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


Planning my Grandpa’s Funeral as a Genealogist by Jeanette Sheliga

Our last photo together taken on 6 Apr 2019 at the Adams Fire Company Installation Dinner where my grandpa received his 50-year member pin.

My grandpa passed away peacefully in his sleep the morning of Friday, June 7th, 2019. I’ve been wanting to write about this for some time, but I have been putting it off as doing so is another form of closure and it is hard to let go.

He was 96 years old and had fallen the month prior and broke his hip. The doctor warned us that he was declining and that he didn’t have much time left. The last time I saw him was the Monday night before his passing. He was comfortable and happy laying in his bed. He asked where my dad was and then he asked where I was. He didn’t have his glasses on, so I said that it was me. He leaned forward, recognized me, and then said “Oh, hi!” He held my hand during our visit and when I asked if I could kiss him on the cheek to say goodbye, he said “Of course.” and turned to give me his cheek.

Helping to plan his funeral was a new experience for me. As a genealogist (and probably a lot of nervous energy), I was particularly concerned with the details that would be posted is his obituary and death certificate. I wanted to be certain the records that represented and honored my grandfather would be accurate for the generations to come. The funeral home sent me a draft of the obituary. I’m not sure where or who they received their information from, but there were many mistakes, typos, and inaccuracies. I spent hours and eventually called in my mom for help. Between the two of us, we finally revised the obituary to the final product and I was pleased with the result.

Edmund C. Sheliga, of the Town of Wheatfield, NY, passed away Friday, June 7, 2019, in Elderwood at Wheatfield.  He was born in Buffalo, NY on October 21, 1922, the son of the late Frank and Caroline [Ogrodnik] Szeliga.  Mr. Sheliga served with the US Army during World War II in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater.  He was an instrumentation technician at Bell Aircraft, Sylvania, and Mennen-Greatbatch.

Mr. Sheliga was the husband of the late Ruth [Parkin] Sheliga, who passed away in 2006.  He is survived by three sons Jeffrey (Marcia), Carl (Eileen), Donald (Linda) Sheliga; five grandchildren Jeanette, Brandi, Kristi, Thomas, and Neil; also several nieces and nephews.  Mr. Sheliga was the brother of the late John and Frank Szeliga, and Dorothy (Szeliga) Burkhardt.

Mr. Sheliga was a 50-year member at both the Adams Fire Company in Wheatfield and Delaware Hose Company in Tonawanda.  He was a member of the Wheatfield Seniors and enjoyed woodworking, doing crafts with his wife, playing cards, and spending time with his granddaughter Jeanette.

His family will be present on Friday, June 21st from 4:00 – 8:00pm at the RHONEY FUNERAL HOME, 5893 Hoover Road, SANBORN, NY, where funeral services will be held on Saturday at 9:00am, with the Rev. James R. Bastian officiating.  Members from Adams Fire Company will give a service on Friday at 7:00pm. 

Inurnment with Military Honors in Acacia Park Cemetery, Town of Pendleton, NY.

* In case you are wondering, my grandpa’s last name was misspelled on his birth certificate and he never had it corrected. His parents and siblings were all SZELIGA and his was SHELIGA. So now my uncles, dad, and I, all have a misspelled last name!

Concerning my grandpa’s obituary and death certificate, one of the details that I debated over was how to spell his parent’s first names. The original drafts from the funeral home listed the names in the Polish version: Franciszek Szeliga and Karolina Ogrodnik. That was how their names were spelled at birth, passenger lists, marriage certificate, etc. but it’s not the names that they went by in America as they had gone by Frank and Caroline. I’ve had this same debate with how I list their names on my trees on Ancestry and FamilySearch. At least with the online trees, you can add alternative names, notes, and also known as options. For his obituary and death certificate, there isn’t really an option for alternative names.

I ended up going with how they spelled their names in America. It matched how Caroline’s headstone was spelled which I assumed that my grandfather picked out back when she passed away in 1968.  There are only a handful of people left that knew his parent’s but they probably would only recognize them by how they used their names here in America. I’m not sure if what I did was genealogically correct, but it felt right.

Everything went well with my grandpa’s service.  I was especially touched by the support that I received from my genealogy friends. Thank you for the cards, texts, newspaper clippings, and attending the calling hours. It meant a lot to me and I’m so appreciative that our shared love for genealogy has brought you into my life.

I gave a eulogy for my grandpa that I will type up and save to his memories and gallery on FamilySearch and Ancestry. That way, I will always have it when I want to look back and remember and future generations will be able to read my thoughts and memories of him. I also plan on uploading the photo slideshow that I made for the calling hours to YouTube.  

I loved my grandpa very much. We had a special relationship and I was so fortunate to have him in my life for 41 years.

Contributor: Jeanette Sheliga of Lockport NY is Vice-President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society and Organizer of the North Tonawanda Library Genealogy Club.