Epidemics have always had a great influence our ancestors, making it sometimes very difficult to trace what happened to the relatives. There are instances when individuals disappeared from most conventional records; tax rolls, deeds, voting records, censuses and the researcher does not know why. In many cases it could have been a major epidemic struck the locality where the ancestor lived, killing them and possibility others in the family. There is the possibly of one or two family members died from a local epidemic and the other surviving relatives moved away.
Most of the major epidemics involved the following diseases. Yellow fever, measles, influenza, cholera, smallpox, typhus, scarlet fever and typhoid were the great epidemics affecting different regions within the United States and the European continent at different times from the 1600s to the early 20th century. Major widespread epidemics have been done away with over the last 90 years due to improved medical care and vaccinations.
Some of the epidemics were fairly localized. In South Carolina in 1738 there was a smallpox epidemic. In 1788 in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and in New York City, a major outbreak of measles killed thousands. Over 500 people died of influenza in one month in a small region of Virginia in 1793. During 1837 the city of Philadelphia had an outbreak of typhus.
Yellow fever was one of the worst epidemics for most regions. The fatal disease was all across the United States in 1852 to 1853 and killed 8,000 citizens of New Orleans, Louisiana alone during the summer of 1853. In just three years, yellow fever appeared again in most areas of the United States.
When influenza epidemics struck, many times it cover complete nations and even spread worldwide. In 1857 to 1859, one of the worst influenza epidemics affected people all across the world. It happened again in 1873 to 1875 with the death of thousands from influenza around the globe.
The last great influenza epidemic worldwide was in 1917 to 1919 during World War One. The disease sicken the normally healthy young adults and the very elderly, killing them within days. It was known as Spanish Flu.
When an epidemic occurred it could cause the mortality rate to reach as high as sixty percent of those who contracted a disease. When people died faster than graves could be dug, there was little time to make note of the event, even in a family Bible.
It was generally recent immigrants, children, laborers, and the poor who were most affected from the epidemics. Wealthy residents could escape the plague by leaving the city or region they lived in until conditions improved.
There are numerous sources with listings of the epidemics in certain locations and times in libraries and on the Internet. It is worth investigating where your ancestors lived at a certain time to see if there maybe a possible cause for an ancestor not appearing on future records or even whole families moving.< Return To Research