Saturday, October 27, 2007


While I sit here nursing a cold that started on Thursday, I was looking back through my family history and asked myself this question: were any of my ancestors affected by some of the great pandemics of the 20th century? These would include the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918/1919, the panic surrounding Polio in the 1950s and the AIDS crisis which began in the 1980s and still plagues us to this day.

After reviewing the data I have in hand, I have to say my family has been very fortunate. I can find no victims or people affected by these pandemics in my database of over 6,000 people. Of course, this doesn't mean there haven't been sufferers of these diseases in my family. With some maladies, especially AIDS, there is a stigma attached to the diagnosis. So very often the death certificate will read pneumonia or some other cause of death which can be directly attributed to AIDS.

This topic also got me to thinking about medical advances and the way we treat certain diseases and medical problems. One example: I had an accident back in 2001 where I fell and severed my quadricep tendon. It was actually worse than it sounds - the doctors had to put two holes in the knee and thread the tendon back through. The quadricep keeps the bottom part of the leg below the knee attached to the thigh. I will spare you the photos from the surgery.

I know that if this had happened 100 years ago, I basically would have been bed-ridden. And if there was a surgical attempt at fixing this, there were no anti-biotics to combat infection. I consider myself very lucky to live in a time where this and other medical issues can be dealt with.

One medical mystery that I am trying to deal with, and I'd love to hear from readers, concerns my great-great grandmother Bridget Farren McGinnes. I posted her picture from about 1900 in a previous post. I've come cross a photo that I date to approximately 20 years later, 1920, given the age of the young girl, Evelyn Mehl who was born in 1913. In the photo, Bridget Farren McGinnes is shown with what appears to be heavy bruising over and around her right eye. I don't think this is temporary since I can see it in later photos as well - photos from 1923 and 1925. It can't be a birth mark since it would have appeared in the 1900 photo. I am wondering if it is a burn or a result of something such as Bell's Palsy or another neurological disease?


Apple said...

Surprisingly, I haven't found anyone in my family that died from the Flu in 1918-1919. I do however have some others. David & Leatis Carlisle lost at least 4 and possibly five of their eight children to a measle epidemic in the spring of 1740. Between Oct1798 and May1799 a "fever" claimed the lives of six of Gamaliel & Tabitha Glover's family and the couple also died leaving their other six children orphans. My great-grandfather and one of his daughters both died on the same day in 1903. I've wondered if it was disease or some type of accident.

Some of the medical advances that have taken place just in my lifetime are amazing!

Jasia said...

My great grandparents lost 2 children within a couple weeks of each other to Scarlet Fever. That would have been back in the late 1800s. Like Apple, I'm surprised that I haven't found any family members who died in the Flu epidemic 1918/1919.

Interesting article!