Pandemic of 1918 — impact on families

By Jim Dickerson

We are now hoping to survive a coronavirus pandemic, but actually a pandemic is something we’ve already seen in American history.
The “Spanish flu” caused an unusually deadly pandemic. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, it infected some 500 million people—about a quarter of the world’s population at the time. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
This disease had an impact on almost every family at the time, including mine (and possibly yours).

When I was growing up in western Colorado and southeastern Utah, my dad would talk once in a while about his own family history. An important part of that story was the Spanish flu epidemic.
Back in the 1910s, my grandfather Hiram H. P. Dickerson and his wife, Lydia, moved their family from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to Mesa County, Colorado, where they planned to join other family members and continue farming.
My dad always said they moved by “covered wagon,” although I have no way to verify that.
The family made it to Mesa County, but disaster struck in 1918, when my grandmother, Lydia, died at age 30 from the Spanish flu. She left behind six children, the oldest of which was 13 and the youngest was three. My dad was just six years old at the time and had a younger sister.
I can only imagine the hardships many families faced back in those days. The medical resources were very limited compared to today, and communication was very limited in remote places like western Colorado.
Hiram continued farming. Most of the children were “farmed out” to uncles and aunts living in that area. From a young age, they were all expected to help with farm work.
Then, in 1920, my grandfather Hiram also died at age 40. I don’t know if the Spanish flu was the cause of his death or not, but the time frame would be right.
His death definitely meant all the children would be raised by relatives in that area, which actually helped them stay “together” in many ways as they were growing up. My dad lived with an uncle in Delta County, graduated from Delta High School and later attended college in Gunnison, Colorado.

This is one of those family stories that makes the rounds; but we didn’t know many specific details until recently. My sister and I had always intended to research the Dickerson family tree at some point, but we had never found the time. Local genealogist Deb Landauer volunteered to do some family research for us and found many of the specifics. She actually provided research on my family tree dating back to the early 1800s. Thanks, Deb!
During this current pandemic, when many of us are self-isolating, family history research might be an interesting way to pass the time.
Those looking for some help with research might want to attend one of the monthly meetings of the Boone-Nance Genealogical Society.