52 Ancestors,
in 52 Weeks
Week 30:
Family Finds Charter Oak

Health, Illness, Death

Finding genealogical records pertaining to the health of our ancestors is rare. I have found the occasional mention of illnesses in local newspapers. And, if a death record exists then the cause of death is either an indicator of general health or a final illness. For more recent ancestors, I have relied on family oral history for stories of serious illness or celebrated health. This week I put some of the oral histories to the test and find supporting records. I will also share some of the more interesting reports of illness discoveries I have made.

Roxanne King

My great aunt, Roxanne F King 1895-1911, was born in Van Wert, Ohio to Homer and Ella (Rumple) King. [1] Sadly, Roxie died at just 16 years of age. I have shared a photo of Roxie in an oversized coat and hat in several past posts, including Favorite Photo. [2] Family oral history says Roxie died from complications of diphtheria. Diphtheria is a bacterial disease that causes swelling of the throat, sometimes to the point of blocking swallowing or breathing. I now have Roxie’s death certificate and her cause of death was nephritis. [3] According to the DC, her nephritis, which is kidney disease, was caused by diphtheria. Presumably, the diphtheria toxin spread through her blood and affected her kidneys. At the time of Roxie’s death, diphtheria was often treated with an antitoxin. (Immortalized by the Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska.) Today, a vaccine for diphtheria has nearly eliminated the disease. So, the family oral history is correct.

Roxie King Death Certificate

Before a vaccine was available, about 20% of children with diphtheria died. Data for 1921 indicates 15,500 children died from diphtheria in the United States. [4] The vaccine for diphtheria was developed shortly after Roxie’s death and became widely distributed by 1925.

Sadie Osborne

My great aunt Sadie Marzella Osborne was born July 19, 1888, to David and Jennie (Warbington) Osborne in Port Jefferson, Ohio. [5] I have written previously about Sadie’s careers as a Deaconess and Police Woman. [6, 7, 8] By 1932, Sadie was having health problems that led to her retiring from police work. Soon after, her home was foreclosed and she went to live with her sister Pearl (my grandmother.) Sadly, Sadie died on January 28, 1940, and the family story says she died of cancer. There was no specific type of cancer mentioned but now I have her death certificate. [9] Sadie’s cause of death is given as cancer of the right breast. The DC indicates a contributory cause was an intestinal blockage that was caused by metastasis. Our family oral history describes Sadie as being sickly for several years, probably due to her cancer metastasizing. I say the oral history is true but lacks specifics.

Sadie Osborne death certificate
Mastectomies were performed in the 1930s, and radiation treatment began in use in 1937. [10] These were new treatments at the time and I imagine Sadie was not able, or maybe not willing, to avail herself of these procedures. Now, when caught early, breast cancer has treatment options that have very good survival rates. In 1950, the earliest available, deaths from breast cancer were 32 per 100,000 of the population. Compare that to today of 20 per 100,000. [11]

George Lafary

Although there is no oral family history revolving around my 3rd great grandfather George Lafary’s death, it is worth mentioning. I found George Lafary, 1833-1880, listed on the 1880 US Mortality schedule for Hamilton County, IN. [12] The schedule lists his cause of death in May 1880 as erysipelas. I’d never heard of this disease. Erysipelas is a staph infection of the skin that can spread to infect the lymphatic system. [13] Modern medicine treats this disease with antibiotics and the prognosis is good unless the infection spreads or the skin becomes necrotic. On this particular page of the mortality schedule, there are 29 names and three of them died from erysipelas, my 3rd great grandfather, and two infants. The only cause of death more common among these 29 was “lung fever”.

I also discovered George Lafary mentioned in a local Hamilton County, IN newspaper in 1877 relating to the death of one of his sons. [14] Frank Lafary was just shy of 8 years old when he died of scarlet fever. Scarlet fever, like erysipelas, is caused by the streptococcus bacteria, which causes a red rash, sore throat, and fever. [15] Today scarlet fever would be successfully treated with antibiotics. What made this news item more interesting is it mentions another of the Lafary children is sick and not expected to live. But no one else in the family died that year, and I am left to wonder which child was sick and presumably recovered their health since the remaining siblings lived well into adulthood. Also, the news article includes a rather melancholy poem about childhood death.

Frank Lafary death notice


It’s nice to find supporting documentation for family oral history. Particularly when it pertains to the final chapter in an ancestor’s life. It many ways, for me, it makes these long-deceased ancestors more relatable. Our health today can so often be taken for granted thanks to advances in modern medicine. Reading about the health challenges of my ancestors gives me pause, especially the toll on children before antibiotics, vaccines, and better general hygiene. I have found several other interesting documents describing the health, illness, and death of my ancestors. But, I will save some of those for later posts.


  1. Profile of Roxanne King, ‘Osborn‘ tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/5107484513/facts
  2. Blog post, Family Finds: Favorite Photo; https://barblafara.com/favorite-photo/
  3. Entry for Roxanne King, Death record, Ohio Department of Health; Columbus, Ohio; Ohio Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007, page 565 for 1911.
  4. Webpage, History of Vaccines: Diptheria; https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/diphtheria
  5. Profile of Sadie Osborne, ‘Osborn‘ tree, Ancestry.com; https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/13493206/person/-60123975/facts
  6. Blog post, Family Finds: In the Paper; https://barblafara.com/in-the-paper/
  7. Blog post, Family Finds: Service; https://barblafara.com/service/
  8. Blog post, Family Finds: Luck; https://barblafara.com/luck/
  9. Entry for Sadie Osborne, Indiana State Board of Health. Death Certificates, 1900–2011. Microfilm. Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis, Indiana. Death Certificates; Year: 1940; Roll: 02
  10. Webpage, Healthline: History of Breast Cancer; https://www.healthline.com/health/history-of-breast-cancer#research-milestones
  11. Webpage, Statista: Deaths by Breast Cancer; ; https://www.statista.com/statistics/184615/deaths-by-breast-cancer-in-the-us-since-1950/
  12. Webpage, Indiana Memory: U.S. Census Mortality Schedule for Indiana, 1880, Counties H-L, page 5, line 24; https://indianamemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16066coll11/id/5746/rec/4
  13. Webpage, Wikipedia: Erysipelas; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erysipelas
  14. Newspaper, The Cicero Gazette, Noblesville, Indiana, 09 Aug 1877, Page 2, Arcadia Items
  15. Webpage, Wikipedia: Scarlet Fever; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarlet_fever


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Remember Me and I Will Live

Frank Takeo Flucawa

Born Takeo Furukawa on 15 March 1883 in Tottori-Ken, Tokyo, Japan, little is documented of his early childhood. Family oral history stories say that the young Takeo experienced hunger, poverty and the loss of his family. Additionally, the stories tell of friendship, spiritual learning and scholarship.

David L. Osborne: His Indianapolis Homes

My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne, lived at over 20 addresses around Indianapolis between 1876 and 1942. I thought it would be interesting to see all the old buildings and homes where he lived in my hometown of Indianapolis.

The Marriage of David and Jennie Osborne

My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne (1848-1942), was a widower with two young sons in 1886 when he married Jennie Warbington (1857-1918) in Minneapolis on the 27th of May. I decided it was time to put sources to the story.

Do You See A Resemblance?

While working on a family photo project I decided it would be fun to compare side-by-side my father and his parents, at similar ages, to try and discover a family resemblance.

Probate of Jesse King 1868

Jesse King was born in Ohio (probably in the vicinity of Chillicothe) in 1805, he was a son of Philip King and Mary Leah Wright, both of Pennsylvania. Philip King was a farmer, he married Leah Wright in 1801 in Somerset, PA, they had six children, of whom Jesse was the third.

Letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary

A handwritten letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary to the then president of the United States, Grover Cleveland. It was her last appeal for a War of 1812 pension, sadly the pension was denied. The letter gives a glimpse of a woman who had no formal education, a poor farmers wife, then widow, mother of nine, she probably just wanted some independence through an income of her own.

Sarah Smith: Challenge

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Challenge
So much about genealogy research is a challenge, perhaps the most common challenge is the ‘brick wall,’ meet Sarah Smith. 18?? – 1846

Laferre to LaFara: Unusual Name

The surnames in my tree are typical of common western European names. However, the name that is unusual among these names is MY surname: LaFara.

Luella Pressell: Surprise!

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 6: Surprise!
Just when you think you know everything about an ancestor, surprise! I thought I knew most everything about my paternal great grandfather David L. Osborne, 1848-1942.

Rumple Family Photo 1895

For all of us who are procrastinating about labeling photos I have one thing to say, “Be considerate of the genealogist of the future!” My maternal grandmother was very good about labeling old family photos, and there is one, in particular, I found very informative.

Conrad Rumple: Bachelor Uncle

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 10: Bachelor Uncle
My uncles are the marrying kind, sometimes more than once!
I had to go back four generations for a bachelor uncle, my great-great-great uncle Conrad Rumple, 1833-1911.
Conrad was an older brother to my great-great grandfather on my matrilineal line, William Rumple, 1839-1912.

George Lafary and Catherine Landon: Large Family

My great-great grandparents, George Lafary and Catherine Landon, had a relatively small family, three of their six children survived to adulthood. However, they both came from large families of nine siblings and nearly all survived to marry and have children.

In The Paper

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 13: In The Paper
It’s fun to find articles in the paper mentioning one of my relatives. Mostly they are birth, marriage, divorce and death events. But, it’s the oddball articles in the papers I like the most.

Genealogy Brick Walls

52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 14: Brick Wall
We all have a brick wall, that one ancestor who defies all research. I decided I would work at my brick walls by generation, I broke through the last of my 3rd great grandparent brick walls, now I am working on 4th great grandparents.

Catherine Landon: Out of Place

I realized I did not have a date of death for my great, great grandmother, Catherine Landon Lafary. A fresh search uncovered the date and much more. Out of place, but once discovered, everything fell into place.