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Colonial Diseases

Genealogy webinars provide the opportunity to gather skills and information to help our research along. This afternoon I will tune into one offered by the Mayflower Society. We will hear about diseases and epidemics in colonial New England.

My paternal grandmother’s family lived in New England from 1620, when the Mayflower landed, until they left for Ohio around 1830. For those two hundred years, many of my ancestors lived and died in Massachusetts, near Boston or on Cape Cod.

I have no record of the cause of death for any of them. They must have been affected by the diseases and epidemics of the time. What health problems did they face? Did some succumb during an epidemic?

This webinar will not tell me anything about illnesses experienced by my individual family members. It will provide me with an idea of when and where epidemics circulated. I could compare those dates to the death dates for my ancestors to see if any died during a widespread illness.

I can also learn what other conditions led to colonial deaths. Poor diet or living conditions can result in a population afflicted with illnesses like scurvy, rickets, or tuberculosis. The webinar today may provide this type of information.

Learning about colonial diseases will not give me any missing names, dates, and places for my family tree. It will help me fill in the story of my ancestors’ lives by telling me about health challenges they faced and how they may have dealt with them. Disease timelines can lead to identifying specific outbreaks that would have affected my family.



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