Family newspapers kept during Spanish flu give hope to descendants of Ohio during coronavirus pandemic


A northeastern Ohio woman’s diary on farming and life during the 1918 flu pandemic and World War I brought comfort and hope to future generations as the nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

“No school because of the” Spanish flu “,” wrote Lucy Vandervort Cox, who died in 1964 at the age of 84, in her diary on Monday October 7, 1918, a “cloudy and much cooler” day in Wilmington.

Jennifer Weinbrecht, 63, kept the diaries of her great-grandmother, which were written from 1899 to 1964, and were then passed on to her by her deceased mother, JoAnne Womacks.

Jennifer Weinbrecht

The diaries, which Weinbrecht also calls the great books, show a snapshot of the hard work of farming and raising a family. Kept mostly in the form of a daily activity log, they offer some additional snippets of what life was like during the 1918 flu pandemic.

“I search my great-grandmother’s diaries for names or words and learn a wealth of information,” Weinbrecht told NBC News in Novelty, Ohio. “Sometimes these are fun stuff – like when she said she had finished her Hubbard mom, and I looked up on Google and found it was a dress that could be worn without a tight corset for work on the farm, ”she said.

Lucy Vandervort Cox or “Grandma Cox” and her family.Courtesy of Jennifer Weinbrecht

“Grandma Cox”, as she is affectionately known, worked on a vegetable farm in Wilmington with her husband, Henry, and raised two children, Ernest and Elsie. Elsie, Weinbrecht’s grandmother, was the daughter of Cox’s brother but was adopted into the family on the death of the mother.

Weinbrecht began years ago to transcribe diaries in the hopes of further preserving his family history. The family saw them again recently when their daughter Amy Patterson, 38, wanted to see what advice they could glean while staying indoors to protect themselves from the pandemic.

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Jennifer Weinbrecht

Patterson, who works as a part-time reporter for the Geauga County Maple Leaf in Chardon, Ohio, wrote an article for the newspaper on how lessons learned from the 1918 flu could help readers conquer COVID -19.

“While a global pandemic closing schools and businesses looks like new territory, many of our families still bear the scars of the 1918 flu pandemic,” she wrote.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 50 million people worldwide died from the H1N1 pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish flu. In the United States alone, approximately 675,000 people were killed at the time.

Ohio has 14,694 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 656 deaths from the new coronavirus, according to the Ohio Department of Health. In the United States on Friday, there were 828,441 cases and 46,379 deaths overall, including probable cases and losses. Ohio and many other states have issued residence orders, with a small number of states choosing not to issue such restrictions.

As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine, Patterson said that looking back at family history could bring hope, connection and perspective.

Patterson, who has two sons, ages 9 and 11, decided to read some of the entries to see how they related to her own family’s experiences now.

“It was just a very good time to assess how serious it is, compared to the gravity of our ancestors,” Patterson said on the phone from Chardon.

In an entry, Cox wrote about cooking and how her husband, Henry, shelled the corn.

“I baked bread and sugar cakes and picked mangoes,” she wrote on Monday October 28, 1918. “Then the kids and I went to town in [the] evening after a little more medicine to prevent the flu. ”

Jennifer Weinbrecht

Patterson recalled how his great-great-grandmother’s younger brother went on duty during the war, how the school and the church were closed due to flu precautions, but Cox continued to work. agricultural work and to give priority to his family.

“My kids have a hard time not being connected to their friends at school,” said Patterson. “This is the time of life, they learn to be social and being forced to do it in person to do it on the screen is not ideal, but I think we are almost more connected than before . ”

She attributes the story of Grandma Cox to some of these elements. “We send these family photos back and forth. My children are asking questions about our family because of this story, ”she said.

In another diary entry, Cox described what appeared to be a normal day, what the family ate – they baked a cake and bread, they went on a city trip with the kids – a typical November day that was ” clear ”but had a“ very cold wind ”. The entry ends with a sentence about the death of Mary, 14, who died from the flu. A very brutal reminder of the virus that was wreaking havoc in his community.

Jennifer Weinbrecht

The following month, she recorded the names of more lives lost due to the flu.

“But, between the deaths and the funeral adding to Lucy’s register, she also recorded signs of everyday life – city visits, minor injuries to children and several marriages – in a sign that life was going on , even in the midst of a world at war, “wrote Patterson.

Weinbrecht, who owns a bookstore called Jane Austen Books with her two daughters, said she transcribed and digitized decades of diaries. Until now, it is until 1935.

“They can’t stop. Even when [Grandma Cox] says, “Oh, I feel really bad,” she just has to keep going, “said Weinbrecht.


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