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Preach it, Lara…

On the second of March 1900, the Mullens family of Berk Creek, Kanawha County, West Virginia, lost two little girls.

Martha Mullens was six years old.

Her sister Myrtle was just 20 months old.1

Lawrence Jennings Bird of Welford, West, Virginia, son of W.H. and B.N. Bird, was one year old when he died in December 1899.2

Miggel May, daughter of W.H. and K.B. May of St. Albans, was two when she died on 31 August 1903.3

May White, daughter of A.C. and M. White of Clendennin, was two years, 11 months and 27 days old when she died on 24 July 1903.4

B.R. Young, son of H.G. and Annie Young of Weir, was two years and one month old when he died on 8 August 1903.5

On one page of volume 1 of the Kanawha County death register:

• William Gibson, son of George Gibson, was two years, one month, and 10 days old when he died on September 15, 1903.6

• John Shelton, son of Robert Shelton, was three years, six months and 1 day old when he died on October 20, 1903.7

• Nellie Rathie, daughter of Robert Rathie, was six years, two months and 14 days old when she died on December 19, 1903.8

• Jessie Drew, son of L.D. Drue, was one year, three months and four days old when he died on February 5, 1903.9

The cause of death, in every single one of these cases: measles.

Measles death

The Legal Genealogist is hardly the first genealogist to note the true cost in human life among those in past generations because we didn’t have vaccines to protect against diseases like measles. Just yesterday, genealogy blogger Lara Diamond wrote a powerful post, “Genealogy & the Power of Vaccines,” that prompted this one.

A Baltimore resident, Lara is watching with alarm the growing number of measles cases there and noted: “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.”10

Lara focused on records found in her research, showing children’s deaths in what was then Hungary and is now Ukraine. But lest you misunderstand — lest anyone get the idea that this was a problem of “those people” or “over there” — as you can see from the records above, it was not an isolated problem, not a European problem.

Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control website notes, right after measles became a notifiable disease here in 1912, “an average of 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported each year.” And, sadly, as late as the 1950s and early 1960s, before a measles vaccine was available, “each year, among reported cases, an estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from measles.”11

These are not just numbers.

Just scan the Kanawha County, West Virginia, death registers, available online at the West Virginia Vital Research Records Project of the West Virginia Archives12 or on FamilySearch13 and look beyond the cause of death column.

His name was Robert Gibson. He was five years, 11 months and 10 days old when he died on 11 May 1911 in Charleston, West Virginia. The cause of death: pneumonia following measles.14

Rupert Hudnall was one year old when he died on 7 March 1912 in Cabin Creek District.15

And it was not only children. Nora Price was 33 when she died on 14 March 1911 in Union District.16

The lesson for today? Let me quote Lara Diamond: “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.”17

Preach it, Lara… Preach it.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Learning from the past,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 29 Apr 2019).


  1. Kanawha County, West Virginia, Death Record, 1: 188, lines 15-16; digital images, “Death records, 1853-1967,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 Apr 2019).
  2. Ibid., 1: 183, line 5.
  3. Ibid.,1: 211, line 1.
  4. Ibid., 1: 207, line 14.
  5. Ibid., line 15.
  6. 1: 201, line 1.
  7. Ibid., line 2.
  8. Ibid., line 5.
  9. Ibid., line 6.
  10. Lara Diamond, “Genealogy & the Power of Vaccines,” Lara’s Jewnealogy, posted 28 Apr 2019 ( : accessed 29 Apr 2019).
  11. Measles History: Pre-vaccine Era,” Centers for Disease Control ( : accessed 29 Apr 2019).
  12. Search Death Records,” West Virginia Vital Research Records Project, West Virginia Archives and History ( : accessed 29 Apr 2019).
  13. Kanawha County, West Virginia, Death Record vols. 1-4 (1867-1937); digital images, “Death records, 1853-1967,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 Apr 2019).
  14. Ibid., 1: 295, line 1.
  15. Ibid., 2: 5, line 2.
  16. Ibid., 1: 302, line 11.
  17. Diamond, “Genealogy & the Power of Vaccines.”
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