If you ever wondered why a large number of your ancestors disappeared during a certain period in history, this list of epidemics in history might help.

Epidemics have always had a great influence on people - and thus influencing, as well, the genealogists trying to trace them. Many cases of people disappearing from records can be traced to dying during an epidemic or moving away from the affected area. Some of the major epidemics in the United Sates are listed below.

A close look at causes of death in Shenandoah County in the year 1918 will reveal that many deaths were caused by the influenza epidemic -- proving that no one was immune from this deadly disease.

YearGeographic AreaDisease
1690New York:Yellow Fever
1738South Carolina:Smallpox
1747Conn., NY, PA & SC:Measles
1759North America (areas inhabited by whites) Influenza
1761North America & West Indies:Influenza
1772North America:Measles
1775North America (especially New England):Epidemic (unknown)
1775-76Worldwide:Influenza (one of the worst flu epidemics)
1788Philadelphia and NY:Measles
1793Vermont:Influenza and a "putrid fever"
1793Virginia:Influenza (killed 500 people in 5 counties in 4 weeks).
1793Philadelphia:Yellow Fever (one of worst)
1783Delaware (Dover)"extremely fatal" bilious disorder
1793Pennsylvania (Harrisburg & Middletown)many unexplained deaths
1794Philadelphia:Yellow fever
1796-97Philadelphia:Yellow fever
1798Philadelphia:Yellow fever (one of worst)
1803New York:Yellow fever
1820-23Nationwide:"fever" (starts on Schuylkill River, PA & spreads
1831-32Nationwide:Asiatic Cholera (brought by English emigrants)
1832New York & other major cities:Cholera
1841Nationwide:Yellow fever (especially severe in South)
1847New Orleans:Yellow fever
1848-49North America:Cholera
1850Nationwide:Yellow Fever
1850-51North America:Influenza
1852Nationwide:Yellow fever (New Orleans, 8,000 die in summer)
1855Nationwide:(many parts)Yellow fever
1857-59Worldwide:Influenza (one of disease's greatest epidemics)
1865-73Philadelphia, New York, Boston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Memphis & Washington, DC:A series of recurring epidemics of Smallpox, Cholera, Typhus, Typhoid, Scarlet fever & Yellow fever
1873-75North America & Europe:Influenza
1878New Orleans:Yellow fever (last great epidemic of disease)
1885Plymouth, PA:Typhoid
1886Jacksonville, FL:Yellow fever
1918Worldwide:Influenza (high point year). More people hospitalized in World War I for Influenza than wounds. US Army training camps became death camps, with 80% death rate in some camps.

The following specific instances of cholera epidemics occurred

YearGeographic Area
1833Columbus, OH
1834New York City
1849New York
1851Coles County, IL
1851The Great Plains

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Created March 26 2001
Updated April 24, 2006
© 2001 - 2006