Ancestry and the Pandemic
As we struggle to adapt to the new normal. We are often reminded about the Pandemic of 1918. The experts are trying to look backwards to see what we can learn from the one that struck over a hundred years ago. As a genealogist it is difficult to not want to research how one’s own ancestors handled the pandemic.
So, I am doing just that.
I decided to see if I could find someone who died near that time and found my second great grandmother Timotheus Jane Bailey Sublett. After a little further looking I found her death certificate. It said what I had suspected. By examining the record, I discovered Timotheus Jane Bailey Sublett died of Bronchial Pneumonia. The contributing factor was the Spanish Flu.
I decided to look further. Timotheus was one of 111 Deaths attributed to the Spanish Flu in Campbell County Virginia. Furthermore, she was one of only 7 that list pneumonia as the primary cause of death (Barker, 2002). Barker’s research noted that Campbell County, had 387 deaths in 1918. One hundred four were the number of deaths from influenza, and 7 were from pneumonia. My second great-grandmother died of Bronchial Pneumonia on 9 December 1918, 4 days after her 78th birthday. Her age doesn’t sound old now, but according to Our World in Data, the average life expectancy plunged in 1918, and was only 47.2 years old. The year prior was 54 and the year after was 55.3 years.
Barker further explained that Virginia was not immune to this pandemic.
During October 1918 life in the state was disrupted by the pandemic. Schools, churches, and a variety of public places closed their doors during the epidemic’s peak. Newspaper obituaries were filled with the names of young men and women whose lives had been cut short by influenza. Although the epidemic abated in November, influenza reappeared the following month in a less deadly form (Barker, 2002, p. 8).
Barker further explained that the Influenza first arrived in Virginia in its military installations and camps (Barker, 2002). It is interesting that the same recommendations were being made then as they are now: avoid public gatherings, avoid crowds, walk instead of taking the streetcar. According to Barker, the ‘Spanish influenza struck the healthiest and most productive members of society” (Barker, 2002, p. 19).
Timotheus likely had a typical life of a young woman growing up in rural Virginia. She grew up with her parents, Yancey Bailey and Mary Marshall Cobbs on a farm. At the age of 24, she married George Bland Sublett, before he went off to fight in the Civil War. Upon his return, they set up house with George’s parents to help with the farm. Together they raise seven children. I do not have enough information to assess whether she stayed with her parents while he was off at war or if they set up house prior to his departure.
***As this Coronavirus slashes our plans this year, remember we aren’t the only ones that have lived through a pandemic.
In 1918, my grandfather, Lacy Sublett was a 9-year-old boy attending school. Schools closed in the fall of 1918 in many Virginia cities. Lacy was living on a farm in Naruna, Virginia at the time. I bet he didn’t have time to get bored and went straight to helping on the farm. I will take the amenities that we have now, like Netflix, air conditioning, and remember to count my blessings.
The Coronavirus hit too close to home for my family and I would like to remind everyone that they call it a pandemic for a reason. Listen to your health officials, wash your hands and wear a mask.
Until later, I will be exploring backwards.
Barker, Stephanie Forrest, “The impact of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic on Virginia” (2002). 3. Paper 1169
Our World in Data, retrieved on August 14, 2020 at https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy.