In the year since the coronavirus pandemic began, the world as we once knew it has changed dramatically. We’ve seen toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages, long lines at the supermarket, and a spike in online shopping. New words and phrases have entered our daily vocabulary: social distancing, self-isolating, quarantining, flattening the curve, asymptomatic and community spread. While these are all new experiences for us, it is important to note that many of our ancestors endured similar challenges a century ago.

Our partners at MyHeritage have published three unique blog posts that offer a glimpse into what life was like for people who lived through one of the deadliest influenza pandemics in history — known as the Spanish flu pandemic — which infected 500 million people worldwide from February 1918 to April 1920.

Patrons researching their family histories may be interested in reading these three blog posts and then diving into MyHeritage’s newspaper collections to learn more:

Unmasking Pandemic Masks, Then and Now

Researchers examined MyHeritage’s newspaper collections to understand attitudes toward mask-wearing during past pandemics. Sharing images from historical newspaper clippings, the article reveals the impact of masks on the ability to read people’s expressions, the use of masks to hide a “multitude of sins” (such as an unkempt beard), the ways in which people customized their masks as a form of self-expression, and the consequences of not wearing a mask in public.

Love in the Time of the Spanish Flu

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hugging and kissing has been replaced by the occasional elbow bump or foot tap. Although many might be experiencing “social distancing” fatigue, we aren’t the first generation that has missed showing affection toward our loved ones. Once again, researchers sifted through MyHeritage’s newspaper collections to learn how the Spanish flu of 1918 shaped our ancestors’ attitudes toward kissing. The article also describes a kooky little invention called the “kissing screen,” which people held between their lips while they kissed to keep from transmitting germs!

Spanish Flu Retail Opportunities

Millions of people around the world have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many businesses have been forced to close. More than 100 years ago, people living during the Spanish flu had to adapt to new ways of shopping, and businesses had to pivot to survive the economic crisis that ensued. Today, people are demonstrating creativity and innovation — the same qualities that once guided our ancestors through difficult times.

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