Drawing strength from our ancestors’ resilience—from the Spanish Flu to today
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It’s hard to believe six months have passed since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020. As a collective community, we have endured unprecedented challenges in every lane of life – from the global economy to  our own family dynamics. At the same time, we have been deeply inspired by how people around the world have come together, with each and every organization and frontline hero joining forces to help those in need.

Many have pointed to the similarities between our current situation and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, but what has yet to be  articulated are the inspirational lessons from 100 years ago that can give us a greater sense of connection and understanding for what we are going through today.

Resilience Found in our Records

Ancestry® has always been committed to helping people discover the stories of generations that came before us, and now we’re uncovering even more stories of grit, perseverance and resilience. By analyzing census records on Ancestry, we’ve uncovered trends in occupations and industries in 1920 (the year the Spanish Influenza pandemic ended) compared to 1930 (a decade later) showing not only how the Spanish Flu affected our ancestors and the world they lived in, but how they persevered.

We aren’t just finding hope from their experiences, but seeing similar behaviors. The data below analyzes occupation trends from 1920 to 1930 census records, showing how US post-pandemic industries rebounded:

  • Heroes Prevail: In the decade following the Spanish Flu, people continued to rise to the occasion the same way our frontline heroes are doing today. Between 1920 to 1930, hospital Industry workers increased by 81%, and the number of teachers increased by  90%. 
  • A Knead for Baking Then and Now:  Just as Americans today are breaking out the flour and yeast with the craze of sourdough starters and banana bread obsessions, the number of people who listed Baker as their occupation  grew 66% in the years following the Spanish Flu.
  • Serving Up Resilience: Today, restaurants, as businesses that bring together local communities, are fueling their creativity to find new ways to stay open – with outdoor dining, heat lamps, the ever-popular “walktail”. In the decade following the Spanish flu , the number of restaurant Industry workers  increased 41%, and those who reported their occupation as a cook increased by 76%. The Waiter and Waitress occupations also rose greatly, with an increase of 113%. As cities across the US implemented lockdowns 100 years ago, the restaurant industry saw a big bounceback in the following decade.

“When we learn about our ancestors’ challenges and triumphs during difficult times, it empowers us to know that if they overcame it and built a better future, so can we,” explains Crista Cowan, Corporate Genealogist at Ancestry. “As we’re faced with major historic events, like our ancestors 100 years ago, and we compare it with what our world is facing today, we can find comfort in hearing how they rebuilt and how they bounced back — all by looking to our family’s past to shape our future. In fact, 91% of Americans believe that through their behaviors we can learn how to rebound ourselves, and approximately half also use this knowledge as a source of hope or motivation for what is around the corner. When we discover their stories and what their experience was overcoming these hardships, we can draw strength from their resiliency, and ultimately feel stronger in tackling whatever lies ahead.”

 

The data indicates that in the years following the Spanish Flu, there was a sense of commitment to help others in order to build a stronger future together as seen with the rise in teachers and hospital workers. The hospitality industries likewise rebounded and respectively showed that communities, meeting places and the need for connection persist and prevail.

The year 2020 will be a year everyone remembers and despite the difficulties we have suffered, it is important to remember that like our ancestors, we can come together and overcome the difficulties ahead. These Census Records offer signs of hope of what is to come.

Take a look at your own family’s story from the Spanish Flu. What other lessons can we take forward? Let’s find out more.