I Wished for More Time… But Not Like This..

Ruth Olive Whittaker
7 Jun 1899 – 19 Jun 1919
Photo colorized with MyHeritage

There were so many times that I wished that I could get paid for my job but not have to go so I could stay at home and work on my genealogy research but, now that we are here with the Corona Virus, I wouldn’t have wished for it to be this way.  I was not prepared for how my emotions and anxiety could get in the way of me being able to do anything but the minimum.  I wake up in the morning and work for a while communicating with my students through Google Classroom.  Then I watch Governor Cuomo and the White House.  I send more links to my students and then watch the news.  By the evening, I have no joy or desire to turn on the computer or open a book.  I cried on Wednesday.  Adjusting to this new normal is hard and I am a fortunate one to be able to stay safe at home during this time.

I listened to Amy Johnson Crow’s latest episode of her podcast.  It is titled: What Life Was Like During the Spanish Flu of 1918.  You can listen to it here:  It made me wonder about my ancestors and what their lives were like during the Spanish Flu. 

My 2nd Great-Grandmother was Ella Webb who married Charles Whittaker.  They had four daughters:

1. Inez born 1897 (My Great Grandmother) 

2. Ruth born 1899

3. Ida born 1903

4. Dorothy born 1912

Ruth wrote the following letter when she was 16 years old.  It was written before the time of the Spanish Flu but you can tell how the health of the family was very much the forefront of concern:

Buffalo, N.Y.  Feb. 1, 1916.

Dear Aunt Ellen and all. –

     Inez and I received your cards some time ago and am glad you like the pictures.  I think Inez’s is good it is natural and does not flatter her.

     I suppose you are having lots of sickness as it is here.  Our family did not escape it either.  Dorothy has had the measles and I had the Grippe which came very near turning into neumonia.  I was sick over 3 weeks and the old Grippe left me looking something like a stove poker but I am picking up now.  Mamma is on the bum now, she is tired out.  The doctor told her if she didn’t

rest up that she would be sick.

     Aunt Alice’s (W) mother is very ill and will not last long.

     We just heard that Beatrice Cady had Neumonia.  It is too bad, Maud certainly has her hands full.

     Dorothy wrote a letter to Leon.  I guess he will understand it.  Tell him for me that he’s a nice one to run away when we came home.  He should have staid and got a nice girl like Uncle John.  He is real happy now and she is one dandy girl.

     We have had horrid weather.  Nothing but rain and as soon as the walks would dry off again it would rain again.  Its no wonder people are sick.

     I have been taking up elocution lessons since fall as I’m not going to school.  I spoke at our Christmas entertainment at church and at another Christmas entertainment at a lodge on the west side.  I like it very much.  Mamma would not let me go to high school this year because she said my health was more to me than an education and I have felt fine this fall and have gained quite a bit.

     Marguerite’s high school education has made a bum of her.  She hasn’t been very well all fall.  When she gets the slightest cold it runs her down.  She is under the doctors care now and has a tonic to take.

Before Christmas she work in a dry-goods store for 2 or 3 weeks but that was the only job she could get.  It didn’t pay her.

     Inez is pretty busy.  She has about 13 pupils and takes 2 lessons a week herself beside practising 3 hours a day.  She has choir practise every Sat. eve. also.  Tell Leon he would enjoy her practising as he used to.  Dorothy talks lots about Nuny.  She isn’t so cross as she was last summer.

     Ida is our only school girl now.  She is in the eighth grade and is working quite hard.

     How is Uncle Gil and the girls?  Give them my love and tell Leon he owes me a number of foolish letters.

Love to all,



The family had made it through the height of the 1918 epidemic deaths (September and October 1918) intact, however, Ruth passed away shortly thereafter at the age of 19 on 19 Jun 1919.  

I believe the cause of death says General Peritonitis which Google says is an inflammation of the peritoneum, the tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen and covers and supports most of the abdominal organs.  Peritonitis is usually caused by infection from bacteria or fungi.  The contributory factor was Appendicitis which matches the cemetery’s records.  

A few years ago I made some family history shadow boxes to display.  This is one that I made displaying some family jewelry.  You can see Ruth at the bottom left next to a locket with her picture in it:

You can see the locket with Ruth open above and here it is closed:

Ruth was described as being sweet and darling.  I’m sad for her that it seems like she had chronic health problems that it kept her from attending school and living a full life.  She was dating or engaged to a young man named Wendell that, according to family lore, did not marry (or didn’t for a very long time) after Ruth’s death.  I do not know what their daily lives were like during the Spanish Flu, but I have more empathy now for some of the emotions they might have been feeling.  

Thank you so much to all of those essential workers that are out and helping to keep our society running during this time and taking care of those in need.  It is really appreciated and I will do my part to stay at home and help to flatten the curve.

Stay safe everyone!


Do any of you have stories, diaries, letters, etc. about your family around the time of the Spanish Flu or other instances where illness was a major factor in their lives?  You can share their stories by posting them to your online family trees or, if you’d like to share them with us, you can leave a comment below or e mail us at:

Contributor: Jeanette Sheliga is Board Chairman and Vice-President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society, Organizer of the North Tonawanda Library Genealogy Club, a member of APG (Assn of Professional Genealogists)and the National Genealogical Society

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