Plagues and Pandemics and the Pursuit of Genealogy–Another Verse

Tracing a genealogy that is accurate requires much knowledge to enable you to evaluate your records and the evidence they supply in context. For the past is almost never a mirror of the present in which we live. And it is easy to interpret what we find in the past with experiences from the present.

For example, My family believed in vaccines. I believe in vaccines. And my own vaccines have been up-to-date as required by law, by the school district where I lived, by the School of Nursing I attended, and by my personal physicians responsible for my general health.

Recently, my life was exposed to three diseases that have left me with some change in my perspective–

  1. Covid-19: In spite of being fully vaccinated, I had Covid through the months of December and January  (2021-22), with a repeat, although milder, in late February and early March. I still feel like a wet noodle, after weeks in bed. No pneumonia,. No hospitalization. Just coughing and coughing.
  2. Whooping Cough: Imagine my surprise that most cases of whooping cough are passed  to children from the adults who care for them. And here I was coughing all over seminar attendees oblivious that instead of allergies and asthma, I was carrying a highly contagious and often deadly disease. These attendees offered me cough drops, lozenges, mints, water, juice, and finally a milk shake before I finished my presentation. Another six weeks later, I had another bout, went to the doctor, and received the brutal news of my contagion. My childhood vaccines have now been up-dated. I did get booster shots when I entered nursing school so it did not occur to me that I needed other boosters.
  3. Anthrax: When we issued a new edition of Family History for Fun and Profit in 2002, I spoke at a seminar in northern Florida. I sold 50 copies of the new edition as a pre-publication special. I mailed those 50 orders when the book came out 30 days later. They were shipped through the very Florida postal system that was shut down– all warehoused delivery, because of white-powder shipped through that system the same days. The powder turned out to be Anthrax! Once the post office reopened, we re-shipped the books to anxious seminar attendees.

My research work can benefit from my experiences, but the analysis of the data from the past needs to conform to the past in which the ancestors lived.

Why are these considerations important?
An important article was published some years ago, which enabled me to keep looking for the right ancestors when answers seemed obvious and saved me from many errors in lineage. Let me share its message with you–

“Bicentennial Perspectives on Birth, Marriage, and Death,” National Genealogical Society quarterly, 65 (March 1977) 16-24. Richard Jensen, the author of this little-known and essential article was Director, Family and Community History Center, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. He concluded from the evidence he studied that the average marriage before 1800, lasted only seven years! Almost half of all marriages were broken by the death of one of the partners. Before the 15th anniversary, before the oldest child became an adult, a new marriage was contracted and a new family unit begun–the average marriage lasted seven years. Partners remarried quickly and couples could have at least three marriages during a lifespan. Marriages were contracted as early as age 20 years. Most children grew up as orphans and/or step-children with half-siblings. One third to one half of all children born to a family never became adults–25-30% died within the first one to two years of life. And some 50% may not survive until age 20 years.

This article, with its eye-popping information, is a must read–all of it and the evidence on which it is based carefully studied. Then move on to the bibliography of scientific and social articles listed in Part II of “Plagues and Pandemics.” Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS I also get an annual flu shot (some years two of them), because of my asthma. And most years, there are over 100,000 deaths and millions of cases world-wide.

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