Saturday, March 28, 2020

Ancestors in 2020 ~ March: Katherine VanLare's Life During the Pandemic of 1918

For my March ancestor, I'm writing about one that I consider having been lucky.   I had started to spend time researching my three times great grandmother, Mary Maguiness, who was Irish but soon changed my focus away from the luck of the Irish to a topic more in line with the current events and world happenings.  I sit here starting to write this blog post on a Sunday afternoon, just hours from entering a social distancing government order.  At eight o'clock this evening NYS will go into 100% mandatory social distancing with all non-essential businesses closing until further notice to help stop the spread of Covid-19.  We are urged to stay home; only going out for food and medical care.  All of this heightened anxiety and fear over the pandemic of 2020 made me wonder about my ancestors during the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918.  How did it affect my family tree? Did anyone die in 1918?  I couldn't find a single death linked to the illness that ran amuck and led to October 1918 being the deadliest month in American History; over 195,000 American's died from influenza. More Americans died from influenza in 1918 than died in the Great War. 

Since it appeared that all of my ancestors were "lucky" enough to have survived and possibly not even suffer from the "grip" I wondered what life was like for them during this time period.  My grandfather, Vincent Haskins was born in July of 1918 just a few months before this pandemic took hold.  What was life like for his mother? I began exploring life through the eyes of my great-grandmother, Katherine VanLare.

Katherine (Kate) VanLare was born on September 23, 1885, to Jacob VanLare and Nellie Bushart.  Kate's parents were immigrants from the Zeeland region of the Netherlands arriving in America in 1873.  Kate was their eldest child.  She had one younger sister, Sarah. 

Katherine VanLare - B. September 23, 1885

Jacob, Nellie, Kate, and Sarah Vanlare

Kate spent her childhood living on different farms in Wayne County with her family.  At the age of 7, the NYS census shows she was living in Williamson with her parents and sister.  In 1900, the Federal Census says she was living in Walworth, where she is listed as being 14 years old and attending school.   Kate and Sarah attended the Smith Hill Road School, which is now a modernized home.

Schoolhouse @ corner of Smith Hill & Arbor Rd in Walworth, NY

An Interesting Side-Story

While researching,  I became aware of family folklore around the house where Kate and her family lived in Walworth around 1900.  My father communicated that he was always told that they lived in the same house where Winston Churchill's grandmother once lived.  Now, I love history and this seems like something I might have read about, heard or learned prior to 2020.  Needless to say, this intrigued me and I wondered if it could at all be true.  The historian in me went to work and  I am making a claim that this is not an accurate story.    However, I did learn that Winston Churchill does have deep-seated roots in Wayne County.  His grandfather, Leonard Jerome, did live in Marion for a short time during the 1840s with his family.  His parents were Isaac Jerome and Aurora Murry.  Leonard married Clara Hall, whose father was Ambrose Hall a prominent resident from Palmyra.   Clara and Leonard married in her childhood home in 1849.  Later,  while living in  NYC they had a daughter, Jennie.  Jennie Jerome went on to became Lady Randolph Churchill when she married Lord Randolph Churchill. They were the parents of the former Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill.  Additional Information can be found at Wayne County: Deep Rooted Connections to Winston Churchill

And Now Back to Kate......

By 1905, Kate and her family had moved into the Town of Marion; living on Palmyra Road (or South Main St as it would later be called).  She was 19 listed as doing housework.   Jacob, her father was working as a farm laborer and her mother was taking care of the home and becoming a part of the Marion community.  The family was active members of the Baptist Church which I found surprising.  Both Kate and Sarah were baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church and most of the Dutch families from Zeeland were members and attended services there.  I wonder why they decided to move to the Baptist Church?  Nellie is mentioned in the newspapers as being involved in the WCTU.

Kate married Fred Haskins on June 4, 1913. Fred was the son of George Haskins and Sarah Drake.  He was born in Rochester, NY on April 14, 1894.  His mother, Sarah and grandparents, Charles Drake and Annagusta West moved to Marion from Sodus somewhere between 1900 and 1905.  The Drake's home was located across the street from the VanLare Family.

Fred & Kate Haskins - June 4, 1913

After their wedding, Kate and Fred resided on Buffalo Street in Marion.   Fred was working as a machinist at the Marion Canning Company.  The house they rented was actually owned by the Canning Co.  Kate and Fred had their first child, Paul, on February 27th, 1914.   In the spring of 1915,  Mrs, Lovica Newcomb came to stay with them after her brother Gilbert Shaw's funeral on March 26th.  She was unable to return to her home; Kate and Fred cared for her until in her death.  They held her funeral at their home on April 11th.  Gilbert and Lovica were both a major part of Fred's life.  He resided with one or the other from the time that he was 11 years old until soon before his marriage to Kate.

Kate and Fred's daughter, Rachel, was born on January 2, 1916 - her birth notice ran in The Marion Enterprise on January 7th.   In this same edition, the following headline appeared on the front page of the newspaper.

The article reports that this illness is becoming a huge problem, especially in larger cities.  NYC reported 272 deaths and Chicago reported 1,112 deaths for one week.  The article communicated concerns over it spreading to rural communities.  There is limited information mentioning the illness over the next month.  In February 4th's paper under the Local Gleanings, it mentions that doctors are busy and "La Grippe is stalking through the land."  The community seems to be moving through daily life in a "business as usual" manner.  Throughout the winter weeks there continues to be limited mention of this illness impacting the Marion community.  An advertisement begins running in the weekly paper for Father John's Medicine, an old fashion family remedy for grip and colds that turn into pneumonia.  Encouraged to take it today because it is free from morphine, chloroform, codeine, heroin, and other dangerous drugs.  March of 1916 is reported as entering lamb-like and gentle.  There is a mention of Mrs. E Hawley recovering from an attack of the grip, so it appears it has made its way into Marion.  The spring and early summer months of 1916 were wet and cool.  It rained on Easter, gardens were behind schedule, eggs sold for 20 cents and muck crops did not look promising.  However, there were reports of many strawberries and raspberries, but not a single mention of grip. Mid-summer was hot and dry.  July 1916 was the hottest July on record.  August brought concern over infantile paralysis AKA - polio.  By late August, the town health official, Dr. Besemer warned to keep children at home to prevent the spread of it including picnics, fairs, family reunions and visiting summer resorts.  He encouraged everyone to stay in their own town.  Autumn brought changes to leaves and colder weather.  Italy declared war on Germany.  Romania declared war on Austria which immediately followed with Germany declaring war on Romania and America did its best to stay neutral.  There was no Indian summer, the skies were dark and gray.  Early snow arrived in November and Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president.   The holidays came and went and in January with the new year -Rachel turned one year old.

1917 was very much like 1916 with the one main exception that in mid-April the US formally declared war on Germany and entered the Great War.  The spirit of patriotism ran high throughout the nation as well as in Marion.  The nation's colors were on display everywhere - women even wore hosiery that were red, white and blue.   The big question was "what can I do for my country?"  The answer - buy a liberty bond!  The first draft was in July with the second draft call coming in September.  Fred was asked to report.  He was found physically qualified but made a claim for discharge on grounds of dependency.  It was granted.   The Marion community continued to support the war as the months and seasons went by.  There was no mention of illness or disease just the need for Red Cross efforts to support the men overseas.

1918 found Fred and Kate with two young children and one on the way.  Paul was now four and Rachel had just turned two.   Kate was pregnant; due in the summer.  In January, Fred took at a position at the East Williamson Canning Factor as a processor, moving from the Wayne County Canning Company.   Community members were encouraged to buy thrift stamps which were a means to help finance the war while instilling traditional values.  There was a sugar shortage, so many housewives turned to molasses as a substitute.  Kate gave birth to Vincent Haskins, aka "Budd" on July 24th.  August had a run of good, but hot weather.  The canning plants were busy with beans, berries and soon juicy tomatoes. The harvests looked promising until the late summer heat took its toll.  By September Rochester's newspapers are beginning to run stories related to the "Spanish Flu" most of them urging the public to follow preventive instructions especially about covering coughs and sneezes, but there is little to no information appearing in the local papers in Wayne County.   The local papers are all about the Fourth Liberty Bond Drive.  October 4th was Liberty Day in Marion, which was part of a statewide observance.  At 2:30 the pupils of the Marion High School paraded in the streets of the village.  Sunday, October 6th was Liberty Sunday - the local churches mobilized with messages around the topic of the great war loans.  Every household was urged to invest at least one-eighth of their income into bonds.  Citizens were also urged to not use gasoline on Sundays as a way to help with the war efforts.   By the end of that next week, there was much more concern and information about influenza.   In Newark, village and county schools were closed as were churches, theaters, lodges, public and private meetings.  Doctors recommended drastic efforts to save lives.  Parents were urged to keep their children on their own premises and not allow them to play together in the streets.

The flu seemed to hit harder in towns around Marion -- There were over 700 cases in Lyons; there the doctors and nurses were having a very hard time taking care of all of the sick people.   Newark also had over 700 cases with 400 of them being at the NYS Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women. The Marion community did not close down public events as quickly as other places but they did eventually follow suit  The papers were reporting between 40-50 cases by mid-to-late October.  The Marion schools were shut down for two weeks and churches did not have services.  It was mentioned it was the first Sunday in over a century that a Marion church did not have a service.   Marion had two doctors at the time, Dr. Arthur Besemer, located on North Main Street and Dr. John VanDorn, located on Buffalo Street.  It was difficult for them to keep up with all of their patients.  The Wayne County Canning Compay had to be shut down during the prime of the canning season due to so many cases among the women.  At least eight canning factory work families were struggling with the flu.

The local health official, Dr. VanDon put a notice in the paper on October 11th and US Public Health Service issued an official health bulletin that ran on October 18th entitled "Uncle Sam's Advice on the Flu."

By November, things started returning to normal.  Just as quickly as the flu swept in it swept out.   Students started back to school after having two weeks off, however, there were many absences including one of the teachers due to illness.   Church bells began ringing for Sunday services, the Baptist Harvest festival was rescheduled for November 15th.   It seems that the small rural town of Marion was coming out of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 better than others. 

On November 11th - Armistice Day, the Great War ended, and so did mention of the pandemic.  After the end of the war, papers stopped publishing death numbers.   In Rochester, over 13.000 people died in less than six weeks.  Rochester had more deaths from the flu than they did from the Great War, however, the war was always the bigger story with liberty bond drives leading the way.

Some interesting Rochester, NY statistics:

55% of the deaths were people between the ages of 20-40

More men died than women
More married women over married men
68% of the deaths were native-born
Most were laborers 
The death rate among school children was 10%

The New York State school system communicated that they would not defer or delay state exams.  The schools would make up their days missed by eliminating holiday breaks.  They would only get Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day as vacation days that academic year.

It was acknowledged that the lack of general health care abilities and lack of proper hygiene in the community contributed to the widespread of germs.  It was deemed essential for more education in this area.  One of the most important lessons learned was that people are the most valuable tool in fighting a pandemic and that best-laid plans are useless unless people carry them out.

It appears my family members and the Marion community must have done something right related to this pandemic as I am here over 100 years later to write about it which I consider pretty lucky.

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