The sadness in records

Ever since the beginning of COVID, the Spanish flu pandemic of 100+ years ago has been more than just words on a page in a history book. Today, I am grieving for a family long gone who I never would have encountered if I wasn’t immersed in research for so many clients. The family I was investigating spread out from their origins in the area that became Poland and Lithuania to the U.S., South Africa and elsewhere. Today I looked at the deaths of two young girls (sisters) on 15 October 1918 in New York, and at the deaths of two brothers across the world in South Africa, from another branch of the family. The brothers died 3 days earlier, on 12 October 1918.

South Africa was overwhelmed by the pandemic which began there in September 1918, and within 6 weeks was responsible for the deaths of over 300,000 people, among them the two brothers. During the first 6 months of the pandemic, 2.5 million people died – 2% of the total population.

Numbers like these are overwhelming – I think during the COVID pandemic we were all dazed by the numbers. Newspapers and news shows during the recent pandemic told the stories of individuals – we heard their families and friends talk about their losses, we learned about some of the people who died. The situation in South Africa was so dire, that death records longer than just a line, individual graves were impossible to dig, and the country mourned.

Today I remember the four young people in one family separated by many miles, and wish I could somehow give some comfort to their parents. The only thing I can do is remember their names.

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