It has been over 100 years since the Spanish Flu pandemic had an impact on the lives of so many people around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us just as it did to our ancestors who experienced the 1918 virus pandemic. It is estimated that around 500 million people worldwide became infected with the virus. Per the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of May 11, 2020, there have been 1,324,488 confirmed cases of in the U.S. of people infected with the COVID-19 virus. This pandemic has already caused 79,756 deaths and we aren't even through this pandemic yet.
Just as we are struggling now to create a vaccine and treatment plan to stop the spread, the world struggled during the Spanish flu for the same reasons. Technological advancements are much different today in order to save lives. There were still questions of figuring out methods to stop the spread of the disease and save the lives of those who became infected with the Spanish flu. Should they close schools and ban all public gatherings? Should they require every citizen to wear a gauze face mask? Or would shutting down important financial centers in wartime be unpatriotic? The world was at the end of World War I when the pandemic struck. Just as we are currently facing questions of how to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus now, the Spanish Flu brought with it so many questions. Luckily we had documentation of how the Spanish Flu pandemic was handled.
Many of the methods we see being used today are methods that were put into action to try and stop the spread of the Spanish flu, such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitation of public social gatherings, which was applied unevenly across the U.S. Just as we are seeing today with the various states each making judgments differently.
My ancestors did not keep a record of how the Spanish flu impacted them. At least not that I have been able to find documentation of. While we might not be able to get an exact idea of how our ancestors' lives were impacted during the Spanish Flu but there are still ways to find out how the Spanish Flu impacted their lives.
The best way to learn how the Spanish Flu affected your ancestors' lives is to look at the newspapers for the areas that your ancestors lived in. Newspaper articles can give us clues as to how the pandemic impacted their lives. Newspapers were the main source of spreading information around communities. Our ancestors in the early twentieth century didn't have social media and news channels to help circulate news of the Spanish Flu pandemic. News traveled at a much slower rate. Unlike today's world, the news could take days or weeks to get to certain areas of the U.S.
Certain U.S. cities fared far worse than others, though, and looking back more than a century later there’s evidence that the earliest and most well-organized responses slowed the spread of the disease—at least temporarily—while cities that dragged their feet or let down their guard paid a heavier price.
Newspaper articles can help you to uncover stories that can help you create an understanding of how the Spanish flu impacted your ancestors. By looking through the newspapers beginning in September 1918 and looking through the following days, months, and year you can put together the story of how the Spanish flu impacted your ancestors.
How old were your ancestors in 1918? Newspapers would help you to determine if your ancestors' school, church, or local shops were closed. How long were students out of school? During that time period education was not able to be taught virtually. Therefore the children would have been at home without any access to their friends. They would be left with nothing but what was available for them instantly in their homes. Most likely they would be helping around the house and with their siblings. This information would be great to share with our children who aren't happy about being stuck at home.
I recommend checking out Chronicling America to find newspapers that will help you learn more about the Spanish Flu. If you aren't able to find a newspaper for the area your ancestor lived in, try checking out University Libraries, State archives, and historical societies. I know that none of them are currently open during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some of them have staff that has been continuing to work during this time. Sometimes you will be able to find information on their websites.
If you think about it, our ancestors surviving through the Spanish Flu has led to us being here today. This pandemic that we are currently going through could give us a better understanding of what our ancestors went through.