Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #119

The first known victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic was Army cook Albert Gitchell.

What can you find out about Albert, both before and after his illness?

Andy E. Wold

Chris, his name according to several articles I've found was Albert Mitchell.

Most give his rank as Private, one account (full of errors) states that he was a "Mess Sgt." That same account lists the next two persons in line as Cpl. Lee W. Drake and Sgt. Adolph Hurby.


Only Albert Mitchell is listed as having not survived the flu. I have yet to find any information on the other two's post-flu condition.

"... Many of them, including Albert Mitchell, would die. ..."

Andy E. Wold

Apparently, this first wave through Camp Funston (on Fort Riley) was a less-lethal strain, so the other two "Patient Zero" soldiers may have survived.


Private Albert Mitchell, born Columbus, Ohio, servioe number 4724245, listed as "colored," attended the School for Bakers and Cooks at Camp Custer, Michigan, until January 14, 1918. He served with Company C of the 448th Quartermaster Corps Service Battalion until his death of pulmonary tuberculosis on August 22, 1919. His aunt, Mrs. Maude Watson, of 215 Grant Ave., Columbs, Ohio, was notified.

Some things fit (a cook named Albert Mitchell who died in the service of a respiratory disease), but was the 448th Quartermaster Corps stationed at Camp Funston on Fort Riley?

Ernie Thode


That's an interesting find, Ernie. I'm still not convinced that we're looking for a "Mitchell" rather than "Gitchell." I haven't seen an authoritative source that would confirm the name. PBS American Experience and American Heritage and Smithsonian magazines all say "Gitchell." I would think it more likely that "Gitchell" mutated into the more common "Mitchell" than vice versa. On the other hand, there were far more soldiers named "Mitchell" than "Gitchell."

I'm also not convinced that Albert died of influenza. As Andy says, that first strain of the disease was less lethal—supposedly 1,127 men at Fort Riley were stricken that spring, but only 46 died.

Andy E. Wold

I have sent a request to the Riley County (Kansas) Genealogical Society for additional information.

Andy E. Wold

OK, I think I've found Private Albert Gitchell. :)

A volunteer from the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness ( sent me a copy of the obituary of Albert Martin Mitchell, who was born 17 Feb 1890 in Chicago, IL, and died 17 Mar 1968 in Hot Springs, SD. It mentions that he served in World War I, and is survived by his widow, Emma.

She located the burial survey for them in the State Veterans' Home Cemetery:

Gitchell, Albert M., M[ale], [b.] 17 Feb 1890, [d.] 17 Mar 1968, [row] 18 [grave] 73, [Veteran] WW1, [Notes] S.D. Sgt. 9 Co. 3 Bn 164 Dep Brig
Gitchell, Emma M., F[emale], [b.] 17 Aug 1890, [d.] 10 Ag 1977, [row] 18 [grave] 72, [Note] Husband: Albert

The 164th Depot Brigade was stationed at Camp Funston, KS!

Albert Martin Gitchell was enumerated in the 1900 US Census and the 1905 Wisconsin State Census in Grand Rapids, WI. He was later enumerated in the 1910 US Census in Cleveland, SD. He was enumerated in the 1915 SD State Census in Kimball, Brule county, and is his religion is listed as "M. E." [Methodist?]. He applied for the World War I draft registration and was enumerated on the 1920 US Census in Ree Heights, SD. He was enumerated in the 1930 US Census in Binghamton, NY. He was enumerated in the 1935 SD State Census again in Ree Heights, his religion is listed as Methodist, Emma as Catholic, he is listed as a Proprietor of a Restaurant in the 1920 US Census and the 1935 SD State Census. His parents are Albert W. and Helen Gitchell (she being an immigrant from Norway.)

Albert Martin Gitchell and Emma M. Puffer married on 25 Nov 1919 in Huron, Beadle, SD. She is listed as Mrs. Emma Van Gorp, a widow. Her first husband was Harry M. Van Gorp.

Albert and his family apparently moved from Wisconsin to South Dakota in about 1906 (from the 1915 SD State Census card.)

So, I think I've found him!

From a cook on Camp Funston, to a Proprietor of a Restaurant in Ree Heights, SD. And from a Private to a Sergeant.

It appears that Albert and Emma did not have any children.


Well done, Andy! And just five days shy of the 90th anniversary of Albert's visit to the infirmary!

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