Learning From The Past, And How Your Story Can Help Future Generations

Just a few weeks ago if someone had told me that due to the COVID-19 Pandemic I would be working from home instead of my office at the Shelby County Museum & Archives, I would have laughed. But I'm not laughing now. I miss my daily routine at the museum. I miss my research assistants and all our visitors. I even miss the phone ringing, which says a lot.

But I am trying to focus my time on the things I can control. While I can’t work with the public during this trying time, I can find a way to keep communication open. 

I saw something on Facebook the other day that really hit home for me. The post encouraged people to write about their experiences during this history-making pandemic. I want to stress that history is being made today, and we will read about this event for a long time.

I encourage others to keep a record of what is happening. Whether you type it up in a word document, or use old-fashioned pen and paper, it is important to keep a record of what this experience means to you. Don’t let the news outlets define this time for you. Do it yourself so that you leave a record for future generations.

There will come a time when you are no longer here to tell your story in person, but your written records will live on. Your ancestors will read what you wrote, and they will know you a little bit better because of the gift you have given them.

Oh, and take plenty of pictures. Genealogists love that!

Jennifer Maier

Executive Director

Shelby County Museum & Archives

and Shelby Iron Works Park

Letter carrier in New York wearing mask for protection against influenza. New York City, October 16, 1918.  Letter carriers, mass transit workers, and others who came in contact with the public, were especially vulnerable to disease. Wearing a face mask helped them avoid contagion.

Photo Courtesy of the National Archives.

Lessons Learned from the 1918 Influnenza Pandemic

Nurse wearing a mask as protection against influenza. September 13, 1918.  In October of 1918, Congress approved a $1 million budget for the U. S. Public Health Service to recruit 1000 medical doctors and over 700 registered nurses. Nurses were scarce, as their proximity to and interaction with the disease increased the risk of death. 


Photo Courtesy of the National Archives.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919.  In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.


Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. While the 1918 H1N1 virus has been synthesized and evaluated, the properties that made it so devastating are not well understood. With no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections, control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly.

Click here for full article.

Source: Centers For Disease Control and Prevention


Telegram from county food administrator to headquarters, Oklahoma City, regarding cancellation of public meetings, October 3, 1918. U.S. Food Administration.

The flu interrupted the activities of the U.S. Food Administration responsible for rationing during World War I. The Administration's Wilburton, Oklahoma, office cancelled its public meeting because of 300 reported cases of flu in the area.

Photo Courtesy of the National Archives

Telegram to Superintendent of the Pima Agency, Arizona, regarding condition of flu patient, October 17, 1918. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The flu spread rapidly in institutional settings, including government operated Indian schools. This notification of a student's pneumonia following influenza is one of thousands sent from Indian schools to next-of-kin.

Photo Courtesy of the National Archives