Illness and untimely deaths

Disease and sickness were rife amongst people forced by economic circumstances to live in poorly drained slums with limited sanitary facilities. Medical care was also expensive and unattainable for many before the late 19th century.

High infant mortality may be an indicator that a family lived in unsanitary conditions, so keep a watch out for the deaths of any children that disappear between census returns.

If the family had an unusual surname it’s worth running a search for all deaths under that name at and ordering the certificates from, since some children were born and died without appearing on a census. A selection of children’s hospital records are online at

Towards the end of the Victorian period most workhouses had infirmaries attached where poor sick people could be admitted. The Hospital Records Database is a handy finding aid for historical hospital records.

Many people could not afford a headstone for loved ones who died, and so they were buried in a communal paupers’ grave. Although the plot is unmarked, the cemetery should still be able to provide an indication of where the grave was and a record of all the people interred. The best bet is to contact the cemetery directly.

The Cemetery Lookup service at is useful for establishing the names of cemeteries in a particular area.

Slum living
previous Step
Family breakdown
next Step
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here