Uncle Albert and the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918

Sepia Saturday 523. First in a new series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

As we collectively live through the global Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, there is new interest in the last similar worldwide outbreak of a deadly respiratory disease – the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Surprisingly, news commentators and others generally say they knew little about the 1918 pandemic before now.

Yet I learned about that outbreak years ago because it claimed a collateral family member in the prime of his life – my paternal grandfather’s brother, Albert Barney Charboneau.

And it all started with a family photo.

The Charboneau brothers (circa 1910). From left, my paternal grandfather William Ray (b. 1888) and his brothers Albert Barney (b. 1885), George Dewey (b. 1899) and Orville Nile (b. 1892). The photo was taken at the John Mutchler Jr. Art Studio in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Charboneau brothers photo

When my parents retired and downsized to a new house, my dad hung the studio photograph shown above of my grandfather William Ray Charboneau and his brothers — Albert, Dewey and Orville. During a visit, I noticed the photo and asked Dad about his uncles. That’s when I first heard about Uncle Albert.

“Albert died in the 1918 flu pandemic,” Dad said, shaking his head. “Really a shame. I always thought he was the handsomest of the four brothers.” Sadly, Dad had to base his assessment on photographs because Albert died six years before my father was born.

The story of Albert’s untimely death stayed with me, and when I began doing regular genealogy research in the 1990s I asked Dad if he knew more. Alas, he did not.

“Well, it makes sense that the family wouldn’t talk about it,” I observed. “It must have been such a shock.”

“Oh, the family talked about Albert and what happened to him all the time,” Dad said. “I just can’t remember anything specific.”

A three-generation tale

So here was a 1918 pandemic story passed down through three generations of my family — from my grandparents to Dad to me. Yet the details remained elusive — and that got me wondering.

Why did Albert die and while other family members lived – including his wife? Who else got the flu in his area? What more could I learn about the deadly virus that claimed Albert and millions more?

In 1918, all four Charboneau brothers lived in the small Mohawk Valley town of Dolgeville in Herkimer Co., N.Y. — located northeast of Utica, the closest city. So how did the deadly influenza that was sweeping the globe arrive in this relatively sparsely populated area?

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017668638/
Infection control in Seattle, Wash., circa 1918, where passengers were not permitted to ride on street cars without wearing a mask. How did the deadly influenza then sweeping the globe arrive in sparsely populated Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., and claim the life of my dad’s Uncle Albert? Photo: Library of Congress

Time to tell Albert’s story

Over the years as I researched my family, I began gathering information about the 1918 influenza pandemic – books, news clips, whatever I could find – with the idea that one day, when the time seemed right, I would tell Uncle Albert’s story.

I never imagined that the right time would arrive this year — more than 100 years after the 1918 outbreak — as humanity grapples with a new, global coronavirus pandemic.

Suddenly the unimaginable 1918 infection control measures I read about – homemade masks, venues and schools closed, no large gatherings, social distancing – have become part of our everyday lives.  The significance of Albert’s death to those who loved him has also become all too real — with so many now losing loved ones to Covid-19.

Beyond the statistics

Today, daily briefings sum up the coronavirus toll and our progress in stopping its spread. Yet so many personal stories of individuals, their families and their communities are hidden in the numbers.

In her book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, author Gina Kolata speaks to this phenomenon:

One way to tell the story of the 1918 flu is through facts and figures, a collection of data whose impact is numbing and whose magnitude is almost inconceivable….But the raw numbers cannot convey the scenes of horror and misery that swept the world in 1918, which became part of everyday life in every nation, in the largest cities and the remotest hamlets.

In this new blog series, I hope to rescue Uncle Albert from the statistical realm by placing him in the context of his family and community and telling what I have discovered about his life — cut short in its prime by the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Up next, First born son: Albert Barney Charboneau. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Recap and Reflections on Endwell: My Elementary Years #AtoZChallenge

Recap and Reflections on Endwell: My Elementary Years — Including all twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Thanks for joining me on the journey and leaving so many supportive comments along the way!

When the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge ended on April 30, I was happy to be among the survivors who completed the online marathon — for the third time!

After generating twenty-six posts in just one month, I am craving a return to the more leisurely pace of weekly blogging as I continue to explore my ancestors’ lives and the research techniques I used to find them.

In 2008, I made a nostalgic visit to my second childhood home. At right is a silver birch tree that my dad planted. “Endwell: My Elementary Years” was my theme for this year’s A to Z Challenge — adding memoir to my family history blog to leave a digital diary like we genealogists wish our ancestors had left for us. Photo by former classmate Mike McQueen

Yet I thoroughly enjoyed taking a deep dive into my childhood this year and writing about my elementary years in Endwell, N.Y. — particularly as a positive creative outlet during the coronavirus quarantine.

Stay tuned, as I may follow up with a sequel about my early adolescence next year! Meanwhile, please read on for my RECAP and REFLECTIONS on this year’s A to Z Challenge.

RECAP OF “ENDWELL: MY ELEMENTARY YEARS”

Below are links to all A to Z posts about Endwell: My Elementary Years…where my genealogy journey germinated. Please check out any you may have missed. Comments are still open on the later posts — and I love hearing from readers!

2020: Malverne Road and Shady Drive in Endwell, N.Y., the crossroads of my elementary years. Photo: Amy L. Williamson

REFLECTIONS ON THE A TO Z CHALLENGE

Excellent participant list. Overall, I found this A to Z to be less hectic than in the past — in part because the participant list identified genealogy and family history bloggers to help me focus my visits/comments. I’m glad the organizers listened to our requests for this!

Quality over quantity. I mainly visited/revisited A to Z bloggers who made thoughtful comments on my blog — and in turn, I gave their posts my attention. I also visited/revisited bloggers I met during past challenges. I learned so much from all the blog posts I read and commented on — and from the comments I received. These connections were particularly meaningful as we collectively sheltered at home during the rollout of the COVID-19 quarantine.

1957: My family’s move to Endwell, N.Y. made the paper during my elementary years. The “three children” in the last sentence are my younger brothers and me. (Village Notes, Altamont Enterprise, 19 July 1957, p. 5). Source: NYS Historic Newspapers

Embracing memoir. My blog focuses on ancestral research — exploring my forebears’ lives and placing them in historical context.

But it’s also important to include ourselves in the mix — to leave behind an online diary like the ones we wish our ancestors had left.

So I followed up the early childhood theme from my last A to Z Challenge with blogs this year about my elementary years. And I was again gratified by the positive feedback and parallel childhood experiences that visiting bloggers shared.

Many thanks to everyone who visited, subscribed, followed and commented on Molly’s Canopy. You  made my third A to Z Challenge so rewarding. And I hope you will stay with me throughout the year as my genealogy journey continues!

Up next: After a brief break, regular blogging resumes at Molly’s Canopy. Please stop back!

 © 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Zap! Adolescence begins #AtoZChallenge

Sepia Saturday 519. Z is for Zap! Adolescence begins. Last of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. I’m grateful to be completing the challenge! Thanks for joining me on the journey.

By the end of my elementary years in Endwell, N.Y., I had grown in ways I might not have on our Altamont, N.Y. farm.

I learned how to negotiate social interactions with the 50-or-so kids on my block — and with my network of Baby Boom friends at school.

My connections to nature deepened with annual trips to Cape Cod, weekend jaunts to our lakeside camp and living near the flood-prone Susquehanna River.

My family all dressed up for Easter (1964). I was fourteen when when this photo was taken — starting into my teens and all decked out in my white hat and gloves. Front from left, my brother Jeff, sister Amy and brother Mark. Back from left, Gramps [my maternal grandfather Tony Laurence], me, my dad Norm Charboneau and Boom [my ever-fashionable maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence]. Stretched behind us is Malverne Rd. in Endwell, N.Y. — the backdrop of my elementary years. Photo: Peg (Laurence) Charboneau
Through my teachers, late-night radio, television, library visits and reading I also became aware of the larger world beyond my small suburban town. And thus I transitioned into my teenage years.

Crushes and conflicts

A sure sign that adolescence was upon me was an endless stream of boys and crushes that began to populate my diary. I barely wrote anything when I was twelve — and those entries were mostly in pencil and often about family events like visits to my grandparents.

A five-year diary much like mine. A sure sign that adolescence was upon me was an endless stream of boys and crushes that began to populate my diary — only to be replaced by more serious entries toward the end of my first teen year.

But when I turned thirteen in 1963 all that changed. I began writing in pen, I journaled every day in much bolder cursive  — and the main subject was boys.

Who I had a crush on, who my friends liked and the seemingly endless list of places where we could and did run into boys — at school, at skating parties and dances, at ice cream socials, at the lake, at sports events, when they came down to our block and even at church!

Although I also wrote about conflicts with my girlfriends from the neighborhood and from school. We argued, we stopped speaking, then we reconsidered and resumed hanging around together — all part of the mix-and-match of sorting out the dawning teenage years.

A sudden life-changing event

Yet while lighter, flirtatious entries dominated the early months of my teen diary — near the end of the year a sudden, life-changing event marked the true dividing line between my elementary years and adolescence.

That event was the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy.

https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2017/fall/jfk-records
The Kennedy motorcade in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963. Near the end of 1963, when I was thirteen, a sudden, life-changing event marked the true dividing line between my elementary years and adolescence. That event was the assassination of U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy. Photo: U.S. National Archives

The day it happened, our principal came on the Junior High loud speaker in the afternoon and unexpectedly called us all back to homeroom. What could it be, we wondered?

Once we were seated in our respective classrooms he made the shocking PA announcement that the president had been killed. I started to cry as the reality washed over me — and I headed for my diary soon after I got home.

Nov. 22, 1963 The president is dead!!!! John F. Kennedy was killed today by 2 bullets & died in his wife’s arms! I cried for hours in school! It’s so sad! He was such a great man!

The stuff of life decisions

School was cancelled for the next few days. While my parents and siblings led a normal life upstairs, I took up residence in our basement rec room, glued to non-stop TV news coverage — unusual back then — of the assassination and its aftermath.

Which is how I ended up seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV! And where I watched JFK’s funeral procession. And where I started weighing my first life decisions.

Nov. 25, 1963 – I hope to further my knowledge by reading a lot! I want to go into politics if I can! It will require a lot of reading.

Dec. 3, 1963 – I’ve decided to be a writer. I was talking to Dad & he said the ideal profession was writing! I could work for a newspaper! Maybe I could even write about JFK!

Zap! Adolescence begins

All of this happened long before independent investigations by attorney Mark Lane, filmmaker Oliver Stone and others raised doubts about the official version of the Kennedy assassination.

Yet even at thirteen, I sensed that this unprecedented event — which rose above my usual day-to-day concerns about boys and ice cream socials and trips to the lake — demanded a more mature, thoughtful  approach than anything that had happened during my elementary years.

And Zap! That’s how my adolescence began.

Please stop back on May 4 for the wrap-up post: “Recap and Reflections on Endwell: My Elementary Years.” Your comments as always are greatly appreciated! Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time