Why did all these children die in Maia in 1861?

Why did all these children die in Maia in 1861?

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I’m working through the Obitos (death records) for the village of Maia, Ribeira Grande, Sao Miguel Island, Azores.  Sometimes death records can be depressing.  They also present questions that can’t really be answered unless someone has written a history of the area.

Case in point, I am working on the 1860s.  In 1860, there were only 10 pages of records–23 death total.  Then, in 1861, there 29 pages–112 deaths total.  The following year there are only 14 pages of death records–45 deaths total.  After that year, there are never more than 19 pages of records.

What really struck me was in 1861 the majority of people who died were children.  And, most of them under the age of 5.  I would say 85-90% of the records were for children.  Some families lost more than one child.

What happened that year that saw such a spike in child mortality?  Was there an epidemic?  Perhaps it was a flu strain that hit children the hardest.

The records in this era don’t include a cause of death, so there’s no way to know for use.  But, it is clear from the amount of records that something happened that year.  It would be interesting to see if other villages also experienced a spike.  For now, I am only left wondering what happened in Maia in 1861.

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