Well-Preserved History


One of the reasons I got into genealogy research as a hobby is Aunt Anna Regina’s fault.

Anna Regina Artman, nee Wand, was born in 1823. A great-great-great-great aunt, she likely would have been forgotten in a long list of similar names except for the very odd, very unusual matter of her burial that set her apart.

In 1851, Anna Regina, emigrating from Germany with several other members of the Wand family, died while aboard the ship traveling from Europe to America. Instead of burying her at sea, her body was preserved in a barrel of salt, and she was buried when they reached land.

Was this a regular thing? Were bodies, per the deceased (or family’s) wish, often preserved for burial until land was reached? I don’t know. I haven’t found much information, although Admiral Horatio Nelson’s body was preserved in brandy when he died at sea in 1805. Was this event inspiration for similar occurrences later in time? I can see this as a possibility for wealthy or influential people, but for a young German immigrant mother, it seems unlikely.

Now, like many family legends, I can find no actual documentation of this strange fact, and so I cannot completely ascertain its verity. But if Anna Regina’s burial is only a legend, then it must be asked: how did such a rumor start? Maybe we’ll never know. But all things considered, it was that weird fact that intrigued me and made me wonder if there were more unusual happenstances within my family tree to discover.

Are there any strange death stories in your family tree? And have you ever heard of any other death-at-sea stories like this?


When The History Fact Is a (Sort Of) Science Fact, Too


I don’t know what your family does around the dinner table, but mine has a habit of sharing weird things that have happened at school. Sometimes, especially between my sister and me, these turn into a subtle wars of who-learned-the-most-interesting-or-gross- fact-today contests. Given our areas of learning, mine are usually history-related, and hers science-related, but that isn’t always the case, as this history fact is one that I happened to learn from her.

A couple of semesters ago, my sister had the opportunity to read a book on the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 for extra credit in one of her biology classes. Since we share a room, she’d periodically update me with interesting tidbits as she read through it.

The epidemic was significant not only for the sheer number of people it killed worldwide (about 100 million) but also because, in the words of the The Great Influenza, it “marked the first collision between modern science and epidemic disease.” While it’s a fascinating study from both a scientific perspective and a historical one, for the people living through it, it was terrifying. (The epidemic is notably absent from L.M. Montgomery’s novel of the Canadian homefront experience during The Great War, Rilla of Ingleside. Despite having been such a prominent issue and fear in real life, it’s not once mentioned in the book, perhaps because, not only did Montgomery contract the flu herself, but her best friend died of it. We can only assume its intensely personal effect on her life prompted it too painful to write about.)

Nursing During the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918

The desperation of the people affected by the pandemic cannot be overstated. The illness was so widespread that patient care became an incredible problem. According to John M. Barry:

It was impossible to get a doctor, and perhaps more impossible to get a nurse. Reports came in that nurses were being held by force in the homes of patients too frightened and desperate to allow them to leave. Nurses were literally being kidnapped. (The Great Influenza, pp. 276-277)

It sounds like something from a dystopian novel. The lack of nurses during the time came from a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most obvious was the fact that so many nurses were on the front caring for soldiers. It’s amazing what a crisis or disaster can do to society. Nurses literally being kidnapped to care for desperate, frightened families sounds like something more liable to happen in a movie or book than real life- but then again, real life sometimes is even crazier than what we put into fiction.

(also, another little fact: This strain of flu is often called the “Spanish Flu,” even though research suggests the flu actually originated in an army camp in Kansas. This is because when the outbreak occurred during the War, both sides only wanted to report positive news. Spain, being neutral, was therefore the first country to publicly report on the pandemic.)

And now, since I’ve uplifted your heart with that little ray of optimistic sunshine, have a lovely day and remember to wash your hands often, cough into your elbow, and for heaven’s sake, stay home if you don’t feel well.