10 October 2006

Epidemics and lost branches

Why do individuals and entire family branches suddenly disappear?

Dick Eastman has provided researchers with some fascinating information on epidemics.

The rampant spread of disease was common in the days before penicillin and other "wonder drugs" of the twentieth century. Our ancestors lived in fear of epidemics, and many of them died as the result of simple diseases that could be cured today with an injection or a prescription.

If you ever wondered why a large number of your ancestors disappeared during a certain period in history, you may want to investigate the possibility of an epidemic. Many cases of people disappearing from records can be traced to dying during an epidemic or moving away from the affected area.

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I first became aware of the genealogical impact of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19 when searching for family in Philadelphia a few years ago and I posted about the possibilities to JewishGen.

According to experts, Philadelphia was one of the hardest-hit cities. On one day, some 10,000 individuals died. The story goes that city services were so overwhelmed that individual graves could not be dug and victims were buried together.

Earlier worldwide flu epidemics took place in 1775-6 and again in 1857-9.

Dick's story, on his newsletter's Plus Edition (subscription required) provides dates and locations of worldwide and U.S. major epidemics, such as flu, cholera, yellow fever and typhus.

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