I’ve been preoccupied with getting my daughter a flu shot this week after seeing media reports of young people dying from the H1N1 strain.
This reminded me of a family story about a female relative who died young, leaving behind a young child and husband. For a long time, all I knew about Mary Elizabeth Chandler Schlifckin was that she was buried in Lightner Cemetery in Scott County, Mo., near her sister, Emma Chandler Simpson.
When we went to the cemeteries to visit graves, my grandfather would often share the stories of the deceased’s life. Of course, when telling the story of Mary Chandler Schlifckin, my grandfather mostly emphasized that she married a man of Russian and Jewish descent. He left out the part about how she likely died during the 1918 influenza pandemic.
It took me a long time to figure out that her death at age 27 is most likely linked to the pandemic. And a lot of that help came from those shaky leaves and hints on Ancestry.com. It turns out that those hints helped me find a cousin who knew much more about Mary Chandler’s story than I’d ever been told.
According to this cousin, who was the grandson of Mary’s other sister, Minnie Mae Barber, Mary died in 1918 during the influenza epidemic. She had an infant daughter, possibly born near the time of her death. The child’s father was Russian (my grandfather did have that detail right) and wanted to take the baby back to Russia.
Apparently, Mary’s family “hid” the infant from him. The baby girl, known as Mary, was later adopted by an aunt, whom I believe is May Manning Chandler, and raised in California.
One part of Mary Elizabeth Chandler’s life that I haven’t figured out is whether she also had a son, Boris Schlifckin, Jr. The last census records that I can find for her indicate she was still unmarried and living with her parents at age 19. She died a short eight years later.
This story reminds me of the powerful ties families have — I’m sure that one of the reasons I even know about Mary Chandler is because her sister, Emma, wanted to keep her memory alive. Emma was the oldest child and first daughter in the family and Mary was the last, so I can only guess there was a strong connection between them. Emma Chandler Simpson, my great-grandfather’s mother, had her first son about four years after Mary was born.
I don’t know how much truth there is to the part of this story about the family hiding the baby but I recognize how sensitive the Chandler family might have been to losing connection to this child. Mary’s death came during the height of the influenza pandemic and at the close of the Great War as it was often called then. Grief abounded.
My great-grandfather — Emma’s son and Mary Chandler’s nephew — fought in France during World War I and was gassed. His family received an initial telegram telling them he had died. I can empathize with their fear and loss at Mary’s death and the thought of losing their only connection to her — an infant daughter — so shortly after what they had believed to be another casualty.
I know little about the baby’s life or what happened to