminals, who if they should survive be granted freedom. All patients survived and the condemned walked free.
Smallpox vaccination was made compulsory in the UK in 1853 and in Ireland in 1863 when it was linked to the registration of births. Parents and guardians were made responsible to ensure vaccination took place within six months of birth and were liable to be prosecuted if they could not prove compliance. See a record here