Flu 1918 (Part 1 of 3) - Amanuensis Monday

(Copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette)

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

Thanks to John Newmark at Transylvanian Dutch for providing the idea for Amanuensis Monday.

Have you ever had one of those surprising moments when you found something, bing boom, that you thought was going to take forever? Something that rightly SHOULD have taken forever, but it didn't? I wasn't even looking for the information I found the day I found it. Genealogical serendipity. Most of the time--when I'm looking for Szerejko, or Kowalewski, or Radziewicz, or in this particular case Choronzak--that just doesn't happen.

Last spring I decided to try to find a little information on my "Aunt" Rose. Aunt Rose was actually my grandmother's adopted sister. My grandmother and my mother told me that Aunt Rose was taken in by my great-grandparents, Antoni and Ewa (Kowalewska) Bulak, when Rose's parents both died of the flu during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The story goes that Aunt Rose's parents died within two days of one another and left several children behind. The children were (using my mother's words) "farmed out" to other members of the Polish community of St. Mary's parish in Worcester, MA to be taken care of.

When I started this search back last June all the information I had to go on was that Rose's maiden name was Chronzak or Choronzak. According to the census, I did find that Rose was living with my great-grandparents in 1920. While I was at the Worcester Public Library I checked the Worcester city directories hoping to get lucky and find death dates listed with the family's 1919 entry. No such luck. Next I asked a librarian if there were any Worcester statistics/information for flu deaths from the 1918 pandemic publicly available. No luck again. So much for the easy way.

From my research on the flu I knew that most deaths, at least in my geographical area, occurred during the fall of 1918. I decided to visually scan the microfilm of the Worcester Telegram for obituaries related to the flu starting in late September when the flu really started to take hold. I reviewed one issue of the daily paper. There were over fifty obituaries listed for that day alone! That trip to the library put the enormity of the flu pandemic in perspective for me. I suddenly realised this project was going to be tougher than I originally thought. Shortly after my library visit my family and I left for California for a good part of the summer. When we got back I moved on to other research.

Last Thursday I went to the library to do some research for a couple of hours. I had several projects in mind, and one of them was to look at the October 1918 issues of the Worcester Telegram. I thought I'd start systematically reviewing the microfilm starting with the October 1, 1918 issue. I loaded my microfilm onto the reader and reviewed the first issue on the roll. This is what I found on page 6:

Worcester Daily Telegram, Tuesday October 1, 1918, p. 6.POLISH PARISH MUCH AFFECTED BY GRIP
The spanish influenza epidemic has affected St. Marys Polish parish to a considerable extent. Half the parish members are confined to bed, according to report made late last night, by the rector, Boleslaus A. Bojanowski, who also said there were at least 600 church people with the malady.

He and Rev. Edmund Kempski, his assistant at the church, have been busy the past few days, administering the last rites of the Catholic church.

There have been quite a number of deaths the past week. One of the saddest cases was that of Mr. and Mrs. John Choronozak, Meade street, both buried Sunday afternoon in Notre Dame cemetery. The couple had been ill but a few days and they leave seven orphans, the eldest: 14 years of age. Three of the children are suffering with the "flu" in city hospital while the remaining four are cared for temporarily by friends of the family.

Much sympathy is extended Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Mendys and family, Richland street. The couple and three children are in a bad condition, all confined to their beds at the family home. They had called in physicians without avail. A man neighbor visited the home yesterday on business when he learned of the plight and he notified Rev. Fr. Bojanowski who, in turn secured a physician and other assistance.

There is no one to give permanent care, however, and both Mr. and Mrs. Mendys were in a critical state, last night having received the last rites of the church.

Rev. Fr. Bojanowski officiated at the funeral service of Aleck Sielski, 46 years old, another victim of the influenza, yesterday morning. He leaves a wife unable to work, and daughter, about 15 years old.

Another requiem mass will be celebrated this morning at 8:30 o'clock at the funeral of Constantin Skorodske, 44 years of age, who has been ill a week, and succumbed of pneumonia. He leaves a wife and five children.

There are many, many cases, Rev. Fr. Bojanowski said, where the parents and all the children are sick. Usually the Polish people have large families, and the scarcity of nurses has made it very hard on these households, thereby spreading the infection, it was said.

Flu 1918 (Part 2 of 3)
Flu 1918 (Part 3 of 3)

Other Posts You Might Like:

The Stories My Grandmother Told Me

A Matter of Habit: Solving a Mystery
Amanuensis Monday: Clairvoyants and Distractions
(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Here Come the (Mystery) Brides...


Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

Wow Cynthia, what an awesome find...and one you weren't even really looking for! (Happened to me too a couple months back so I know how you feel). And a very interesting story! Looking forward to reading the rest......

Nolichucky Roots said...

Amazing! What is remembered through generations as traumatic would likely be reflected in the local press. But to find it on your first roll - there's a geneafairy on your shoulder.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Thank you ladies for your comments.

I was surprised the day I found this article. I was hoping to find an obit. I didn't expect to find an entire article. There was a geneafairy on my shoulder that day!

Mark said...

Hello Cynthia,
Regarding the Choronzak family:
My name is Mark Chumsae of Shrewsbury MA, son of John (Choronzak)Chumsae. My father's parents were Josef & Antoinette (or Antonina)Choronzak. Upon their deaths in 1918, they left 7 orphaned children as follows:
John Chumsae, Frank Skinger,Sophie Shenkowski, Rose Miller, Catherine Goslow, Mary Bialeki & Stacia Mahoney.
The Chumsae family name originated when young John applied for a work permit and the person who processed the permit spelled his surname name incorrectly as 'Chumsae'.
To my knowlege, the Choronzaks were from Gorlice (or Galacia) Poland, an area in Poland that thru history, may have been located in Ukraine due to a shift in the border in the Carpathians.
I read with great interest the information you have researched and thank you for your efforts.
I would very much like to hear more from you. You may email me directly at: mschums@townisp.com
Best Regards,