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Jul 9, 2009


They say that if you are researching your genealogy - family tree - the trick is to find someone famous in your family. once you find someone famous, the rest is a piece of cake. Famous people usually have lots of documentation, and their histories are fairly well-known, so if you connect yourself to someone famous, you have made your work easier.

I have spent many years working on my family tree. I have had ups and downs, with long periods of time that I just could not continue, and periods where I spent way too much time working on it. In all that time, and I have been able to branch my family back to the mid1700s, I have yet to find anybody famous in my tree. That means I am always working for new information. Because of the Internet I have been able to find relatives I never knew existed. Now, they often send me information about branches and connections that I did not previously have or know about.

A recently discovered relative just sent to me a bucketload of information. A lot of it I had already, though I was able to use his info to correct some of my mistakes, and some of it was new.

Going through this information over the past few days was very striking. I also checked some of my old papers to compare and found similar patterns. There are so many names of children who died young -as babies just a few days or months old, as young children, etc. That along with the scores of names of people who died in the holocaust.

Coming across these names, and putting them into my online tree on geni.com, and correcting my other information, became very difficult, seeing all these people who died so young. I had seen this phenomenon before, but never really paid attention. Now that I am comparing the new info to my old info, I am noticing it more. It became very difficult to process too much information in each sitting. i had to stop working on it after short periods of time.

What is amazing is that the info I am working on is all from Germany. the premier country in culture and medicine and sciences. Not some backwater Eastern European shtetl. Yet even in Germany mortality rates were horrible.

The advances in medicine we have gone through in the last 60-70 years, and definitely the last 150 years, are absolutely amazing in the sense that it is not nearly as common now, people are living longer, it is not quite as common for children to die at such young ages.

I thought this appropriate to post today, being today is the 17th pf Tammuz - a day of fasting and introspection on the tragedies of the Jewish people, specifically the walls of Jerusalem being breached, the Torah being burnt, the luchos being shattered, among other tragedies throughout history - communities being destroyed, etc. Looking back over the past few days at all this information in my family tree, I see that there were tragedies occurring on a regular basis - families were losing children to sickness and disease fairly regularly. Seeing the regularity of it has shown me that it was a tragedy of massive proportions. Thank God we have improved in that, and hopefully will continue to improve.


  1. I have often thought about this phenomenon myself and how previous generations related to death. I wonder if in fact, we are projecting here. Are we looking back from our relatively comfortable existence, and thinking how WE would have felt with such rampant death around us? Isn't it possible that they were in fact so used to it, that death was not so shocking and devastating to them?

    I'm reminded of the halachot in muktzeh about needing the bed on which a dead person was lying. I cannot imagine anyone today who would so calmly and in such a matter of fact way relate to the corpse of their loved one, needing the bed for some other use.

  2. interesting perspective. perhaps you are right, and they did not consider it such a tragedy. I would like to think they were alwsy upset over the death of a child, but perhaps it was common enough that they were used to it, to a certain extent, and perhaps even expected it (like miscarriage today?) in certain n umbers (1 out of every x children born, etc.)

    that gemara always made me wonder about that too. I jsut assumed it was a technical discussion and did not take the persons emotional state into account as it was not relevant to the discussion.

    Regardless though of how they looked at it, looking back it is clearly a tragedy that so many children died so young (yes, each filled a certain purpose, yada yada yadda)

  3. My father is a scientist and a historian of science. He was actually working on a book that was related to this, mostly on history of medicine. Before about 1850 or even 1920 it was normal for a family to loose more than half of the children before age 2.

    For example President Jefferson and his wife had 6 kids I think 1 made it to adulthood.

    You can credit sanitation, soap, germ theory and vaccinations for the improvements.

  4. Now if we could only do the same for taxes!


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