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Lives Affected by Epidemics

With the coronavirus outbreak all over the news these days, I began thinking of ancestors who might have lived through epidemics of their own. A few came to mind.

  1. Regional outbreaks of diseases such as measles and diphtheria occurred in communities where my family lived during the 19th century. My own family members likely endured some of these sicknesses. Although I have seen columns of Midwestern death listings from these and other illnesses, I have found none of my family names in these records of fatalities. A century later I, too, survived a case of the measles in 1964. It was the sickest I have ever been.
  2. About 1910, my great-grandfather Ole Bentsen (1880-1976) experienced a bout of typhoid fever. I do not know whether others in his Sheridan County, Montana community also had this illness caused by contaminated food or water.
  3. The Spanish flu swept the nation during World War I. My grandmother’s cousin Arthur Davis Riddle (1881-1919) succumbed to this illness in Seattle, Washington. He was a tall lumberjack, but his robust strength did not protect him from the influenza.
  4. During the 1930’s my grandmother Grace Riddle Reed (1896-1976) contracted smallpox in Wheatland, Wyoming. My father was a young boy at the time, but he remembered that his mother was quarantined during her illness. No one else in the family caught the disease.
  5. My entire family contracted the Asian flu in 1958. We lived in Bismarck, North Dakota at the time. I can remember my parents having a difficult time rousing themselves from their own sickbeds to care for their two young children who also had this illness. We all recovered.

Outbreaks of illness seem to cycle regularly through communities. Some of these epidemics seem deadlier than others. It remains too early to tell how the United States will fare with the current coronavirus. At our house we remain watchful and have prepared for whatever it brings.

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