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The scourge of TB

It hit The Legal Genealogist‘s comments feed yesterday morning.

And hit my heart like a ton of bricks.

TB stampIt’s technically called a pingback… a note sent by one blog to another that says, in effect, “Hey! We quoted you!”1

And the one that came across yesterday was to a blog about the availability of records for patients who’d been treated at tuberculosis asylums in Michigan and who’d died more than 50 years ago.2

Now… why the pingback was triggered yesterday for a mention in a blog post published in 2016, I don’t know.

What I do know is that my family — like so many others — knew only too well the scourge of tuberculosis, a killer in the early years of the 20th century often called consumption.

At least three of my close relatives suffered from tuberculosis in those terrible times before antibiotics brought the disease under control:

Morris Gottlieb was the husband of Maud Cottrell, sister of my maternal grandfather Clay Cottrell, so my granduncle by marriage. He was diagnosed not long after their 1912 marriage, and fled to New Mexico from their home in Oklahoma in the hopes that the drier air would somehow effect a cure. He’d been given little chance for survival.3

Morris and Maud and their three children can be found in New Mexico as early as the 1920 census.4 And they were there in 19305 and 1940.6

They were still living there when Morris died, in Albuquerque, in 1961, at the age of 78. The cause of death: coronary thrombosis — a heart attack.7

So tuberculosis certainly impacted Morris Gottlieb’s life… but it didn’t kill him.

Abigail (Claymore) Cottrell was another of my grandfather’s in-laws, wife of his oldest brother John Cottrell. Abigail and John met and married in South Dakota,8 where John, then a widower with a young child, was a rancher.

The family can be found on the 1920 census of Dewey County,9 and in the 1925 South Dakota state census with their then-five-year-old son Phillip.10

John and Philip were enumerated in Mobridge, in Walworth County, in 1930.11 But Abigail was not recorded with them.

She couldn’t be. She was, instead, at the South Dakota State Sanitarium in Custer County12 — being treated for tuberculosis.

One of her grand-nephews told me she’d contracted the disease at an early age and lived with it as a chronic condition her entire life.13 A life that didn’t end until 17 January 1965, when Abigail was pushing 85 years of age.14

So, once again, tuberculosis certainly impacted Abigail’s life… but it didn’t kill her.

The same can’t be said for the third member of my family.

Martha Louise (Shew) Livingston was the grandmother of my maternal grandmother Opal (Robertson) Cottrell. Born in Alabama around 1855, she had some sort of a relationship with Jasper Baird that produced my great grandmother Eula (Baird) Robertson — but we’re not exactly sure if they were married or not.15

She went on to marry Abigah Livingston in 1876 and produce eight Livingston children, with some born in Alabama and some born after the family moved to Texas.16 The whole family was recorded there in Texas in 1900.17 While it was still Indian Territory, what became the State of Oklahoma was the next destination and the entire group had moved there in time for most of the family to be recorded there in 1910.18


But not all.

Sometime just after Oklahoma became a state, Martha Louise became ill. Nothing that anyone could do for her in Oklahoma seemed to be helping. She couldn’t breathe.

What was left to try to help her was what so many people at that time tried to do: she was sent off to a better climate, to the desert — to Red Lake in Colfax County, New Mexico, described in 1903 as “one extensive health resort” with weather “ideal for … the cure of consumption”19 in the hopes that what was diagnosed as tuberculosis could be brought under control.

It was not to be.

On the ninth of April 1909, tuberculosis claimed Martha Louise’s life.

The literature says that tuberculosis was “one of the leading causes of death in the United States in the early twentieth century.” That as many as “110,000 Americans died each year” from the disease in the early 1900s.20 It was one of the three top causes of death in those early years of the 20th century; in 1900, “194 of every 100,000 U.S. residents died from TB.”21

Sobering statistics for sure.

But somehow they don’t mean nearly as much to me in the aggregate as three in particular.

The suffering of Morris.

The suffering of Abigail.

And the death of Martha Louise.

My family.

Consumed by consumption.


  1. See MacMillan Online Dictionary ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018), “pingback.”
  2. Annika Peterson, “The ‘Forgotten Plague’ in the Upper Peninsula,” Northern Tradition, blog of the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives and the Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018).
  3. “Retired Jeweler Dies Here at 78,” Albuquerque Journal, 22 Nov 1961, p. 2, col. 3; digital images, ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018).
  4. 1920 U.S. census, McKinley County, New Mexico, Gallup, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 77, p. 192 (stamped), dwelling 46, family 52, Morris Gottlieb household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 April 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1074.
  5. 1930 U.S. census, Bernalillo County, New Mexico, Albuquerque, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 6, page 20(B) (stamped), dwelling 408, family 438, Morris Gottlieb household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Month 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 1392.
  6. 1940 U.S. census, Valencia County, New Mexico, Laguna, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 31-35, sheet 6B, household 62, Morris and Maud Gottlieb; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 2455.
  7. New Mexico Department of Health, Death Certificate, Morris Gottlieb, certified 21 Nov 1961, Division of Vital Statistics, Santa Fe; digital image in the possession of the author.
  8. Walworth County, South Dakota, marriage certif. no. 4-44450, John Cottrell and Abigail Claymore, 9 Nov 1914; County Clerk’s Office, Mobridge.
  9. Dewey County, South Dakota, population schedule, Trail City, p. 43, enumeration district (ED) 9(B) (stamped), sheet 2(B), dwelling 38, family 38, John W. Cottrell household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1719.
  10. See 1925 South Dakota State Census, Dewey County, Trail City, card nos. 239 (John W. Cottrell), 241 (Phillip Cottrell) and 622 (Mrs. John W. Cottrell); digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018); citing South Dakota Assessor, “State Census, 1925,” South Dakota Historical Society, Pierre, South Dakota.
  11. 1930 U.S. census, Walworth County, South Dakota, Mobridge, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 7, sheet 14(A), dwelling/family not recorded, John and Phillip Cottrell; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2232.
  12. 1930 U.S. census, Custer County, South Dakota, Township 4, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 4, p. 15(B) (stamped), dwelling 4, Abigail Cottrell, inmate; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2221.
  13. E-Mail Message, Sean Claymore to author, 1/27/2005, grand-nephew of Abigail (grandson of William S. Claymore, Abigail’s uncle); privately held.
  14. Aberdeen (SD) Daily Times, 19 Jan 1965, p. 2, col. 2.
  15. See Judy G. Russell, “A death in the family,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 9 Apr 2016 ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018).
  16. Ibid.
  17. 1900 U.S. census, Williamson County, TX, population schedule, Justice Precinct 2, enumeration district (ED) 125, p. 117(B) (stamped), sheet 9(B), dwelling 143, family 154, Abija Levingston household; digital image, ( : accessed 13 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1679.
  18. 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Hazel Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 250, p. 107(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 145, Abijah C Livingston household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275.
  19. Report of the Governor of New Mexico to the Secretary of the Interior (Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1903), 26; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018).
  20. Richard Sucre, “The Great White Plague: The Culture of Death and the Tuberculosis Sanatorium”, University of Virginia ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018).
  21. Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases,” MMWR Weekly, U.S. Centers for Disease Control ( : accessed 20 Apr 2018).
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