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Demographic Aspects of the Early Modern Times

The Example of the Zurich Countryside in a European Perspective


Walter Letsch

The study deals predominantly with basic questions of Historical Demography that have so far not yet been tackled, as no adequate sources seemed to exist, or the effort for digging into these problems seemed outrageous. Many major gaps are filled in this study, based on two types of sources: 14 census-like nominal population listings for 126 parishes of the Zurich countryside, complemented by 52 parishes of adjacent areas, and four reconstituted communities with very early parish books. This allowed coming up with detailed population structures by year of age, sex and marital status for the year 1634, with regional variations. Full, detailed mortality tables by sex and for all ages could be calculated for the period 1634–37, by far the earliest mortality tables worldwide. Mortality during plague epidemics was analysed in detail, too, resulting in the first and only plague mortality table. Model life tables are presented as well, showing a pattern that differs strongly from what has been assumed so far. New insights could also be gained about premarital sex and the importance of remarriages.

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2. Demographic Sources


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2.   Demographic Sources

2.1   Parish Registers

2.1.1   Earliest Parish Registers in Europe

The following is meant to give a short summary of the development and the contents of the early parish registers in Europe, in view of assessing the importance of the Zurich parish registers. In the Territory of Zurich, parish registers have been implemented shortly after the Reformation in 1526. Compared to other areas of Europe, this is relatively early. The earliest European parish registers are assumed to be those of Givry in Burgundy,1 dating from 1334, but it seems that they have never been published.2 Allegedly, there are even older parish registers in Arezzo, Italy, with baptisms going back to 1314 and funerals as from 1373. In 21 Italian cities, baptisms have started to be regularly registered before 1500.3 So, e.g., the registers of Siena start with baptisms in 1381, while those of Florence start with funerals in 1398.4 In the second half of the sixteenth century, baptismal records become much more common in Italy, while records on marriages and deaths are lagging behind.5 Except for the special case of Givry, the earliest French parish registers are those of the diocese of Nantes, where the parish of Savigny kept registers as from 1464,6 while two registers of the city of Angers, Anjou province, start in the years 1489 and 1497.7 The earliest German registers are those of Annaberg (Erzgebirge / Ore Mountains) of 1498, followed by...

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