Question of the Week: What epidemics or pandemics did your ancestors experience?

+15 votes

What epidemics or pandemics did your ancestors experience?

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in The Tree House by Sarah Rojas G2G6 Mach 9 (95k points)
Queen Elizabeth I retired to Greenwich during the plague, erected a gallows and gave orders that if anyone turned up from London they would be hanged.
Wow.  I'd love to see some sources for that.

Thomas Hylle, Lord Mayor of London died 1485 of the "English Sweating Sickness". They had 3 mayors and 3 sheriffs that year. The disease caused fever, profuse sweating, headaches, and extreme shortness of breath. The good news is the disease has not been recorded again since 1551.

I meant sources on Elizabeth's profile.  As an aside, this is one example of when WikiTree's idiosyncratic naming practices don't serve us well, as her WikiTree profile didn't come up in a Google search.

Is there a source that says Elizabeth erected a gallows and ordered the hanging of anyone from London?  According to her profile, she lived from 1533 to 1603, ascending the throne in 1558.  So when did her retreat to Greenwich occur?
Sorry correction - it was Windsor Castle in 1563. The Writ of Prorogation of Parliament, dated 2 Oct 1563, from Windsor. Source - The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England, Vol IV, (1763) pg 52. Many references to erection of gallows on the net but haven't found a near reliable one yet. One possible source could be Stowe.
Thanks.  Their version of our quarantines, I guess, with penalties more severe in keeping with the times.

Just found John Stowe, pg 123:  Three Fifteenth-Century Chronicles with Historical Memoranda by John Stowe, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1880), British History Online

"This years 1563, in Septembre, the Quenes Majestie lyenge in hir castell of Wyndsore, ther was set up in ye markyt place of Wyndsore a new payre of gallows to hange up all suche as shuld come ther from London, so that no parson or eny kynde of warrs mought come or be browght from London to or thurughe, nethar by Wyndsor, not so myche as thrughe ye ryver by Wyndsor to cary wood or othar stuffe to or from London upon payne of hangynge with owt eny judgment, and suche people as reseyvyd eny wares out of London in to Wyndsor were turnyd owt of theyr howsys and theyr howssys shut up."

Yes very effective …….she survived.

One of my great-aunts died of Yellow Fever in 1880 in Toledo. One great uncle had it but survived. An aunt and uncle both died of measles on the same day when they were pre-school age. I think one was three and the other was five.

My interest is a Lane family living in the coastal regions of North Carolina from 1720-1800.  This area was very marshy with lots of stagnant water...a great breeding ground for mosquitos. I am sure that malaria was very common.  See  Curiously most of the original Lane men who arrived in NC from VA lived long lives (69-87 yrs). One son, John b. 1720, son of John Lane (1698-1776) and Mary Unknown died at age 46.  Cause unknown. He died less than 2 months after he wrote his will. 

Of course, malaria was endemic, but it reminds us that earlier times were much more precarious.

Betsy, that is interesting.  As I mentioned above, when I was a child in the 1950s, it seemed that everyone around me sooner or later got the measles and chickenpox.  I don't recall ever hearing of anyone in my school or neighborhood dying of them, or even suffering lasting damage.  I imagine that in earlier times, some people's vulnerability was increased by relatively poorer nutrition and living conditions.

Your post reminded me that I do have some relatives (not direct ancestors) who died of disease while serving in the Army during the Civil War, and I recall that in one case the cause was measles, or measles combined with dysentery, but I can't seem to find him in my tree right now.

There is an interesting table of the mortality rates of various diseases on Wikipedia.  

41 Answers

+5 votes

My family was very fortunate during the 1918 Pandemic.  All of my grandparents were teenagers and survived as well as their parents and most of the GG Grandparents.  Two GG Grandmothers (Sarah Henderson and Elizabeth "Betty" Truslow) may have died of the flu, but I haven't been able to get copies of their death certificates to be sure.

by Dorothy O'Hare G2G6 Mach 1 (15.7k points)
+4 votes

My ancestor John Aldridge and his brother James died of cholera in Gerrard County, Kentucky during the epidemic the summer of 1833.

by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (373k points)
+6 votes
In 1946 when I was 13 years old my parents, brothers and sister were all in bed with the flu.  I was looking after them and trying to keep the coal furnace running.  Before my older sister took sick we had gone to a neighbours to have him do the chores for my father, a dairy farmer.  We lived a couple of miles outside the nearest town but some how the Salvation Army heard about us and sent some one to see if we needed help.  He was assured that we were OK.  I don't remember how prevelant the flu was in the area.
Seems to me your family  wasn't OK when the Salvation Army sent someone to check on you......  fortunately,  it sounds like you all survived.    Definitely a memorable story.
+5 votes

Marguerite Labossiere and Augustin Duhamel had 12 children; five boys and seven girls. Sadly, they had seven die young or as infants, including three of their teen age children who died within 9 days in August 1832, apparently from cholera.

See the profiles of several children. These are their 2nd. 3rd. and 4th. children. Judith, Jean Moise and Olivier.

Jim LaBossiere

by Jim LaBossiere G2G6 Mach 1 (17.8k points)
+5 votes
Here in New Zealand, people remember being quarantined in the 1940's during the polio outbreak where they couldn't leave theirprop erty. NZ is in total lockdown now for a month.
by Denise Hunt G2G Crew (900 points)
Circa 1960, I was about 6 years old when the polio vaccine  (I think it was actually sugar cubes)  was available in my area.  It was a game changer...... people my age in the U.S.  still have severe walking limitations from having polio as a child.
+5 votes
I'm old enough to have lived through and remember the polio epidemic in the early 1950's. The entire neighborhood was quarantined. No children went to school. Each day, a woman (mother or grandmother) from the neighborhood would stand outside each house and get a list of what was needed from the corner grocery story. I remember seeing an ambulance taking a neighbor boy to Children's Hospital. My Uncle Wally, who was about 24 years old got polio and had to walk with crutches for the rest of his life. My mum spent each day hovering and worrying that one of the three of us would get polio. I was about 6, my sister 5 and my brother 3-years-old.

We survived polio, but about two years later, we all got measles, mumps and chicken pox within a 2 year time frame. Anyone who thinks that immunizations are bad should talk with adults who lived through these times when there were no immunizations and children died from the diseases, or young men who got mumps became sterile.
by Carol Baldwin G2G6 Pilot (195k points)
I'm with you on the immunizations.   I get every shot my health insurance will cover!

When I was about 6 years old I got chicken pox.   My aunt brought my two cousins over to the house so they could be exposed to the virus,  because getting it as a child was preferred.   Can't understand today's world where some won't take advantage of a vaccine.
I fully agree on the issue of immunisations. In 1955 (or there abouts) all of us school pupils throughout New Zealand were given the BCG innoculation at school. No if's, or buts. Within a couple of years, TB was eliminated in New Zealand. There has been a small outbreak recently especially in Auckland where the disease was reintroduced by immigrants from the Paific Islands who were not innoculated previously.
+7 votes
My great aunt, Ruby Alice Hannaford-346 had just graduated from nursing school in 1917 in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She began taking care of flu patients and succumbed to the disease herself.  She was buried in her full nurses uniform.
by Elaine Goodner G2G2 (2.1k points)
+7 votes

Chicago saw a terrible outbreak of TB in the early part of the 20th Century. My Warnke family (15 children) had huge losses. 11 children and both parents died from the disease between 1898 and 1906. Warnke Family Gravesite. Concordia Cemetery

Then in the 1940's polio struck my dad's family on the Northside of Chicago. My Uncle Mike contracted it his freshman year of high school. He had just been recruited to the Notre Dame High School football team and spent a year in the hospital. He was forever grateful to the coaching staff and teammates as they practised in the field outside his hospital room, calling up plays and encouragement to him. Decades later he recalled their kindness and how it sustained him in his darkest days. Notre Dame Catholic High School in Chicago.

How I wish he and my Dad were alive today to share perspectives on this latest pandemic!

In the 1960's my 8 siblings and I were infected with chicken pox, measles (all of us), Scarlett fever (some) and the German Measles (some) 

With the chicken pox Mom and Dad would stand us 3 at a time in the bathtub and paint us with Calamine lotion using paint brushes. 3 would climb out and stand next to the radiator to dry and 3 more would go in to be painted...

I think we had the flu yearly. My Mom was at her best caring for the sick kids, her parents and in-laws. She was a psych nurse in a VA Hospital when she met my Dad.

by Beth Walsh G2G1 (1k points)
+5 votes

Mystery: Multiple deaths in family of Mitchel H. Maupin.

Something devastating happened to this Maupin family in 1870. Mitchell's death occurred before the census of 1870, Then 5 of their 6 youngest children are reported as dying in that year, after the census. And it is stated that his wife, Sarah, passed away "after1870."

No cause is documented.  But the way the deaths occur in a close time-frame, but staggered, suggests disease.

by Bartley McRorie G2G6 Mach 1 (11.2k points)
+3 votes
Growing up, I would listen to stories from my grandmother b. 1900. Estelle MacDonald Flamer was graduated from Mary Magdelene College of Nursing in Pittsburgh in time to join the Army and was serving during 1918. She told me the story of a doctor who showed up for work in the morning, apparently fine; was in bed by noon; and died by evening. She so bemoaned the lack of aspirin for bring fevers down.
by Judy Bramlage G2G6 Mach 9 (94.2k points)
edited by Judy Bramlage
If she was born in 1800, she would have been 118 in 1918.  Is that a typo?
YES. I got her birthdate wrong.  She was 18 but only lived to 88. Her grandmother, on the other hand, lived to 105 but lost all her sons to the epidemic. They were steel mill workers and had no stamina
+4 votes
My adoptive paternal grandfather joined the Army in late September 1918 and was sent to Camp Forrest in Georgia. The flu was rampant there, and he caught it. It was bad. The Armistice was signed on November 11, so he never went overseas. He spent nearly his entire enlistment in the Army Hospital. One of the most dangerous side effects of that particular flu was heart problems. My grandfather returned home to Minnesota, met, then married my grandmother in 1924. My father was born in 1927. The on June 2, 1929, the day before my father's second birthday, and when my grandmother was pregnant with my aunt, my grandfather died of a massive heart attack, brought on by complications of that flu. He was 32 years old. My grandmother was 28. If not for those few short weeks my grandfather spent in an Army Hospital at the end of World War I, my dad would have grown up with his father. My grandmother never remarried.
by D Kenney G2G6 (8.9k points)
+3 votes
My great-grandmother, Johanna Maki (Pikkarainen-30), died of the Spanish flu on 5 January 1919 in northern Michigan, four days after giving birth to her fifth child. The other four children were ages 7, 5, 4, and 2, and their father must have been overwhelmed with grief and with the prospect of having to raise this brood alone. The newborn Mathias was given to another family. (I believe it was a family who also had a baby.) Perhaps the mother of that family tried to keep both babies fed. Unfortunately, baby Mathias died at the age of two months of severe malnutrition.
by Lisa Andrews G2G Rookie (290 points)
+2 votes
In my family tree, one family stood out in mute testimony to a terrible and fatal epidemic.  Joseph Sargeant (1690-1760) and his wife Hannah Bucknam (1694-1782) had a large family, and made their home in Malden, Massachusetts.  In 1738, all of the three children living in the household who were under 10 years of age died between Aug. 21 and Sept. 1.  With a little research on the internet, I discovered that there was an epidemic of "Throat Distemper" (now known as diptheria) in New England from 1735-1740 that no doubt caused their deaths (Wikipedia states that more than 75% of the victims of this epidemic were children.).  Another older daughter in this family died in 1741 shortly after her 15th birthday.  This daughter may have been a late victim of the diptheria epidemic, or her death could be completely unrelated to it.  Find-a-Grave has an illegible picture of her tombstone, but I doubt it would offer any clues to her cause of death even if it was a clear picture.  David Sargeant, an older son, survived the epidemic and went on to become my 6th GGF.
+1 vote
I found an entire family that was devastated by the Flu in 1918. It was awful.
+1 vote
My great grandmother Annie Cronk died from the Spanish Flu, she was 48 years old. January 6 1919. I wish I had been able to meet her.

Please everyone stay healthy at home.

Rest in Peace Annie.
by Julie Donovan G2G3 (3k points)
+2 votes
My parents went through the polio pandemic in Australia while they were school aged. They were not allowed out of their backyards or house for almost 5 months. My nana almost went beserk with four litttle girls at home. Luckily they lived on the old quarter acre block in Mentone(now the area is called Parkdale) and so had lots of room to play. My mum said they thought it was great fun to be off school though she felt sorry for her neighbour as he was an only child and had no-one to play with. They used to use tin cans with string attached to them to communicate with him over the fence
by Jan McMinn G2G Crew (970 points)
+1 vote
When I was turning six years old, I awoke on Saturday morning, the day of my birthday party, and my mother said "Oh, my God'' and starting dialing all the neighbors, canceling the party.  I cried (probably for hours?), because I felt just fine and didn't understand why being covered with 'spots' (ie. measles) made a difference.  I also had chickenpox and mumps at some point.  My brother got mumps more than once, left side, right side!!  He also got scarlet fever, but I didn't catch that one.  

My son got chickenpox, which spread through his part time preschool and his daycare (the day care Mom was actually glad, so her son would get it too, before starting school)  Don't know where he caught it as he seemed to be case 1 at preschool.  His sister had a much worse case a few weeks later.

I also got the Hong Kong Flu in 1969 and was confined to the infirmary with 5 other people and the nurse wouldn't let us play cards on the hospital table that we put between adjacent beds because we were contagious.  Hello, we all had the same thing who were we going to contaminate?  The infirmary soon ran out of beds, as more and more people got sick.

Just the other day I sourced an ancestor, Burnham-2161 and found 4 of their 7 children sadly died within a few months of each other of 'throat distemper' in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1738.

My gg aunt died in 1892 of cholera, and on the page of recorded deaths for that city  just from July 5 - 26 there are 17 other children who also died of cholera, and more on the previous page and next for the subsequent dates.

And I have seen plenty of profiles of early NE ancestors or their children dying of smallpox. whooping cough, etc.  Just can't remember which ones.
by Chris Hoyt G2G6 Pilot (649k points)
+1 vote
From 1834 to 1837 smallpox killed an estimated 25% of the Ho-Chunk people (aka Winnebago) in the Wisconsin area. There was some suspicion that the disease was transmitted to the people by Europeans giving them infected blankets.These were ancestors on my mother's side.
by Sue Otness G2G Rookie (230 points)
edited by Sue Otness
+1 vote

My husband's great-grandparents suffered the loss of 6 of their 13 children from November 1900 - April 1901 during a Scarlet Fever epidemic in their region of New York State.

"Scarlet fever has caused three deaths in the family of Joseph Lunkenheimer, of Henrietta, in the past two weeks. The mother and four other children are now ill with the disease." (Dec. 19, 1900, The Le Roy Gazette)

They (the family) said, "We would bury one child and return home to find another child dead."

by Claudia Bradley G2G2 (2.3k points)
+1 vote
My paternal grandfather died 4 Jan 1921 of the flu in NYC.  The Spanish flu period was Jan 1918 to Dec 1920.  Reports of 17 million to 50 million deaths with 500 million infected.  Make that 50 million and 1 - and the survivors rebuilt.  It will be no different now.
ago by Tony McKeon G2G Crew (590 points)

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