Henrietta Keefner and the Diphtheria epidemic

Daily State Register [Springfield]
9 Dec. 1902, p.5. GenealogyBank.com.
NewsBank And/or the American Antiquarian Society,
2004. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
There haven't been many epidemics that have impacted me in my lifetime. Over the past year or two, we have chuckled at the way doctors' offices and hospitals quiz patients about recent travels to West Africa. When my husband answered "yes" (following a business trip to Nigeria), no one seemed to know what to do. Ebola was a serious risk in a number of parts of the world, but not within thousands of miles of where we lived.

Diphtheria, on the other hand, was a very real threat to families and communities at the turn of the 20th century and for centuries before that.  A diphtheria epidemic in the Springfield, Illinois area took the life of my great grandmother's niece. Newspaper, census, and interment records help tell the story. 

"Diphtheria at Keefner Home - Contagion's Second Visit
There, Other Residences Quarantined."
Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield]
11 Dec. 1902, Part 1 sec.: 4. GenealogyBank.com.
NewsBank And/or the American Antiquarian Society.,
2004. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.

Just days after Henrietta died, her older sister Elizabeth also contracted the disease. Because of the risk to others, such details were published in the local newspaper. Local board of health laws required that "all houses where either disease [scarlet fever or diphtheria] exists must be placarded for six weeks from the time the disease is determined."1

Henrietta and her sister Elizabeth with parents
John and Barbara (Wunderlich) Keefner
in the 1900 census.

Henrietta Keefner was the second child of John W. and Barbara Wunderlich Keefner.  Her mother was my great-grandmother Anna Margaret Wunderlich Ralph's sister. Both Barbara and Anna lived in Springfield. Both suffered the loss of a child to an illness that is now nearly eradicated in the US: Anna's first child died of whooping cough two years after Henrietta's death from diphtheria.

Elizabeth survived, grew up and married, raised a family, and passed away at the age of 80.

Oak Ridge Cemetery Interment Records. Digital image.
Illinois Digital Archives.  Illinois State Library and the Office
of the Illinois Secretary of State, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
Henrietta's parents are buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery (Springfield, Illinois). There is no listing on FindaGrave for Henrietta, however.

Oak Ridge Cemetery interment records confirm details of Henrietta's death, and that she is also buried at Oak Ridge.


1 "City Board of Health Adopts a Set of Resolutions - Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever Are Still Spreading." Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield] 27 Oct. 1900: 2. GenealogyBank.com. NewsBank And/or the American Antiquarian Society. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.


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