24 February 2020

The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919

The newly discovered coronavirus has struck in the middle of the 2019/2020 influenza season and perhaps is taking over center stage at the moment. The sudden appearance and mobility of an unknown disease has many similarities with what is probably the best-known health crisis in the last century, and that is the great influenza outbreak following World War I. This world-wide event (a pandemic) was responsible for the deaths of about fifty million people, far more than were killed during the war, and has been described as having the highest mortality rate of any single pandemic in human history.

Influenza (Also called Flu or la Grippe)

Influenza has been known to humans since the twelfth century when an epidemic spread through Europe in 1173. The disease wasn't named, however, until the eighteenth century, when scientists in Italy assumed that only some heavenly "influence" could strike down so many people in so many locations at one time. Of course, they had no knowledge then of what caused most illnesses; in fact, in the early 1890s, a German doctor declared that he had identified the bacteria that caused the flu. He was wrong, however, since flu is caused by a virus.

The flu is a respiratory infection (there really is no such thing as the "stomach flu," although we hear people say they have it all the time!). The virus, like the common cold, is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or touching infected objects. In early epidemics in Europe, the flu was mostly just an inconvenience. Seldom did people die from it, and those who did, for the most part, were elderly or already suffering from other ailments. It is only when the influenza virus began mutating into more potent forms, as viruses do, that the disease became fatal to a wider population.

The Pandemic of 1918 (Also called the Spanish Flu)

The outbreak after World War I was called the Spanish flu because the Spanish did not censor reporting about the spread of the disease while other countries were keeping it under wraps. However, we know now that the virus did not begin in Spain at all. Wherever it did begin (which is still uncertain), the virus spread quickly and widely because of troop movements at the end of the war. Unlike previous strains of influenza, this one attacked everyone and was most devastating to young people who appeared to be perfectly healthy. Within a year, the disease had reached every country on the planet and affected almost every household in some way. Unlike previous incarnations of flu, this variety was a killer. It often led to bacterial pneumonia (and there were no antibiotics until almost thirty years later) and sometimes, and most horribly, developed a symptom called "heliotrope cyanosis," in which the lungs filled with fluid and the patient died of lack of oxygen, their bodies turning blue or purple before they passed away.

Efforts to prevent the flu from spreading were widespread, but, as we are seeing with today's coronavirus, not effective enough, and, of course, there were no vaccines or adequate medical treatments.

Implications for Genealogists

Did you have relatives who died between 1918 and 1920? Have you looked at the cause of death on their death certificates or in their obituaries? Were they young and in good health but died suddenly? It is very likely that your family was affected by the great pandemic. Look for death by pneumonia, death by "la Grippe," or other respiratory infections as clues that your relative was a victim of this disease. Here are two examples. As you can see, influenza in both cases led to respiratory infections. Homer, age 36, died of pneumonia just nine days after contracting the flu, and Mary, age 66, died of bronchitis six weeks after she was taken ill.

Want to read more about the 1918 pandemic? The Center for Disease Control's website has an excellent history of the spread of the disease, including a timeline. The Smithsonian Magazine's website also has a good article. And don't forget, it's still not too late to get a flu shot, if you haven't already done so!

17 February 2020

Reclaim the Records: A Genealogy Group Worth Knowing About

They call themselves "your favorite little non-profit organization that picks fights with government
agencies, archives, and libraries for better public access to genealogical records and historical materials." But, far from being "little," Reclaim the Records has become a powerhouse of behind-the-scenes legal activity that is bringing long-suppressed indexes and records to the waiting hands of eager genealogists.

Although birth, death, and marriage indexes are supposed to be open and available, the reality is that many governmental agencies have taken it upon themselves to block access to them.  Privacy laws restrict access to actual records in all states, but the indexes to the records are not liable to the same restrictions. They are just indexes, and, according to the Freedom of Information laws, they should be open to the public.

Genealogist Brooke Schreier Ganz began the fight to win back records from New York City in 2015, and Reclaim the Records achieved its registered non-profit status two years later. Like St. Louis Genealogical Society, Brooke and her eight-member board of directors are all volunteers; they have no paid staff and rely on generous donations and helpers to move them forward. In the short time they have been active, they have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOI) lawsuits in multiple states (Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Wyoming to date) and have managed to win access to millions of records. In spite of massive push back from governmental agencies, they have successfully negotiated the courts and released previously unavailable data online for free. They have gone to battle with few resources and won all of us the right to view marriage, birth, and death indexes that were previously off limits.

You can benefit from their hard work by going to the group's website. Their home page features a list of current lawsuits and record requests. Each of the record requests explains what was asked for and the current state of legislation. More importantly, each of the request graphics is a link to the status of the specific lawsuit. If the suit has been settled, the actual indexes will be posted there. You may be interested to note that litigation is in progress to open the Missouri birth index, for which the state tried to charge $1.5 million dollars! You can read more about that here. If your ancestors came from any of the states that are in the position of withholding access to records, the site invites you to take a records survey and let them know what records you have interest in. (NOTE: They have no jurisdiction over adoption or cemetery records, as those are private and not within FOI boundaries.)

What Else?
While you are on the site, you can sign up to receive their free newsletter so you will know what legislation is pending and be alerted when new records come online. If you want direct access to the records, they are all posted on the Internet Archive, although you will have to search for them individually. And, of course, as a small non-profit doing expensive work on our behalf, Reclaim the Records will gladly accept donations.

10 February 2020

Trivia Night Silent Auction Baskets: Filled with Goodies and Ready for You!

St. Louis Genealogical Society’s eleventh annual Trivia Night is rapidly approaching, and we hope you can join us for a few hours of brain teasers and good cheer on Saturday, 7 March 2020 at the Richmond Heights Community Center. This event is one of the society's major fundraisers, a fun-filled evening with ten rounds of questions, from easy to challenging, on a wide variety of topics, plus other favorites like 50-50 and Dead or Alive.

One of the highlights of this special evening is our silent auction, a win-win situation for both you and the St. Louis Genealogical Society. Each year, the Trivia Night committee fashions beautiful baskets filled with donations from individual members and generous local businesses. The society benefits from these gifts and you win if you make a lucky bid and get some treasure at a bargain rate.

Two weeks ago in this blog, we featured some of the outstanding artwork donated by StLGS members and friends. This week, we highlight just a few of the twenty fantastic baskets included in this year's silent auction.

Cold Drinks

This basket is just one of the many we have for you featuring wine and accessories. Valued at $110 and donated by Jane Theissen, the basket contains all you need for a lovely evening with friends. Two bottles of delicious wine, a cork trivet, canapƩ plates, and small spreader knives are included, all you need to supply is the good cheer.

Hawaiian Vacation

Ready to get away from the cold? This charming basket is filled with Hawaiian-inspired delights. Donated by Trish Gormley and valued at $50, the basket has a decidedly Tropical theme: lip balm, kitchen accessories, a coconut bra, and a flip-flop flyswatter! Pure fun!

Unplugged Game Night

One of two baskets filled with toys you can enjoy without electricity, this basket, valued at $100 and donated by Jackie Sanderson, will make you nostalgic for your childhood. In it you will find the classic game of Sorry, checkers, jigsaw puzzles, marbles, and more for you and the young ones in your life to enjoy in front of the fireplace on a cold winter's evening, even if the power is out!

Mickey and Minnie, Anyone?

For the Disney lover in your family, Mary Alice Gallagher has donated this little basket filled with Mickey and Minnie Mouse items. Valued at $56, it is certainly what some toddler in your family is waiting for you to bring home!

Purr-fect Gift for Cat Lovers

Here is just the thing for the cat lover in your life (or maybe you?). Inside, you will find holiday-themed kitchen towels, socks, a mug, and other cat-lovers' items. Donated by Jackie Sanderson and valued at $100, this basket is far too purr-fect to leave behind.

And for Bird Lovers . . .

Not a basket but a beautiful ceramic serving plate made by StLGS vice-president for membership, Michelle Pearce. Michelle was inspired by American wildlife artist, Charley Harper, whose beautiful, minimalist bird drawings are known world-wide. Michelle's plate is about ten inches in diameter and is completely food (but not dishwasher) safe. It is valued at about $45.

These are just a sampling of what is coming up. In addition to the baskets, we also have a membership to the St. Louis Art Museum, tickets to an assortment of plays, the St. Louis Symphony, and, of course lots of sports, including Blues and Cardinals games. And, as always, there are gift certificates to local restaurants and businesses and the Waterway 3-Month Clean Car Club, Blue Level with a value of $120.

Trivia Night Information

Are you excited yet? Trivia Night is Saturday, 7 March, at the Richmond Heights Community Center, a half-block south of Highway 40/Interstate 64, just east of Hanley, at 8001 Dale Avenue. There are still tables and individual seats available. You can register online on our website and get driving directions on the site, too. Go to https://stlgs.org/events/trivia-night for everything you need to get you there. We look forward to seeing you and appreciate your continued support.

03 February 2020

February Genealogy Meetings, Classes, and Events

February is off to a mild start, just right for attending all of the special events scheduled for the month. Of course, StLGS has plenty for you to do, but so do many of our friends and partners in the St. Louis area. If you have been waiting for classes, tours, or lectures on a wide variety of topics, this month is filled with dates to add to your calendar.

Upcoming Meetings

StLGS Monthly Meeting: Saturday, 8 February 2020
"Preserving Family Documents and Photos," by Ilene Murray, St. Louis County Library Headquarters Auditorium, 10:00 a.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. More information available on the StLGS website.
Cliff Cave Library Genealogy Presentation: Wednesday, 5 February 2020
"Genealogy: Where's Grandma? Tracing Female Ancestry," by Judy Belford, St. Louis County Library Cliff Cave Branch, 6:30 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. More information available on the library's website. 
Czech Genealogical Researchers Monthly Meeting: Saturday, 15 February 2020
"Czech Research Time," general discussion, St. Louis County Library Headquarters History and Genealogy Dept., 1:30 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. More information available on the group's website.
Upcoming StLGS Classes
  • "Intermediate RootsMagic" (PC only) by Ted Steele, 8 February 2020
  • "Foundations of Genealogy, Parts I and II," by Ilene Murray; Saturday, 15 and Saturday, 22 February 2020, 
Classes are held at the StLGS Office from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. Free to StLGS members; fee for non-members; pre-registration required at 314-647-8547.

 More information on these and more StLGS classes on our website.

February Classes at St. Louis County Library

  • 6 and 29 February: "History and Genealogy in Newspapers," Cliff Cave and Headquarters
  • 11 February: "Who Were My Ancestors? Beginning Family History Research," Thorn Hill
  • 18 February: "Finding Ancestors in U.S. Census Records," Oak Bend
  • 22 February: "Tracing Your African American Ancestors: Advanced Techniques," Florissant Valley
  • 22 February: "Tracing Your African American Ancestors: Records of Slave Owning Families," Florissant Valley
  • 25 February: "Getting More out of FamilySearch," Daniel Boone
  • 26 and 27 February: "Family History Online: Databases for Genealogical Research," Headquarters and Mid-County
All library classes are free but require pre-registration. More information available on the library's website.
Upcoming Special Events

"Father of Waters: Early Explorers on the Mississippi River"
Lecture at the Missouri History Museum, Thursday, 13 February 2020,
AT&T Multipurpose Room, 6:00 p.m. Free; but pre-registration is required at this link.

African American History Tours at Bellefontaine Cemetery
Celebrate African American History month with two special trolley tours in this historic and beautiful cemetery. The tours last approximately two hours; they are free but pre-registration is required.
  StLGS Trivia Night: Saturday, 7 March 2020
Richmond Heights Community Center, 8001 Dale Avenue (just south of I-64 between Hanley and Big Bend); doors open at 6:15 p.m.; questions begin at 7:00 p.m.
Questions on all topics. We'll provide snacks, fun, and an awesome silent auction!
Check out our website for more information and/or to register.

27 January 2020

2020 Trivia Night Silent Auction Features Unique Art

(Thanks to StLGS VP-Programs and Trivia Night chairperson, Karen Goode, for her assistance in writing and gathering information for this week's blog post.)

St. Louis Genealogical Society’s eleventh annual Trivia Night is now just a couple weeks away, and we hope you can join us for a few hours of brain teasers and good cheer on Saturday, 7 March 2020 at the Richmond Heights Community Center. Trivia Night is fun for all of us at StLGS, and we rely on this annual event as one of our major fundraisers. It is an evening filled with friendly competition and a lot of laughs. Of course, you can learn more on the StLGS website!

One of the highlights of this special evening is our silent auction, a win-win for both you and the St. Louis Genealogical Society. The Trivia Night committee has been hard at work for the past few months gathering donations by members and friends, and we would like to whet your appetite in this week's blog by featuring some of the stunning artwork they have acquired for the auction.

"The Old Courthouse" by Frank W. Bruning (1922–2008)

This charming painting of the Old Courthouse measures approximately 27 by 23 inches and has a value of $100. It was donated by former StLGS member, Pat Thompson. The artist was a WWII veteran of the U.S. Navy and is buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

"Bridge in Benton Park" by Dorothy Marie "Dot" Everding Guise (1929–2014)

Dot Guise was a gifted artist who lived in South St. Louis most of her life and worked at the Guise Studio. She specialized in enhancing photos with oil colors. This beautiful example is 36 by 29 inches, has a value of $150, and was also donated by Pat Thompson.

Vietnamese Hand-Sewn Pictures by the Hong Ngoc Fine Art Company;
Produced in the Chan Thien My Company Workshop for Disabled People

This company was founded in 1996 by a Vietnam veteran who returned to help those who had been affected by chemical warfare. The company's goal is to provide vocational training and jobs to disabled people. These two pieces are both hand-sewn. On the right, the black and white image of a Vietnamese person on a bike measures approximately 14 by 17 inches and is worth about $100. On the left, the image of the person carrying produce is about 16 by 20 inches and is valued at $150. Both were donated by StLGS member, Diane Broniec. To see the Vietnamese artists at work creating original images and sculpture, check out their YouTube video.


 "Spectacular Spirographics" a miniature quilt by Jean Ameduri

Based on a design created by a child's spirograph toy, this machine-quilted piece is approximately 22 by 22 inches and is all cotton with a thin polyester batting. The Swarovski crystals in the center of each design make the piece hand-washable only. The quilt is a perfect wall hanging; in fact, it is thin enough to be secured on drywall with straight pins. The value of this colorful original is $250, and it was donated by its creator and StLGS member, Jean Ameduri.
(All photos by Ilene Murray, © 2020)

We have more auction items to preview in the coming weeks and hope to see all of you at Trivia Night so you can join in on the bidding!

20 January 2020

Great-Grandpa Paid $300. How Much is That Worth Today?

The deed in front of you shows that your great-grandfather bought a piece of property in 1857 for $300. Do you wish you had some way of knowing how much that was worth today? Or perhaps you are looking at the 1860 census that reveals Great-grandpa owned personal estate of $2,000 and real estate of $8,000. Was he rich or just comfortable? Luckily, there are some excellent websites that will help you answer these questions and we will look at two of them this week.

MeasuringWorth: https://www.measuringworth.com/

The MeasuringWorth foundation is a non-profit group located in Illinois and the website is used by economic historians around the world. Hence, this is not a site for those who are looking for something simple. The focus of the site is on understanding relative worth in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and Spain, and to provide comparators (devices for comparing similar objects and similar measures) for that purpose. The site stresses that "there is no one standard measure for comparing what a monetary value in the past is worth today," so it will give you multiple answers based on available data. You can go directly to a search from the links on the left of your screen, but a better idea is to begin by looking at the User Guide located under a tab in the navigation bar.

The User Guide will help you understand how the comparators work, and then you can do your search by clicking on the Relative Values links on the left or do a walk-through by clicking on the Tutorials link.

When you are ready to determine the relative current value of Great-grandpa's land, fill out the form (which only goes to 2018) as shown. You also have the choice to get a calculation based on today's Consumer Price Index (CPI) and you can see your results in a table format by clicking in the small white box. The results are sorted by relative price, relative wage or income, and relative output or project, and we learn that the land in 2018's prices would be worth between $6,500 and $8,900.

The Inflation Calculator: https://westegg.com/inflation/

A site with far fewer bells and whistles but still very helpful is The Inflation Calculator, maintained by a man called Morgan Friedman. This site uses the Consumer Price Index as well as government statistics and calculates prices from 1800 to 2019. The home screen is simply a form that asks for the amount and the years. When you have the fields filled out, click on "Submit" and get the results in just a few sentences. As you can see, that land is worth about $8,300 in this calculation. An interesting note, here, is the prices reversed at the bottom, so we discover that if Great-grandpa paid $10.62 for something in 1857, that would be worth $300 today.

Understanding that these are variable numbers is important in calculating the then/now value of money but either of these websites should help to give you perspective on your ancestors' worth.

13 January 2020

Two Must-See Websites for Online Maps

At some point, almost every genealogist realizes that geography is as much a part of researching their family as history is. Pinpointing the location of Great-Grandpa Daniel's land is dependent on county boundaries, which were ever-changing for hundreds of years. Where the family settled was often determined by proximity to a source of fresh water, or perhaps the ability to acquire land cheaply. Migration routes followed set pathways of least resistance using rivers, mountain passes, and old hunting trails carved by Native Americans. Having a source at your fingertips for looking at old maps is important, so here are two of our favorite genealogy-oriented map sites.

David Rumsey Map Collection: https://www.davidrumsey.com/

One of the best online collections of maps is available on David Rumesy's Map Collection, which provides a vast assortment of maps from all over the world. The physical collection on which the website is based is housed at the Stanford University Library. Currently, the online collection has more than 95,000 maps, ranging from the sixteenth century to the present and encompassing almost the entire globe as well as the sky and the seas. The home page has dozens of links to all parts of the collection, and that's where you will want to start your search. Scroll down to the center of the page and click on any of the small square icons to search a predetermined category.

Alternatively, you can go to the alphabetical list of maps or browse by category. To access either, use the tab called View Collection in the navigation bar at the top of the home page. Now you can narrow your search by specifics to find exactly what you might want.  The resulting search screen will show you what is available in the category in which you searched and offer you more options for narrowing down, if you need to.

The site has numerous ways to view and save maps. It also has ways to overlay old maps onto new and to utilize Google Earth and Google Maps in very creative ways. You will want to bookmark this site (or add to your favorites) so you can keep going back!

Map of US.org: https://www.mapofus.org/

Another real necessity for genealogists is the ability to see United States county boundary lines as they changed over time and, although there are many fancier county progression maps online, this website is also a treasure trove of much more. Everything about this site is simple and easy, but don't be deceived. There is an abundance of detail hidden beneath the plain faƧade.

The home page has no bells or whistles, just a list of states and some explanation of why maps are helpful. Click on any state of interest, however, and let the fun begin. Scroll down to get the interactive map of changing county borders and click the "play" button to watch the counties form. You can hit the "stop" button at any time to read the text and view the list of dates and links to individual counties. These links take you to the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website (where volunteers are waiting to help.
But don't stop there. Keep scrolling down on each state's page for additional resources. Some states have highway maps of each county (at press time, however, both Missouri and Illinois had non-working links on their maps) and some states have links to other websites with historical maps. There are also links to many other state maps and atlases. 

The navigation bar at the top of the page will take you to additional maps of the U.S. and to a range of historical atlases. You will have no shortage of links to explore on Map of US.org!

These are just two of our favorite online map websites that can help you locate locate your ancestors. Enjoy!

06 January 2020

January 2020 Genealogy Meetings and Events

We hope you had a wonderful holiday season and we wish all of you a happy, healthy new year. Now that the wrapping paper and cookie crumbs are mostly cleared up, it's time to get back to genealogy! Our complete 2020 schedule is now posted on the StLGS website. You can see all of the exciting classes, meetings, SIG meetings, and special events on their appropriate pages by following the links below. And you can download flyers on each page as well!

January StLGS Monthly Meeting 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

"Ask Louie," panel discussion, St. Louis County Library Headquarters Auditorium, 10:00 a.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. Bring your genealogy questions to be answered by our panel. If you have a complicated or unusual question, please email it ahead to programs@stlgs.org. More information on the StLGS website.

StLGS Special Interest Group Meetings

German Special Interest Group Meeting: Wednesday, 15 January 2020
"German Abolitionists," by Dorris Keeven-Franke; St. Louis County Library Headquarters Auditorium, 7:00 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. Click here for more information.
Irish Special Interest Group Meeting: Tuesday, 21 January 2020
"Tips for Success in Irish Research," by Carol Hemmersmeier and Kay Weber, Irish SIG co-leaders; St. Louis County Library Headquarters Auditorium, 7:00 p.m.; free, open to all, no pre-registration needed. Click here for more information.

Jewish Special Interest Group Meeting: Sunday, 2 February 2020
"Creating an Oral History," by Diane Everman, archivist, St. Louis Jewish Community Archives; Jewish Federation Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, 1:00 p.m.; free, open to all, but pre-registration requested. Call Kathy Schmeltz at 314-442-3761 or email kschmeltz@jfedstl.org.
Click here
for more information.

Upcoming Classes

 StLGS Winter/Spring Class Schedule Now Online

Winter/Spring 2020 classes are now up on the StLGS website. First class begins in late January and classes continue until early June. Check out the website for the complete schedule.

Beginning RootsMagic: Saturday, 25 January 2020
Taught by Ted Steele; StLGS Office, 1:00 p.m. Free to StLGS members; fee for non-members; pre-registration required at 314-647-8547. (More information at the link above.)

Intermediate RootsMagic: Saturday, 8 February 2020
A follow-up to the beginning class and also taught by Ted Steele; StLGS Office, 1:00 p.m. Free to StLGS members; fee for non-members; pre-registration required at 314-647-8547. (More information at the link above.)

Upcoming Event: Trivia Night

 11th Annual StLGS Trivia Night

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Richmond Heights Community Center
8001 Dale Avenue, Richmond Heights, MO 63117

Doors open at 6:15 p.m.; questions start at 7:00 p.m.
This StLGS fundraiser is always an evening of so much excitement! Join us for challenging questions, lots of laughter, eating, drinking, bonus games, and, of course, our always-amazing silent auction. The Trivia Night committee is already hard at work building those beautiful baskets filled with goodies that dazzle us every year.

Come by yourself, with a friend or two, or reserve a table. Lots more information and a registration flyer are available on the StLGS website.