Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes: Galveston 1900

There are many examples of natural disasters around the world and throughout history that have taken lives – sometimes whole families. Epidemics, in the days before vaccines and effective medical treatments could run rampant through communities. Floods have destroyed property and occasionally resulted in deaths of those caught up in rapidly rising waters and the swirling currents of raging rivers. Major storms, certainly the cause of some large-scale floods, have sometimes killed people.

I have done a number of studies of natural phenomena and their effects on communities and people in the past, and have a library of examples of rapidly-developing events and long-term environmental changes that had serious repercussions on people’s lives and livelihoods.

Events that stand out include hurricanes that arrive with tremendous destructive force, often catching people unprepared. One such storm that is remembered in reports at the time and many publications afterward was the tempest that struck Galveston, Texas, USA on 8 September 1900.

It was a Category 4 storm, with winds up to 145 miles per hour (233 km/h). Over 6,000 people were killed in collapsed buildings and a 15-foot storm surge that swept over the island. The severity of the elements was not predicted or expected and completely overwhelmed the entire island of Galveston and the city perched on its shore. It was the deadliest hurricane in US history.
 
Panarama of destruction from the 1900 Galveston hurricane (downloaded from https://www.1900storm.com/
As in all similar events, there are thousands of stories that go along with the casualties. Family historians who had relatives in these areas will have particular interests in detailing how the physical conditions affect members of their families and the communities in which they lived.
 
The orphanage of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is shown in this circa 1896 photo where it sat in the sand dunes along the gulf coast in Galveston, Texas. Both buildings were destroyed and 90 children and 10 nuns were killed when a hurricane slammed into the island 8 September 1900 (downloaded from http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bayarea/slideshow/The-1900-Storm-in-Galveston-69849/photo-5159418.php) 
One very sad tale arising from the event had to do with the complete destruction of the Sisters of Charity St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum. Among those lost were 10 sisters and 90 children.  Only three children survived the onslaught of wind and water: William Murney, Frank Madera and Albert Campbell. All three clung to the branches of a tree for over a day until they were able to climb down on to dry land and find their way to town. Only William Murney and Albert Campbell appear on the US 1900 census of 27 June for Galveston, so Frank must have come to the location only a short time before disaster struck.
 
Sisters and children at the St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum about 1900 (downloaded from https://www.1900storm.com/orphanage.html) 
William Murney lost a younger brother at the orphanage who he had tried in vain to save. Their parents had died within a few days of one another in July 1894. Two sisters, not in residence at the orphanage also survived. One sister, Josephine, had been adopted by a Galveston family prior to 1900. Information about William and his family can be found on Find A Grave.

Frank Madera has been born in Austria and came to America in 1898 with his mother and sister. Following the death of his mother two months after their arrival, the children were placed in the orphanage. The sister was living in Houston when the hurricane attacked. His story can be found on Find A Grave.

Albert Campbell and his sister, Magdalena, lived with an older sister, after their parents died. They were sent to the orphanage on a temporary basis when the sister and her husband moved to Kansas. The storm caught them before they could rejoin their family members. More information about Albert and his family can also be found on Find A Grave.

The three boys apparently sporadically kept in touch over the years but never met as a group again. All three eventually married and had children. Frank died in 1953; Albert died in 1955; and William died in 1971. Some descendants came to Galveston in 1994 when a memorial for the hurricane’s orphanage victims was dedicated. A very interesting summary of their lives during and after the event can be found on the pages of the Galveston Daily News for 16 October 1994.

There also will be dozens of stories about the families of those staff and children at the orphanage who did not survive. Families of individuals lost, at the orphanage and across Galveston Island during the hurricane must have felt enormous grief. Perhaps those accounts might be unearthed and summarized by genealogists one day. A full list of most of those killed can be found at the Galveston and Texas History Center Rosenberg Library.

Information about the storm and its aftermath can be read on Wikipedia 1900 Galveston hurricane. Many publications are also listed on the website. One need only search for Galveston Hurricane 1900 to find many other references.

Naturally-occurring events such as this are all part of the fabric of family history.

Another major natural disaster – the 111th anniversary of which is today (April 18th) – was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake which possibly killed 3,000 people and left another 300,000 homeless. I’ll look at how that one affected families in a future blog post.


Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Medical Miracles

Family historians do not think too much about medical advances of the past. Certainly they notice how their ancestors may have died or what illnesses took them down. There are many stories of how communities were affected by epidemics that ravaged them and how local doctors and others reacted to treat the afflicted.

We know that great advances in medicine have been made in the last 200 years, for example with the introduction of vaccines which over time, at least in the western world, helped to eradicate many diseases which caused so much death in so many areas. Modern techniques in surgery have also allowed physicians to prevent or reduce the risks of death from many ailments. Late in the 20th century, non-invasive procedures meant that patients could go home the same day they underwent operations. We have now moved into a time when mechanical devices can reduce suffering and prolong life.

Less than 100 years ago some treatments and techniques would have been thought of as belonging to science fiction. Two or more centuries ago things such as artificial lungs, kidney dialysis machines or organ transplants were completely unthought-of.

The idea of medical miracles has become commonplace.

One device we learned about in my own family was the Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) or Heartmate II®. In early 2011, my oldest sister was suffering with a failing heart, and was near death. Other ailments, her deteriorating health and her age, made her a very high risk patient for a heart transplant. But there was an option available at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where she was admitted. They were a world leader in cardiac care and had been developing the skills and experience associated with the Heartmate II.

The LVAD is a pump that connects directly to the heart and is powered by batteries carried outside the body. An online description describes it as “a mechanical device that helps people when their heart is too weak to pump blood. An LVAD doesn’t replace the heart. It assists the heart in pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout the body so that the organs and muscles can function properly. The LVAD system has parts that work inside and outside the body. Inside, a heart pump is attached to the left side of the heart. Outside, a controller, batteries, and driveline help to power and control the heart pump.
 
Diagram of the Heartmate II system
Within days of the surgery, and after the shock and pain of the process had subsided, Lynn was alert and back to her smiling, happy self. There was, of course, the normal recovery period that patients who have had open-heart surgery face, but within a few months she was home and resuming most of her daily activities. My brother-in-law, Roy, was a real trooper in making sure her batteries were charged and the wound constantly cleaned, being available to drive her wherever she needed to be and doing whatever other tasks needed to be done around the house to alleviate any stress.

Lynn was 70 when the Heartmate II was implanted, at the time apparently the oldest female patient to have the procedure. In the words of her husband, “She was chosen for her youthful attitude and will for quality of life which she strived for.” Many others to receive the new pump eventually went on to have heart transplants. Because of her general physical condition, Lynn was not to be afforded that option.

The fact this procedure was available was particularly notable in our family as our little brother had died in 1950, at the age of two, of a congenital heart defect. I wrote about him on a post, My Brother Jimmy… Within a few years of his death, open heart surgery was available, something that might have saved his life.

Lynn became a poster-girl for the system, often presenting her experiences about the life-saving process to others. It had some unique properties, among them, a constant flow of blood such that patients did not exhibit a normal periodic pulse but rather a sound like flowing water. Her words were especially valued by concerned people with heart problems and who would be candidates for the new pump – even children.
 
Lynn with Muskaan Grewal – At the time the photo was taken in 2013 they were the oldest and youngest females in the program. At the age of six years, Muskaan was the youngest person in the world to receive a heart pump.
The new heart pump did not prevent Lynn from travelling but when she did local hospitals had to be alerted to her visit, so that if anything went wrong they would know how to treat her. You can imagine the questioning looks she got going through airport security with her implanted mechanical device and the battery pack strapped to her waist. She could even dial up the pump rate in case she wanted to do a little jogging (Not!).

Eventually she went back to performing with her seniors group in their musical stage productions. Most importantly she got her happy disposition rekindled.

Following are the results of a study done in 2015, Short and long term outcomes of 200 patients supported by continuous-flow left ventricular assist devicesThe mean age of our LVAD recipients was 59.3 years (range 17-81), 76% (152/200) were males, and 49% were implanted for the indication of bridge to transplant. The survival rate for our LVAD patients at 30 days, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 3 years, and 4 years was 94%, 86%, 78%, 71%, 62% and 45% respectively. The mean duration of LVAD support was 581 days (range 2-2595 days). Short and long term survival for patients on LVAD support are excellent, although outcomes still remain inferior compared to heart transplantation.

Lynn lived another five years with her Heartmate II, and enjoyed every minute of it. And the family were all blessed for having the extra time with her. In the end, it was not her heart or the pump that failed. The LVAD never faltered; it continued to function as it had been intended. Other complications ended her life. With other parts of her body failing, the pump had to be shut down and unplugged. We appreciate what a life-saving and life-extending device the Heartmate II was.

It is interesting to speculate what changes in our family trees might have occurred if many of the procedures and treatments had been available centuries ago – or even just decades ago – things we seem to take for granted today. There is no doubt that future families will have different outcomes as a result of the medical miracles we are now witnessing.


Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

I finally found Alfred…

Readers may remember a few posts here in which I discussed the problems I have had in finding one of my great-granduncles, Alfred Shepheard.

The last breakthrough was in November of 2016. I had come across a newspaper report of an Alfred Shepheard being jailed for drunk and disorderly conduct in Plymouth, Devon. He spent his 31st birthday in the lockup. But there was no other information at least that was obvious.

I had had my eye on a few records before finally deciding to bite the bullet and purchase a death certificate. There was a man named Alfred Shepheard who had been in and out of the Islington, London, Workhouse on St. John’s Road, from late 1914 until early 1915. His name was spelled like mine; his birth year was indicated as 1860; and his occupation was horsekeeper. Those facts all fit with him being my relative, but without additional information I could not say for sure he was my great-granduncle.


He was not to be found on any census after 1881 and it was not until I found the court record that I knew he was still alive in 1891.

I knew that some of his siblings had moved to London: older brother William John Shepheard had moved there by 1881 and married there the same year and worked there until after 1891; sister Fanny Ann (Shepheard) Ellison married her husband in London in 1896 and lived there with her family for many decades; younger brother John had moved to London by 1899 when he married and lived there until his death in 1943. So there was a good chance that Alfred might have joined them in the city.

There were a couple of death records for a man of the same name from the late 1890s and later but inconsistencies in their full names, spelling and other particulars did not seem to fit. There was one, however, in 1915 that fit both the area in London and the information from the workhouse. I decided to take a chance and order it.

My luck – the informant turned out to be Fanny Ellison, who was a sister of Alfred, so I knew I finally had the right man. His death was caused by chronic interstitial nephritis – an inflammation in the kidneys – and cardiac failure.


On his death record, Alfred’s normal residence is shown as Redhill Farm, Kingsbury, Middlesex, northwest of the city. He is not listed as a resident of the farm on the 1911 census, though, so likely was not employed there very long. How and why he ended up at the workhouse in Islington, even just being eight miles away in unknown. Possibly that was the closest infirmary he could be admitted to.

Now that I have an end date and place for Alfred’s life, I will continue to see if I can fill in the years from 1891 when he was in Plymouth, Devon.

It was satisfying to finally fill in some blanks with respect to Alfred, but sad to know he died so young. It does appear, at least, that members of his family were there to support him at the end.


Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.