Periodically we will post reviews of books we feel provide information to help us genealogists pull our family histories together. Many times these books can provide the historical context which will help you better understand the time in which your ancestor(s) lived. This first book review post is for The Great Influenza, The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry.
If you found a family member in the 1910 census and just could not locate him or her in 1920 maybe it’s because that family member was a casualty of the 1918 influenza epidemic. This was a human tragedy that occurred worldwide and thousands of people in the U.S. died from the influenza virus. My maternal grandfather’s first wife died during the epidemic.
This book is somewhat heavy on all of the details of the scientists who researched the virus, describing the virus and how it mutates (fascinating!), the actual experiments the scientists undertook and the many populations decimated by the virus. So, you may find yourself skipping over some of the material. But, I’m glad I didn’t because I discovered what for me were unknown facts that could be useful for some genealogists who are searching for their African American family members as follows:
1) Pg. 182 in which the author describes the American troops who disembarked at Brest, France. Barry quotes the New York Times reporting on “A considerable number of American Negroes, who have gone to France on horse transport, have contracted Spanish influenza on shore and died in French hospitals of pneumonia.” So, if you have a family member who went to France around1918 he may have been one of these casualties.
2) Check with the Public Health Commission of the state where you suspect your family member resided as on pg. 337 wherein the author discusses the Illinois Public Health Commission and records it kept on deaths.
3) Pg. 406 where Barry discusses that in January 1919 the surgeons general of the Army, the Navy and the Public Health Service joined with the Census Bureau to form an influenza committee that grew into a permanent statistical office. This could be a valuable resource to locate a family member who succumbed to the virus at that time.
We at CreoleGen think this work of John Barry could hold some valuable clues for family researchers who might have hit a 1920 brick wall.