Prospect Hill Cemetery
Our Nation's Capital's Historic German-American Cemetery
Established 1858
19th Century Death Records of Prospect Hill Cemetery

The city of Washington began recording deaths in 1855. During the first years information was sporadic, often incomplete. Then the Civil War began. The city could no longer keep up with the many deaths that were occurring, so it stopped recording deaths from 1861 through 1865. After the war, record-keeping began again, and for several years improvement was made in completeness of death certificates.

When the smallpox epidemics hit in 1872 and 1873, once again it became difficult to keep complete records. It was not until around 1874 that death certificates carried complete information to the extent that it was available.

The original burial records of Prospect Hill Cemetery from 1859 through 1885 contain only the following information: either name or an entry indicating relationship to head of household ("wife of …;" "child of …"; etc.); date buried; location of gravesite in cemetery; and lot owner. It may or may not have been a coincidence that complete records began when the cemetery hired its first superintendent. In the past several years volunteers have been researching these early deaths, and in many cases some of the missing information has been found and is now recorded.

The medical hardships of the second half of the 19th century is exhibited in the fact that at Prospect Hill from 1859 through 1899 half of all burials were children.

Medical Terms
In many cases the cause of death listed on a 19th century death certificate is not one that we are familiar with today.
Some of these terms include:
Anasarca—edema; accumulation of serum in subcutaneous connective tissue
Apoplexy—cerebrovascular accident, stroke
Ascites—excess serous fluid in peritoneal cavity
Asthenia—abnormal loss of strength resulting in debility, feebleness, frailness, infirmity
Atelectasis—incomplete expansion of lungs
Bilious fever—intestinal or malarial fever; typhoid, hepatitis
Brain fever—encephalitis, typhus
Brain inflammation—meningitis (usually)
Bright's disease—kidney disease
Cachexia—malnutrition, severe weakness
Carbuncle—deep-seated infection that spreads and is hard to clear up
Catarrh—inflammation of the nose and throat with increased production of mucus
Cerebritis—encephalitis; lead poisoning
Childbed fever—often fatal blood poisoning resulting from childbirth or abortion
Cholera—acute infection disease, often fatal. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, leading to dehydration.
Cholera infantum--often fatal form of gastroenteritis occurring in young children, particularly during warm weather; symptoms include fever, diarrhea, vomiting and fever, often followed by shock and death.
Colica—infection with abdominal symptoms
Congestion of brain—hydrocephalus
Congestion of lungs—pulmonary edema
Congestive chills—malaria with diarrhea
Congestive fever—malaria
Coup de soleil—sunstroke
Dentition—teething; death believed to be cause by mismedication, or at times cutting the gum to allow tooth to emerge
Dropsy—edema; excessive fluid accumulation in body
Edema—excessive accumulation of fluid
Enteric fever—typhoid fever
Erysipelas—acute infectious disease with dark red inflammation of the skin
Hemoptysis—the coughing up of blood, usually from severe infection of bronchi or lungs
Intermittent fever—malaria; a fever that recurs
La grippe—influenza
Marasmus—extreme malnutrition, emaciation
Pernicious Fever—a form of malaria
Phthisis pulmonalis—pulmonary tuberculosis
Puerperal Fever—often fatal blood poisoning in a woman who has just given birth or had an abortion
Pulmonary apoplexy—escape of blood into air-cells and interstitial tissue of lung
Remittent Fever—a form of malaria
Sciatica—pain down a leg caused by irritation of sciatic nerve
Scrofula—tuberculosis of lymph nodes, especially in the neck
Softening of brain—stroke; apoplexy
Summer complaint—diarrhea; heat exhaustion
Tabes mesenterica—infection with abdominal symptoms
Trismus nascentium—spasm of jaw in newborn child; tetanus
Trismus—spasm of jaw; tetanus
White swelling—tubercular enlargement of joint or other body part without heat and redness

Other Terms Found in PHC Records
With the passing of information from a German-speaking family to an English-speaking doctor or city official and then from the city back to the German-speaking cemetery, at times unusual causes of death were recorded, such as these medical conditions from our records:
Absent of brain
Acute alcoholic drowning
Acute chronic exhaustion
Antic hemoris
Arctic regurgitation
Cerebro spiral
Chronic upritis
Coronary conclusion
Cupullary bundatis
Disease of the gall bladder
Hypertrophy of Lion
Out and out expiration
Passive congestion of brain
Pastural hypertension
Senile decay
Supposed to be poisoned
Volvular acces of head