Genealogy and Epidemics

“Cases of ancestors disappearing from records frequently can be traced to dying during an epidemic or moving away from an affected area.”  This quote can be found on page 36 of History for Genealogists:  Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors, the revised edition with the 2016 addendum by Judy Jacobson.  I love this book.  It helps in so many areas.  But the one I am about to discuss is on epidemics.  I thought it would be pertinent considering the times we are presently experiencing.  The 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic killed 25 million people world wide. Now, this was not the first influenza epidemic, and it obviously isn’t the last, but the reason it was so deadly was the ability of the population to travel more rapidly than in the past.  Plus a large percentage of the world’s population was already on the move, due to WWI.  So knowing all this will help researchers understand why some of their family members migrated from one place to another.

Knowing these timelines helps in your research when you hit a brick wall.  Sometimes knowing the little things explain the questions.  For example, consumption victims were buried in separate cemeteries.  Plague victims were burned.  Searching for records would be difficult but knowing when major outbreaks occurred help the direction you need to look.  There were several major yellow fever outbreaks in the United States, particularly New Orleans, but also Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island.  These outbreaks determined future health and safety issues which were put in place by city governments.  It would also explain the lack of burial information if your are looking for a particular ancestor.

This is all just a tip for anyone looking for that hard to find ancestor.  Consider what was happening at the time to explain where to begin your search.  Epidemics are not the only factors which influenced your ancestors–religious and political events also played roles in migrations.  For example, one of the greatest migrations was the Irish Potato Famine of 1847-1848 which sent Irishmen from their homeland to Great Britain and the United States.  But that is another topic which will be saved for another time.