Gene Notes

Some random and some not-so-random thoughts on family history.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Blame it on the Flu

Have you hit some stumbling blocks in your family research, say between 1910 and 1920. You have that family on the 1910 census but by 1920 they are gone. Or maybe you find a child who was 10 in 1910 and in 1920 you have a 19-21 year old that could fit, but the rest of the family is nowhere to be found.

Consider the influenza epidemic of 1918. Hubby and I watched an interesting PBS special - circa 1998 - about the great influenza epidemic of 1918.  I knew that it was towards the end of 1918, but had no idea it started in September, in October it had reached its zenith and by the time of the Armistice it had burned itself out.

Estimates are that 30 million people worldwide died from this epidemic. The shocking statistic is that from October 1st through October 31st 1918, 550,000 people died in the United States alone. The other shocking statistic is that this virulent disease wiped out the people it generally skips, the young and healthy.

Even though it bears the moniker of Spanish Influenza, it started at an army base in Kansas. Army bases being crowded during war time, it spread rapidly.  On September 12, 1918, the last major draft was called. These men were stuck in crowded conditions in public halls awaiting draft registration. These were the carriers and victims of this deadly disease.

If you are lucky enough to be able to get access to death records from 1918, scan the months of September through November.

Check newspapers for lists of dead for those months. Maybe you have a relative with a badly misspelled name in a report.

PS - I found a link to The American Experience - Influenza 1918 online at PBS.  You can view the program by clicking here and following the link.

Copyright 2010, ACK Gene Notes


  1. I didn't realize it started in Kansas. My great-grandfather was at Ft Riley and my grandmother said he was assigned to carry many of the dead out of a medical facility. After his service in the military, he wouldn't ever go to a funeral.

  2. Tracy, yeah, I was surprised too. I don't remember the Army base, but the show was on The American Experience on PBS. I am inserting the link in the original blog, it can be watched online.