Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Cousin Afflicted by Polio

I feel strongly that relatives in our family tree with no descendants deserve to be remembered. I am especially troubled by the young children who were born and died in between censuses. Their existence may be overlooked entirely. But for adults, too, who didn't marry and didn't have children of their own, I think it's important for us to find as much as we can about them as well. Their lives are worth remembering.

While researching my 3rd great-grandmother's brother, Andrew Steimer, I found something interesting in his 1902 will. It seems to indicate that his son, John, had some kind of accident and needed care from family members:

"I desire that my estate remain as it is as long as my wife survive [sic] me and at her decease I desire that my real estate and personal property of whatever kind and wherever found be divided equally among my three children namely Andrew, John and Barbara, the share of John to be in the care and custody of my executor herein after named and to be used only for the care and comfort of my son John and should my son Andrew and my daughter Barbara fail to care for my son John then I will that they receive one dollar each and all the rest and residue of my estate I give to my son John under an administrator appointed by the Court."

I looked at John's census records for 1900-1930 and didn't see any clues as to why he would need care, other than he did not work. He also could not read or write, but his siblings could, so he must have been kept home from school. Then I found his World War I draft registration card, which indicated he was 34 years old and an invalid.

Finally, his Pennsylvania death certificate from April 27, 1938, shows that he died at the age of 53 of a cerebral hemorrhage. In the occupation section, it indicated "None" and "Crippled." Most importantly, under "Other contributory causes of importance" related to his death, the doctor wrote: "Polio myelitis from early childhood. Invalid all his life."

At some point when he was a child, John Steimer was struck with polio. According to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia:

"Few diseases frightened parents more in the early part of the 20th century than polio did. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. They were a visible, painful reminder to society of the enormous toll this disease took on young lives."

The book, Passage through Crisis: Polio Victims and Their Families, which I found in the HathiTrust Digital Library, backs up this assessment: "A disease may be feared on account of its causing death, but a disease which permits the patient to live in an enfeebled condition is even more dreaded and its occurrence in a community makes a much deeper impression."

It's not surprising that John's father wanted to ensure that his son was cared for after his death. Both parents were gone by 1910, and I'm happy to report that John's siblings took care of him as their father wished. In the 1930 census, eight years before John's death, siblings Andrew and Barbara, as well as two additional brothers named Peter and William, were living with John. These four siblings, in their 50s and 60s, were single, so perhaps they sacrificed their chance at marrying and having children to take care of their brother.

All of these Steimers, with no descendants of their own, stuck together and definitely had lives that mattered.

Related Posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you have a genealogy problem or need guidance on where to search next? Send me a message if you'd like me to help!