About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

No one has had it as bad as we do!

It would have been hard to comprehend just a few years ago what we are going through now, in April 2020, with the Corona Virus (CoVID-19) and the sequestering of which we have been charged to do. And if we do wander out among the people of the world, we must keep 6 feet between two people. This is less than desirable for most folks and a lot of people are complaining via social media, believing that this hardship of the quarantine is unfair, unlawful (contrary to the Constitution), and anti-family (or anti-church, anti-groups - like genealogy society meetings, etc.). The government is making us prisoners in our own homes. This is unprecedented! Well, that is probably accurate, considering those alive today (with the exception of those who have been or are in prison). But it is not at all unprecedented.

Yes, we can look back to earlier epidemics and pandemics, experienced by ancestors, who ended up quarantined until any danger of contamination of others had passed. How else would the legal system of a village, county, or larger region handle the vulnerability of anyone who had not developed immunity to whatever the disease was? Inoculations were not recognized until the mid- to late-18th Century but were not accepted  by the general public (https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline#EVT_24); but the virus flooding our hospitals today is not yet treatable with a prophylactic vaccine.

In more recent years, just a century ago, the influenza pandemic (world-wide as opposed to country- or state-wide epidemic) resulted in large numbers of patients (not six feet apart) crammed into hospital tents and nursed by masked caregivers - sound familiar? Check out the photos of the quarantine efforts: https://loc.gov/search/?in=&q=1918+influenza+pandemic&new=true&st=


Ward #4, Annex #7, American Hospital, Blois, France
Soldiers in hospital beds with nurses and other patients nearby, 21 April 1919
Library of Congress

But let's go back further, and here I am influenced by the number of cruise ships that have been "docked" away from harbors because of the threat of CoVID-19 being on board. The virus can incubate for 14 days, meaning that a person could be positive for the disease, but not know it, yet infecting those with whom he/she comes in contact any time in that period (there's no guarantee of infection or immunity). Like Typhoid Mary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mallon), these infected folks are an issue of concern, hence the quarantine (even if for 14 instead of the 40 days ships of years gone by).

I also liken this current situation to those of years gone by . . . a lot of years. Some of my ancestors came to America in 1630, 1849, 1855, 1864, and 1871. I do not know exactly how it was for every immigrant who boarded a ship, but I do expect that most, if not all, of my family came via steerage (the lowest classification for passengers). So, for all intents and purposes, they experienced "forced" sequestering. Let's look at the differences:

Today - We are encouraged to stay at home unless our work is considered "necessary" for the community to keep afloat.
Then - Ancestor passengers did not have choices of where to go. In some cases, Steerage passengers were permitted to go up on deck, but that was no guarantee. So staying "at home" in their massive, shared compartment was the only choice (other than jumping overboard).

Detroit Publishing Co., publisher; © 1902
Library of Congress

Today - We are permitted to go shopping, but do not hoard and keep time in the store limited or, even better, order items for delivery (though some delivery dates of groceries is many days from the ordering date).
Then - Some shipping companies provided provisions for the trip, but there was no air drop of emergency supplies or food, should they run short (which many did). Those who brought their own provisions (in part or total) hoarded and often kept secret info about the food items they did have.

Today - Paper products (toilet paper in particular), soaps, sanitation items, etc. are hard to acquire and may not be available for a number of days or weeks, or longer. We still have water when we turn on the tap and electricity as needed (even if delinquent with a bill payment).
Then - What's toilet paper? (The Sears catalog was not hung in the outhouse as bathroom reading material.) On the ship, soap was encouraged to be used, but not always available. Staying clean and keeping clothing clean was a constant challenge. I'll leave you to imagine the smell and unsanitary conditions. There was no such thing as "ordering" supplies! And clean water was at a premium (some washed with whiskey because of the lack of clean water); what's electricity?

Today - Our entertainment and way to pass time is limited to whatever books we happen to have at home or on our e-readers, games on iPads, videos, and social media and similar chat sessions. School takes place online.
Then - What's an iPad or e-reader or video? Books are too bulky to include in one's luggage for the trip, except, perhaps, for the Bible. Chatting was done in person and parents taught their children, as appropriate (if a parent doesn't read, it's hard to teach the skill to anyone, let alone a child). The only "line" used is the shipping line.

Today - Social Distance is the new term for staying at least six feet apart. This is designed to minimize cross-contamination if anyone is contagious (knowingly or not)
Then - Especially in steerage: there was no way to create a six foot space between people. Cross-contamination was inevitable, except in cases where a person was immune; however, because such an individual, an asymptomatic condition may mean he/she can pass on the disease to others.

Unprecedented? No, but certainly hard to imagine . . . until, perhaps, now. And as we look out our windows, no matter what we see, it has to be better than what those in steerage saw, due to their lack of any view! So as we continue to "endure" our isolation, let's keep in mind and memory the ancestors who sacrificed everything to sail to the "new" country and realize that we really have it pretty good. Thanks to the multi-great-grandparents for allowing us life today, wherever we need to spend it.

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