Feature Article — What Could’ve Been: More Cousins. More Birthdays. More Love.

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Parents PACK

Meet the Kuhlmann Family. George, Fannie, and their nine children ranging in age from newborn to 11 years old. Pauline Elizabeth Kuhlmann is George and Fannie’s 9-year-old daughter.

Within the span of four days in March 1918, 9-year-old Pauline experiences the death of both parents, George and Fannie, her 14-year-old sister, Amelia, and her unnamed newborn brother. She and her seven surviving siblings are adopted by different families in the central Pennsylvania area. They grow up in seven different homes and rarely ever see each other.

So, what happened?

The Kuhlmann family, along with many other families, was forever changed by the well-known but sometimes forgotten 1918 influenza pandemic.

This year marks the 100th anniversary since the pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people and infected one-third of the world’s population (500 million people) at the time. Those deaths included American icons such as Harold Lockwood, early period silent film actor; Phoebe Hearst, mother of businessman and communications tycoon William Randolph Hearst; as well as Horace Elgin Dodge and John Francis Dodge, co-founders of the Dodge Brothers Company — the precursor to what is presently the Dodge automobile company.

What we don’t often stop to consider is how families can be affected over time — even generations later; their family trees forever altered by diseases. The 1918 pandemic is an extreme example of what a disease can do. Yet the reality is, even one family member lost to a disease such as influenza, measles, meningitis or a host of others, forever changes a family — leaving an everlasting what if.

Recently, the VEC had the opportunity to talk to Terri Wood, the daughter of Pauline Kuhlmann. Ms. Wood details how the pandemic affected the lives of her mother, herself, and her entire family, and puts a human face to the millions of people who died in the 1918 pandemic:

Read more of Terri’s story.

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