Medical Records

Cause of Death: Pulmonary tuberculosis

The Family of Hugh Walsh and Mary Catherine McGlade

I’ve written about tuberculosis before. See, for example, Tuberculosis in Ontario; and also see a list of those who Died of Tuberculosis in the Ottawa Valley Irish database.

Here’s a family that was hit hard by the scourge of tuberculosis in a five-year period from 1915 to 1920: the family of Hugh Walsh and Mary Catherine McGlade. Two parents; eight grown children:1 and no fewer than four of these ten people died of pulmonary tuberculosis between March 1915 and December 1920.

Mary Catherine McGlade was the daughter of Michael McGlade and Bridget McNulty. She was born in the (civil) parish of Forkill, Co. Armagh in 1864; and she emigrated to Pennsylvania with her parents and four of her siblings in the early 1880s.2 While her parents and four living siblings would head north to Perth (Lanark Co., Ontario, Canada) by 1883 or 1884,3 Mary Catherine McGlade stayed in the United States, where she married a Hugh Walsh in Leetonia, Ohio in 1883.

Hugh Walsh was born in Ireland about 1856, the son of an unknown Walsh and of an Elizabeth Lee, and emigrated to the States about 1864. He appears to have been an iron worker for many decades, first in Leetonia, Ohio, and then in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; several records describe him as a “puddler.” For a brief account of the family’s move from Leetonia to Pittsburgh in pursuit of employment in the iron and steel industry, see this obituary for daughter Sister Mary Hugh Walsh, MM (born Elizabeth Irene Walsh), a Maryknoll Sister.

Hugh Walsh and Mary Catherine McGlade had nine known children, all born in Leetonia, Ohio between 1884 and 1889, with the youngest, Hugh, dying in 1905 at the age of six before the family moved to Pittsburgh.4 So: eight children moved with their parents from Leetonia, Ohio to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania between 1905 and 1910; and of these eight, three would die of pulmonary tuberculosis within the next decade or so.

Here’s the ‘died of pulmonary tuberculosis’ death toll for this family:

  • Thomas Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 9 October 1910
  • Patrick J. Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 14 March 1915
  • Alice Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 23 June 1918 (Alice, who died at a sanatorium at the age of 22, was listed as a Telephone Operator in her death record: for some reason, I find this detail unbearably poignant)
  • Hugh Walsh, died of pulmonary tuberculosis 9 December 1920

So there we have it: 40 percent of a family wiped out by an airborne infectious disease (tuberculosis) that is now treatable, in the space of 5 short, and sorrow-ridden, years.

Folks, modern medicine is our friend: and if you don’t believe me, please take a closer look at your family’s tree: all those little Johns and little Marys who were carried off before the age of 5 by childhood diseases that are now almost entirely preventable. And please, please, please, inoculate your children against any and all preventable diseases. (End of pro-vaccination earnestness.)

Btw, I first learned of the existence Mary Catherine McGlade through her father Michael McGlade’s obituary in the Perth Courier (20 January 1905), which listed a surviving daughter as a “Mrs. Hugh Walsh, Latonia, Ohio.” Yes, the name of the town (Leetonia) was misspelled; but the information was basically sound, and verifiable. Never ignore unexpected or seemingly random details in an obituary (those details may be a bit muddled, but they’re not random!): always follow up and follow through.

  1.  The ninth, and youngest known child, Hugh Walsh (born 7 July 1899), died on 15 October 1905, at the age of 6.
  2. According to Michael McGlade’s obituary in the Perth Courier, four other siblings died and were buried in Armagh.
  3.  Michael McGlade’s brother John had been living in Perth since about 1851.
  4.  The family can be found in Pittsburgh by 1910.

Tuberculosis in Ontario

The Archives of Ontario has an online exhibit entitled Medical Records at the Archives of Ontario: Tuberculosis Records. As this exhibit notes, tuberculosis was once “a leading cause of death in the industrialized world.” In Ontario, public health efforts to control, if not eradicate, this disease involved the founding of numerous clinics and sanatoriums, the establishment of a Tuberculosis Case Register, and various public awareness campaigns, including a 1921 silent film, sponsored by the Ontario Provincial Board of Health, which carried the dire and didactic medico-moral message that it was “Her Own Fault,”

in which ‘the girl who fails in life’s struggles’ meets her downfall because of poor diet, late hours, and a penchant for fashion sales. She is soon hospitalized with tuberculosis, while her opposite, ‘the girl who succeeds,’ is promoted to forewoman at the factory.
How absolutely awful to assign such blame to the victims of tuberculosis. But interesting to note that in this 1921 film, factory work for a young woman (and even an ambition to the post of factory forewoman) was apparently depicted as something positive.

In my family tree, those who died of tuberculosis include my great-grandfather Arthur Joseph McGlade; my great-aunt Margaret Hilda Lahey; my 2x great-aunt Mary Ann Killeen; my 3x great-aunt Julia Moran; and my first cousin twice removed Charles Alexander Sullivan. The cause of death for these people (sometimes listed as “tuberculosis” or “pulmonary tuberculosis,” sometimes as “consumption”) is taken from the Ontario civil registration of their deaths.
The central subject of this haunting photograph is a man whose name I do not (yet) know. He was, as per the note on the back of the photograph, “Auntie Anne’s first husband,” and the photo was taken “at the sanatorium” (but which sanatorium? and where?), where he was obviously a patient. Click thumbnail to see larger image:
Left to right: Delia Lucie Derouin; Jack (John Eugene) McGlade; Unknown; Anna Matilda Derouin. At a sanatorium, presumably in Ontario; late 1930s to mid-1940s?
Auntie Anne was Anna Matilda Derouin, the younger sister of my maternal grandmother Delia Lucie (Derouin) McGlade. Her second husband was a Walter (“Woddy”) McIlquham, whom I met as a child and who is associated in my mind with the town of Carleton Place (Lanark Co., Ontario). I did not know she had had a first husband until I came across the above photograph. My mother cannot recall his name, but thinks he died of tuberculosis.