Sunday, April 28, 2019

Genealogy & the Power of Vaccines

I live in Baltimore, one of the places where measles (considered eradicated from the United States) has hit.  While the majority of the people I know are vaccinated and vaccinate their children, there are those who think that measles and the like are innocuous childhood diseases.  As a genealogist, I've seen how many children died before we had vaccinations.  And as an aunt to a niece who ended up in the ICU because of a vaccine-preventable disease, I've seen what the lack of herd immunity is doing.
Jewish Deaths, Volovets District, 1892

I looked at a Jewish death register from the 1890s and browsed through the causes of death.  The area covered by this book is currently in Ukraine, but in the 1890s, it was part of Hungary.  Google Translate tells me that the Hungarian word for "measles" is "kanyaró."
Ages & Causes of Death
On July 15, 1892, Leizer Herman died of measles.  He was 3 years & 6 months old.  On July 26, 1892, Pinchesz Fromer died of measles.  He was 11 months & 7 days.  The death on the line right on top of Leizer and Pinchesz is that of 1-year-old Judesz Kozenberg.  She died of diphtheria, another disease that is vaccine-preventable today.

These death books are filled with the deaths of very young children of things that you no longer hear children contracting, let alone dying as a result of contracting these illnesses.  Vaccines work.

When my niece Hailey was born, she was small but healthy.  But within a week, she began to cough, and a few weeks later, the coughs were bad enough that she would turn blue and pass out.  She stopped breathing and even had a seizure.  My newborn niece had contracted pertussis (whooping cough), something she wasn't old enough to have been vaccinated against--but which others could have, saving her this ordeal.  You can read her story here.

Genealogists can and should learn from the past.  Get vaccinated.  Protect those who cannot get vaccinated--because of age or medical issues--from being exposed to these diseases.  We don't want to see modern causes and ages of death to mirror those of a just a century ago.

You can now like my page on Facebook:

or .

Want to get future blog posts emailed to you automatically?
Enter your email address:


  1. At the Chebra Kadisha of Chelsea Cemetery in Woburn MA, I recently came across three adjacent children’s graves, sisters who had died of scarlet fever within a week of one another in August of 1908. Although there is no vaccine for this infection, modern antibiotics have now made such deaths extremely rare. It is sobering to think of how we now take such modern interventions for granted.

  2. Great message!!

    I'm half Hungarian but grew up speaking English, so I wasn't familiar with the Hungarian words for those old diseases that *should* be eradicated in this day and age. The literal translation of diphtheria is "throat lizard"! So despite the sadness, this one little thing amused me. :)

    Another thing I found while researching some of my Hungarian ancestors (this also would have been in the late 1800s, early 1900s) is that many babies around 1-2 years old died of "teething" (fogzás). I looked this up and it turns out that many babies died *around the time* they started teething, and people often didn't know what it was due to. Could have been SIDS, could have been some other childhood illness. But since they didn't know, they put it down to teething.

    Sadly, many children didn't live to their 5th birthday back then. It seems there's always at least one child's death per family, sometimes several, depending on the size of the family. Let's not return to those day!

  3. As a polio survivor I feel strongly about the need for vaccinations for "childhood diseases". I remember what it was like when every summer brought an epidemic that killed many children (and adults)and left others crippled. Fortunately for thousands of others, my summer was the last before the vaccine became available. Polio, like measles, should have been eradicated worldwide by now, but hasn't been because of folks who refuse to vaccinate. I shudder when I think how easy it is for someone to bring it and other diseases back here on a simple airplane trip.