Pandemic of the past

While doing my best to stay home and avoid exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, I’ve found myself wondering about my ancestors during the Spanish Flu pandemic. The most recent 52 Ancestors prompt is “Newsworthy,” prompting me to seek answers in a local paper serving the county where my Sansbury family lived.

Based on news items in The Southern Star, it appears the Spanish Influenza reached Dale County, Alabama, by October 1918. Schools shut down and public gatherings were discouraged. On 9 October, The Southern Star reported a Liberty Day celebration scheduled for three days later had been canceled.1

19181009 Southern Star Big Day in Ozark Called Off p5 col5.jpg

The Southern Star, 9 Oct 1918

The following week, a short news item on the front page stated matter-of-factly “… it is th [sic] duty of every one to see that the instructions of the medical profession are carried out.”2

19181016 Southern Star Ozark Spanish Flu p1col5.jpg

The Southern Star, 16 Oct 1918

Interestingly, this shut-down did not appear to last long. (I won’t speculate on how much compliance with medical advice there may have been.) Within a few weeks, schools re-opened. In the newspaper style of the day, the one-sentence announcement without its own headline was buried in a column of local news snippets on page 5.3

19181030 Southern Star Schools Resume p5 col1.jpg

The Southern Star, 30 Oct 1918

Other activities quickly resumed in the community as well.4

19181106 Southern Star ban lifted p5 col4.jpg

The Southern Star, 6 Nov 1918

Although the editions printed around that time have scattered mentions of those who had taken ill and those who had recovered. I didn’t find any references to any known family members becoming victim to the Spanish Flu. However, I did rediscover a published letter from a cousin serving in the military. Sgt. Thomas B. Sansbury wrote the letter to his father, J.M.L. Sansbury.5 John Moses Leroy Sansbury was my great-grandfather’s older brother, neighbor, and business partner.

World War I had ended, but Thomas remained in France. He discussed some of his activities both before and after the armistice. He also revealed he had taken ill.

“I was in the hospital 14 days with the Spanish Flu last month. I sure don’t want it any more. I am getting along fine now …” – Sgt. Thomas B. Sansbury

So thanks to this letter, I do know at least one of my Sansbury relatives did get sick during the 1918 pandemic — and survived.

19190108 Southern Star Letter from Thomas Sansbury to JML p6 cols5-6 copy.jpg

The Southern Star, 8 Jan 1919


Please take precautions for yourself and those around you. Stay safe, everyone!

Did you have any relatives who contracted the Spanish Flu? Did it make the news? Please share your story in the comments!


#52Ancestors #genealogy #newsworthy #SpanishFlu #MaskUp


1 “Big Day For Ozark Called Off,” The Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, 9 October 1918, page 5, column 5; ( : accessed 21 July 2020).

2 “The ‘Flu’ In Ozark,” The Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, 18 October 1918, page 1, column 5; ( : accessed 21 July 2020).

3 “The school will begin …,” The Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, 30 October 1918, page 5, column 1; ( : accessed 21 July 2020).

4 “We have quite a number …,” The Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, 6 November 1918, page 5, column 4; ( : accessed 21 July 2020).

5 “An Itneresting [sic] Letter From France,” The Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, 8 January 1919, page 6, columns 5-6; ( : accessed 21 July 2020).


4 thoughts on “Pandemic of the past

    • Even if we can’t find anything specific to our families, the news stories provide some interesting historical/social context. I need to do the same searches for the other sides of my family.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Two of my Dad’s aunts died of the flu within days of each other in Minnesota in November 1918. The obituary for the second sister mentioned what a tragedy it was for the family to have lost these two young women – Hannah Bardahl and Susie Bardahl Estergren (who left a widowed husband and two young children).


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