Albert G. Conlon sent an e-mail this week saying (in part):
Reading your newsletter I do not recall any recent articles about research into historical epidemics or history of diseases. This is an area I'm currently researching, attempting to ascertain a possible cause of death (and resources) for ancestors in England and the U.S.
Attached is a book review. I provide it for your perusal. Feel free to use any/all and modify/edit as you desire. My intent is to hopefully assist others that are researching the same area.
Thank you Albert! I read it and would love to share it with others. I'm sure many others will appreciate your insights as well.
The following was written by newsletter reader Albert G. Conlon and is republished here with his permission:
Beginning research into your family history eventually leads to the cause of death of previous generations. Either through death certificates or cemetery records, you will encounter disease names that are not familiar to current pubic medical understanding. Deciphering the historic medical terminology was accomplished by visiting one of my favorite research websites, www.refdesk.com. Finding a reference for determining dates of various epidemics proved problematic. Initially the problem required numerous visitations with my local reference librarians (all of them just fantastic and friendly, end of shameless plug) at the Seminole County Public Library, Main Branch. Of the several sources I perused within the past few months, I highly recommend the following two books. Both are available either through your local library or through Interlibrary Loan.
First, I highly recommend "The Great Influenza, The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History" by John M. Barry (ISBN 0143034480 - paperback, Penguin Books, 2005). The Prologue and the first three chapters of Mr. Barry's book sketch the condition of the worldwide "Public Health" scene prior to the influenza pandemic of 1918. Mr. Barry, in plain language, portrays a grim picture of newly established Public Health Departments in the United States and England. He paints a vivid picture of pre-World War I health conditions and how unprepared Public Health Departments are to cope with a disease of pandemic proportions. Mr. Barry provided this researcher with a better understanding of health conditions and the impact of diseases in the United States and Europe prior to World War I. Additionally, Mr. Barry has provided an extensive bibliography, for those so inclined, for further research into the influenza pandemic. I feel it is a must read for any genealogist or family researcher to obtain an understanding of the era.
The second book, "Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence" by George C. Kohn (ISBN 0816027587 - Facts of File, Inc., 1995) is indispensable for any amateur genealogist or family historian. This encyclopedia provides an excellent explanation of the names of various diseases. This was very helpful for this researcher in understanding why the disease may be the same but the name of the disease may change as medical knowledge and skills advance. Commencing on page 360, the book provides a timeline of plague and pestilence throughout history from the 11th Century B.C. up to 1994. The timeline provides the year(s), name of the disease(s), and locality for each event. Each epidemic or plague event has a short description and explanation that occupies the intervening pages of the book. This book is an essential read for any amateur genealogist or family history researcher.
These are the two books that have assisted me in the last few months. I pass them on with the hope of assisting my fellow researchers. For me, it's back to my research; I must have the facts. Let's see, smallpox in London from 1900 - 1903…