Sunday, September 13, 2015

Medical Monday - My First Casualty from the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Death certificate - Alice Dougherty nee Fay
Alice Dougherty nee Fay is the first person I've come across in my research to have died from the 1918 flu pandemic. The cause of death was croupous pneumonia with influenza as a contributing factor. Croupous pneumonia is an outdated term. Today we call it acute lobar pneumonia.

I've done research on the "Spanish Influenza" outbreak of 1918 before. Sadly each time I've read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry I've meant to take notes and then failed to do so. Maybe the third time will be a charm. It's an excellent read, but does get technical in parts. That doesn't bother me, but when I go to pass on the information in a post I want to be able to do so correctly, and I'll need notes.

Either way it is incorrect to refer to this terrible pandemic as the "Spanish Flu." It did not begin in Spain as was originally though. The belief now is that it actually began in America and spread to Europe due to WWI. Think about that one. Lots of people in training camps to fight in the war. Lots of people moving around the world. More so than would have been normally. With an estimated 100 million people worldwide potentially killed by this flu outbreak I thought that I'd be counting the bodies in my family tree that succumbed...but that didn't happen.

Each time I came across someone that died in 1918 or 1919 I thought...yep...the flu got 'em. It didn't though.

Abraham Turnbach died in December 1918. He was electrocuted. He did repair work in the local coal mines and his death certificate says that he came in contact with "hot wires." He left behind a pregnant wife and quite a number of children.

Mary Turnbach nee Blanchfield, Abraham's wife, died in March 1919 of heart failure due to mitral regurgitation. They listed a contributing factor as "miscarriage." That may have been the terminology at the time, but we wouldn't call it miscarriage today. We'd call it a premature birth. The child, Joseph, lived...for two weeks.

Joseph Turnbach was born on March 7th 1919 and died on the 26th. His cause of death is difficult to read, but one of the components was malnutrition which was contributed to his premature birth. I suppose today we would say "failure to thrive."

Thank you to FindAGrave contributor Virginia (#47379955) for kind
permission to post her photo on my blog
Elizabeth "Bessie" Dugan nee Quirk died in December 1918 from placenta previa which caused Bessie to have a c-section. A contributing cause was separation of the placenta. Placenta previa and placental abruption (detachment of the placenta) are two different things, both of which are claimed on her death certificate. Her child, Elizabeth "Betty," survived (for a few years anyway).

So when I came across Alice's death certificate and saw pneumonia and the flu on there she became my first casualty. Alice and her husband, Francis Joseph Dougherty, had six children: William, Francis Joseph Jr., Leo, Mary, John, and Alice. All but two outlived their mom.

You can see on the tombstone above not only Alice's name, but those of her family buried with her. Alice died at the age of 35 and her husband, dying at the age of 84, never remarried. Her two little twins, Mary and John. Her daughter, Alice, married Matthew Gallagher and lived to the age of 91 while he only lived to the age of 48.

Despite having a husband and four little ones at home, Alice was the only one to succumb to this terrifying pandemic. Alice Dougherty nee Fay is my first cousin three times removed. Rest in peace, dear cousin.


  1. Cheryl,
    I too have family that were lost to the influenza epidemic. Most at a very young age. Always so sad to read about these things. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I, too, have enjoyed reading "The Great Influenza." It's on my "keeper" bookshelf.