zondag 21 oktober 2012

(4) A harsh time

Jacques Beaugeois and Marie Francoise Rambure gave birth to six children.

It was a harsh time, fatal disease*, bacteria and the lack of reliable food source was quite prevalent, and infant mortality rates were extremely high. Young children were not expected to live very long. In the 18th Century France, for instance, between 20 and 50 percent of all infants died** within the first year after birth. 

*Smallpox was 'endemic' throughout Europe – meaning it was a constant presence. When the virus reached a dense population with low immunity, it became 'epidemic', and a major outbreak occurred. Epidemics were cyclical; with each passing generation, as immunity levels dropped, epidemics recurred. Four hundred thousand people died each year from smallpox in Europe during the 18th century.

**Nowadays the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births in the same year is 3,37 deaths.

Families of the 1600’s and 1700’s may have valued children for their role in inheritance,  but children clearly didn't elicit the same kind of sentiment that they elicit from adults today. People commonly believed, therefore, that if they wanted only a few children, they should have many more in order to "hedge their bets". Parents couldn't allow themselves to get too emotionally attached to something that was seen as a probable loss. 

Some even referred to their infant as "it" until the child reached an age at which survival was likely. At that time, the death of a baby was probably not the emotional tragedy that it is today. When an infant died he or she was likely to be buried almost anywhere on the premises, like a pet cat or dog. Even the dead children of the rich were sometimes treated as paupers, their bodies sewn into sacks and thrown into common graves.

Four of their six children died after birth within the first year. One child reached the age of 5. Only one child, Jacques Bernadin Beaugeois  born 1712 May 20th,  survived and played an important role in the inheritance and offspring.

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