“How much of life how much of joy is buried with our darling boy” – this is the heartfelt epitaph on the grave stone of Albert Hathaway Samsill - a random grave stone in County Cemetery located in the Lubbock (Texas) County listing of cemeteries. I picked County Cemetery randomly because it had only 19 internments, probably of people long forgotten.
I was initially intrigued before I saw the grave stone picture because Albert was so young when he died – I’m thinking there must be a story there. Upon viewing the stone, I discovered three or four pieces of information without one extra keystroke or search.
Albert was the son of A.J. and Mary A. Samsill. He was born April 24, 1903 (although the death certificate lists his d.o.b. as April 22, 1903) and he died on December 23, 1918 (the death certificate records a different date of December 24 for his death). From the inscription on the stone one can infer he was a much-loved child.
For some people that might be enough information, but I always want to know more. So with a few Google and Ancestry.com searches later, I was able to glean a bit more information about young Albert.
From the 1910 United States Census I find that Albert was 6 years old, living with his family of five siblings and his father. His father, Andrew J. Samsill, is listed as a widower, his wife Mary having passed away in 1905. In 1910 Andrew was 42 years old, employed as a farmer (general farm employee), with some of his children listed as farm laborers (the children ranged in age from 4 to 19), so the Samsill family might have been sharecroppers or worked on a large farm or ranch. According to the 1910 Census, Andrew and his father were born in Kentucky and Andrew’s mother was born in Mississippi.
Andrew (Jackson) Samsill married Mary A. (Augusta) Hale on October 10, 1889 in Johnson County, Texas. All of Andrew and Mary’s children were born in Texas. Albert’s death certificate states that he was born in Johnson County, which is located south of Dallas. At some point between the 1910 Census and Albert’s death in 1918, Andrew migrated to Lubbock County. The 1920 Census indicates that by that time Andrew had remarried (Cora T. Nelson) and was then living in Seymour, Texas (Baylor County).
Now, back to Albert. When I saw the date of death I first thought of influenza, and I was correct. On the death certificate, cause of death is listed as influenza/pneumonia.
1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic
In January 1918 the world-wide Spanish Flu Pandemic began (the so called “mother of all pandemics”), although the first wave of the flu which occurred in the spring of 1918 was only mildly virulent. Then the next wave came in the fall of 1918, more deadly and virulent than the first wave. It has been estimated that 50 to 100 million people worldwide died (even the remotest Arctic and far flung Pacific islands were hit) as a result of this strain of flu. So, although not specifically noted on the death certificate, it is possible that Albert was one of the pandemic’s victims.
One unique feature of this strain of flu was that unlike previous strains of the flu which killed juveniles, the elderly and those susceptible because of other existing illnesses, this strain preyed on previously healthy young adults. For some the influenza became bacterial pneumonia, while some died from the original flu virus. Yet another striking phenomenon of this particular strain was how quickly it struck and killed thousands… some within hours of contracting the virus. On Albert’s certificate, the attending doctor states that he attended the deceased from December 22 until December 24, last seeing the patient alive on December 23.
From the National Archives, you can view images and stories from the pandemic: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/influenza-epidemic/records-list.html
One More Historical Note From the Death Certificate
The doctor who attended young Albert was named C.J. Wagner. A quick Google search yielded some information about Dr. Wagner from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal web site: (http://lubbockonline.com/stories/041899/cel_041899028.shtml)
Dr. Wagner was one of the early pioneer doctors to establish a practice in Lubbock. He, along with another doctor, opened a practice known as the West Texas Sanitarium in 1916 or 1917. According to the Avalanche-Journal article this sanitarium along with others in Lubbock formed the roots of what would later become Methodist Hospital (now Covenant Hospital System).
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!