Almost 100 years ago the world suffered from a devastating flu pandemic. It literally killed more people around the globe than World War I and infected over one-fifth of the world’s population. (1) The virus spread quickly due to global troop movements and the return home of millions of soldiers and sailors from foreign shores with the end of World War I. This particular strain of influenza was different in that it was most deadly to 20 -40 year-olds; whereas the majority of strains took their toll on the young and elderly. (2)
My late mother-in-law told me at one time that she never knew her paternal grandparents as they’d died in the 1918 flu epidemic. It wasn’t until I started researching this side of our family that I realized how devastating it was to this branch of ancestors.
Herbert and Carrie Hauk Atherton lived with their six children in Hancock County, Indiana, in a tiny town named Straughn. When I say tiny, I’m not joking; the population in Straughn in 2010 was 222. (3) The Athertons and their six children lived here until tragedy struck in November 1918.
Carrie, mother of six, aged twenty-nine years, contracted the deadly virus and died on 29 November 1918 (4). Her husband Herbert, aged thirty-four years was buried next to her on 9 December 1918 (5), a victim of the same deadly flu strain. After the couple’s two-year-old son Arthur succumbed to influenza on Christmas Day 1918, he was buried next to them in the Philadelphia Church Cemetery located in Hancock County, Indiana. (6)
The tragic loss of their parents left the five orphaned Atherton children in need of homes. Daughters Katherine and Nola ages 14 and 11 respectively, went to live with their mother’s parents Joseph and Mary Hauk, in Indianapolis (7) and the two boys, Joseph and Edwin, ages 7 and 5 respectively, went to live with a farmer and his wife in Delaware County, Indiana, near Muncie. (8) Both boys are listed as “orphans” on the 1920 census, living with Daniel and Hattie Ulrich. Joseph lived with the Ulriches until he was old enough to move out and by the age of 18 was working at a .5 and .10 store, living as a boarder in the home of Fletcher and Gladola Moffitt in Muncie. (9) What happened to the fifth sibling is unknown at this time.
My husband’s grandfather, Joseph Atherton moved to Indianapolis and became quite well-known as an amateur golfer around town. He was the club manager at several golf clubs including those in Greenfield, Crawfordsville, and Speedway, Indiana. Joseph was married four times and died in 1967 of a brain tumor. He is buried at Bunnell Cemetery in Clinton County, Indiana. (10)
Katherine Atherton wed Herbert Klika in September 1928. (11) She passed away in August 1961 and sometime in the years following, her husband went on to marry her sister, Nola. She passed away in September 1974,in Greenfield, Indiana . (12)
Edwin Atherton married Martha Duke in 1936 and the two had a son, Gary Eugene in 1937. Edwin joined the Army in 1943 and served during World War II. After returning stateside he joined the National Guard. (13) Edwin died in Margate City, New Jersey on 27 April 1978 and is buried at Dayton National Cemetery in Ohio. (14)
The deaths of Herbert and Carrie broke up the entire Atherton family. Sadly, they were only one of many so affected by the 1918 flu pandemic.
(1) https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/, retrieved 16 September 2016.
(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straughn,_Indiana, retrieved 16 September 2016.
(4) Death certificate for Carrie Hauk Atherton. Ancestry.com. Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.Original data:Indiana State Board of Health. Death Certificates, 1900–2011. Microfilm. Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, Indiana.
(5) The Hancock Democrat, 12 December 1918, page 1, via Newspapers.com.
(6) Death certificate for Arthur Lee Atherton. Ancestry.com. Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.Original data:Indiana State Board of Health. Death Certificates, 1900–2011. Microfilm. Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, Indiana.
(7) 1920 United States Federal Census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Indianapolis Ward 10, Marion, Indiana; Roll: T625_454; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 185; Image: 832
(8) 1920 United States Federal Census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Monroe, Delaware, Indiana; Roll: T625_427; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 52; Image: 362
(9) 1930 United States Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Muncie, Delaware, Indiana; Roll: 583; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0008; Image: 240.0; FHL microfilm: 2340318
(10) Death certificate for Joseph Emmett Atherton. Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 – Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com. Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.Original data:Indiana State Board of Health. Death Certificates, 1900–2011. Microfilm. Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, Indiana.
(11) Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XXN7-67H : 21 January 2016), Herbert H Klika and Katherine Louise Atherton, 22 Sep 1928; citing Henry, Indiana, United States, various county clerk offices, Indiana; FHL microfilm 1,887,604.
(12) Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011.
(13) National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.Original data: Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946 [Archival Database]; ARC: 1263923. World War II Army Enlistment Records; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park. College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.
(14) National Cemetery Administration. U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.
September 17, 2016 at 6:37 pm
The flu outbreak of 1918 was a major event in many families. I know in my own family it killed at least four that I have records for. I sometimes wonder how we would panic today.
September 17, 2016 at 9:33 pm
I agree. I can’t imagine what would become of our society.
March 18, 2017 at 1:34 pm
Great post, thanks for sharing. Hard to imagine the scope of something like this, and the fact that the young and healthy were especially at risk.