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.