Spanish Flu

 Want to help transcribe Geary County's 1918 death records? 

Update March 23, 2020: 

 

 Download original Geary County Death Records here:

 

1918 Death Records (PDF, 130 pages, 152 MB): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iggE-n910RUVZE9jJYZaIMTMDXXdDEFR/view?usp=sharing

 

Transcribe 1918 Death Records here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1mka7vJxbGiX95FGtDelDb53hxa9-pwq2oPrY_Ar6O0k/edit?usp=sharing

 

 1917 Death Records (PDF, 27 pages, 34 MB):
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fQ3EOwG9URmIE7d8bK4C7rF1SJWpBinN/view?usp=sharing

 

Transcribe 1917 Death Records here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1kQVhSsrR7zhfL0WMEKQFuyJ7H4tTqod231q9ITyEa9M/edit?usp=sharing

 

About the 1917-18 Death Records: 

Daily Union, "Spanish Flu's Impact in Geary County," March 22, 2020, by Katie Goerl: 

    As the city has ordered public places like the museum to close to gatherings of 10 or more people and local schools have shut their doors, it is clear that we are living in a historic time. It has been decades, perhaps since World War II, that a global crisis has so starkly laid bare the fabric of our society, which rests in great measure on hourly workers with scarce sick time and minimal health care.


    As a historian, my mind turns to another viral epidemic of the past — the so-called Spanish Flu. A strain of viral influenza, the “Spanish flu” got its name because the Spanish press covered the epidemic with alacrity during a period of wartime censorship. Perhaps as a way to misdirect concerns about the virus's reach in the United States, American media latched onto the term. The parallels to today's conflicting terminology for COVID-19 — “novel coronavirus” to some, “Chinese Wuhan virus” to others — are unmistakable, as is the racism that drives the latter choice of term.


    Beginning in 1911, the state of Kansas mandated that counties keep records of the deaths of residents. Geary County's death records survive in the archives of Geary County Historical Society. These legal-size booklets contain flowing script with details about each deceased person: name, sex, race, age; date, place, and cause of death; marriage status and nationality; physician or person in attendance and undertaker.


    The differences between the records kept in 1917 and those kept in 1918 are stark. In 1917, Geary County recorded a total of 313 deaths. In 1918, a total of 1,551 died. In 1917, the causes of death were varied; from nephritis, “heart trouble,” and “probably” tuberculosis, to “found dead in bed,” killed by lightning, and killed by Ford car. In the fall, Camp Funston's construction brought tens of thousands of soldiers to Junction City and Fort Riley. An outbreak of viral meningitis became public in November; the first death at Fort Riley from cerebro-spinal meningitis was recorded on October 18, as reflected in Geary County's records. In all, our records reflect 50 deaths at Fort Riley from meningitis in 1917 — and 90 from pneumonia.


    It was a pattern that would become familiar. In 1918, in Geary County's official numbers, which included Fort Riley and Camp Funston, influenza accounted for 201 deaths, while 927 died of pneumonia or bronchopneumonia (source: Kansas State Historical Society, KansasMemory.org). In Junction City, 113 died of influenza, pneumonia, or bronchopneumonia, accounting for nearly 60% of deaths. Most of those who died in Geary County were men, due to soldiers mustering for war at Camp Funston. The demographics of the dead are shocking: of 1,340 men who died, 86% were in their twenties.


    This is characteristic of the “Spanish flu.” Unlike today's virus, 1918's influenza disproportionately targeted young, otherwise healthy people. One theory for the disproportionate effect is that those young people's immune systems had not previously been exposed to a similar strain of influenza. Another possibility is that poor sanitation, overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, and the impact of World War I made the population vulnerable to infection. Across the globe, from both influenza and the effects of war, untold millions of young men died.


    The Great War and the flu epidemic are tragedies beyond comprehension. Social distancing and the closure of public places might seem like an overreaction, but in a historic context, such measures are no doubt called for. Preparations for war prevented our nation and the military from taking these measures in 1918, which might have saved hundreds of soldiers' lives at Fort Riley alone.


    In Geary County's 1918 death records, entire pages are filled with young men who died at Fort Riley. The numbers are staggering. In a typical year, just one record book, containing 288 records, was sufficient to count the county's dead. In 1918, a total of six record books were needed. The literal numbers, those assigned to each person who died, were written by hand until October, when over 900 deaths from the pandemic began to fill book after book. On October 11, 1918, with record number 750 (page 64 of 130 in the above PDF), recordkeepers began using a stamp to keep track of deaths. The previous day, on October 10, a total of 72 men at Fort Riley died. Page after page, row after row of dead men.


    A series of quarantine measures were implemented in Junction City and throughout the state in the fall of 1918. In October, newspapers reported young women teaching in other cities were home living with their parents because their schools had closed. "Miss Ruth McGinty, who is teaching at Garfield, Kan., is the guest of her parents during the duration of the quarantine on schools," the Daily Union reported Oct. 14, 1918. On Oct. 8, the papers reported the Merchants Association was considering closing local stores in the evenings: “Many feel that while the quarantine is on, the stores should close in the evenings and give the employees as well as employers a rest.”


    By December, it appears the situation was looked upon as somewhat more dire. In Salina, the mayor threatened to shut down stores entirely. Store owners were violating the “15 customers to each 25 front feet” rule, and Mayor Ed Mathews was firm: "It doesn't make any difference whose store it is, what sort of a business it is or anything else. The quarantine must be observed impartially and it must be observed to the full." His outrage at store owners disobeying this order may sound familiar to some readers today: “Most of them frankly admitted that they had violated the order, and gave the same excuse, 'the other fellow is doing it.' ... One store yesterday afternoon was literally jammed with customers. This must not happen again. Our plan is to close up stores violating the order from this time on so long as the order remains in force.”


    We are currently working to transcribe the 1918 Geary County Death Records. Want to help? Check www.GCHSweb.org/p/spanish-flu.html for a link to our online spreadsheet and a PDF of the 1918 records.


    The museum is currently closed to the public, and there is no way to know how long the current state of affairs will last. We can only hope that our precautions will be effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. You can still follow Geary County Historical Society on social media — we are posting fun activities on Facebook and Instagram throughout the week. Follow us at Facebook.com/GearyHistory or @Geary_County_History on Instagram.

 

Even more about the 1917-18 Death Records: 

Q: What is ultimate goal of releasing these records?

A:  It is the mission of Geary County Historical Society to make our records available to the public, to promote knowledge of Geary County history, and to assist researchers interested in our records. Transcribing these records may help establish a timeline of the progress of influenza throughout Fort Riley.

Q: Why are 1917 records included here?

A: I included 1917's records in order to provide something of a benchmark for deaths in Geary County pre-dating the establishment of Camp Funston. These records also reflect the spread of spinal meningitis through Camp Funston in the fall of 1917. My transcript of those records is more complete at this time (03/23/2020) than my transcript of the 1918 records.

Q: Katie, how did you decipher all 1,800+ names in the 1917-18 death records?

A: Geary County Historical Society volunteers deserve credit for that monumental feat. Volunteers in our Research Center created indexes for these death records to assist with research. They transcribed those names, arranged them in alphabetical order by last name, and listed the record number for each name. I scanned these indexes, used optical character recognition software (Tesseract) on each page to generate a list of names and record numbers, cleaned up the list, reorganized the list by record number, and reviewed the spreadsheet for missing names and record numbers, which are reflected by blank rows. Names are listed in this spreadsheet by First Last, the way they are in the records, and a hidden column contains the names listed Last, First; this keeps the spreadsheet consistent with the original. 

Q: Would you like editors to replace middle initials in the transcript with full middle names, where they are legible in the original document?

A: Yes please!

Q: Should editors replace question marks with the words they have correctly deciphered with their superior eyeballs?

A: YES!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment