Earlier Pandemic Nearly Ends Hart Family Line

Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry digs into old newspapers and family records to tell the tragic story of the Hart family, nearly wiped out by the pandemic of 1915-1917. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.

Before the 1918 Influenza, rightfully called “the Mother of All Pandemics,” another epidemic of grippe (influenza and pneumonia) swept over the United States. The nation’s death rate rose sharply due to this respiratory disease epidemic, which lasted between December 1915 and January 1917.

One of Massachusetts’ oldest blood lines, the Hart family, almost perished due to the grippe. The ancestral line can be traced back to Governor John Endicott, Elizabeth Hutchinson Hart (targeted in the Salem 1692 witch hysteria), and notable New England forebears like Gilbert Tapley, Henry Lunt, and Captain John Putnam.

But the grippe nearly ended this family line, leaving only one member left alive.

Montage: Hart family photos. (left) Mary Josephine and brother George Hart; (middle) George Hart; and (right) George Hart family
Montage: Hart family photos. (left) Mary Josephine and brother George Hart; (middle) George Hart; and (right) George Hart family. Credit: Carolyn Wood Hart.

In the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, three Hart family members (Lois Augusta Shute Hart, widow of Henry Jackson Hart, and her two daughters Harriet Augusta and Mary Josephine), residing at 3 Fruit Street, died within a week of each other. At the same time the only surviving male heir, Lois’ son George Albert Hart, barely escaped the deadly illness.

Mary Josephine was a nurse who attended the Anna Jaques Nursing School in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1899. She was employed at the Anna Jaques Hospital and provided home care.

Montage: Mary Josephine Hart
Montage: Mary Josephine Hart. Credit: Carolyn Wood Hart.

She was considered “one of the most popular and efficient trained nurses” in the area. On 11 September 1906, the Newburyport Daily News reported that Mary Josephine Hart had contracted a fever while caring for Mrs. Anna Mapplebeck – who had typhoid. Mary was lucky this time, and survived the exposure. However, her immune system was compromised.

A decade later, Mary was not so lucky. During the month of December 1916, she provided nursing care for Mrs. Georgina Keyes, widow of Henry E. Keyes, living on Railroad Ave. in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Mrs. Keyes had the grippe.

While Mary was tending to Mrs. Keyes, she wrote to her mother and sister Harriet.

Photo: letter from Mary Josephine to her mother Lois Augusta Shute Hart (“Ma”) and sister Harriet Augusta Hart (“Hattie”), December 1916
Photo: letter from Mary Josephine to her mother Lois Augusta Shute Hart (“Ma”) and sister Harriet Augusta Hart (“Hattie”), December 1916. Credit: Carolyn Wood Hart.

Shortly after this letter, all three Hart women were dead from the grippe.

Montage: daughter Harriet Augusta Hart (left) and mother Lois Augusta Shute Hart (right)
Montage: daughter Harriet Augusta Hart (left) and mother Lois Augusta Shute Hart (right). Credit: Carolyn Wood Hart.

The mother, Lois Augusta Shute Hart, was the first to get it. Her nurse daughter Mary tended to her at home. Then Mary also contracted the disease and was taken to the Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Neither woman survived: Lois died at home during the night of 3 January 1917, and Mary died the next morning at the hospital.

A Hart family obituary, Boston Globe newspaper article 4 January 1917
Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), 4 January 1917, page 1. Credit: PARS International New York.

Note the ominous last sentence in this article:

“A second daughter is now a patient at the Newburyport hospital and her condition is regarded as serious.”

Harriet Augusta Hart didn’t make it either.

A Hart family obituary, Boston Herald newspaper article 7 January 1917
Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 7 January 1917, page 2

After losing his mother and both sisters in just five days, George Albert Hart seemed to be next. On January 11, the Boston Globe announced that George was seriously ill with pneumonia.

An article about George Hart, Boston Globe newspaper article 11 January 1917
Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), 11 January 1917, page 1. Credit: PARS International New York.

Thankfully, George recovered to carry on the family line.

His descendant Carolyn Hart Wood notes:

“The story of my great-grandfather George Hart’s beautiful sister [Mary] Josephine working as a nurse and caring for those with influenza is the same today with COVID-19. My family perished as a result and so are families now. Had George not survived the influenza pneumonia the Hart Family story would have ended that year.”

George’s granddaughter Mary Lois Pletsch published family memoirs. This is from her mother Mary Lois Hart:

“I remember Mary Josephine’s death and the flu which swept this country. In the cities people died in the space of two days. My Aunt [Mary] Josephine, who was a registered nurse, had contracted it from one of her patients. She brought it home to her mother and sister. My father was the only one of his family left, his father having died young. I remember my father [George Hart] sitting at the dining room table looking over the watches and jewelry that had belonged to his dear ones, the tears running down his cheeks. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.”

Further Reading and Sources:


Mrs. Georgina Keyes

  • Georgina Lambert (1849-1916), daughter of George Nathan Lambert (1821-1900) and Sarah Jane Perley (1822-1865), married Henry Keyes (1835-1914), son of Eleazer Keyes (1808-1838) and Mary Little Plummer (1808-1884). Children: Sara Maria Keyes (1871-1958), married Gorham Parsons Jewett Jr. (1871-1949), son of Gorham Parsons Jewett (1833-1900) and Sarah Sophia Poor (1835-1914). Brother Fred Ira Jewett (1875-1958) married Effa Belle Briggs (1877-1944), daughter of Sylvester Wesley Briggs (1839-1884) and Rachel Helen Spoor (1840-1929).

Hart Family:

  • George Albert Hart (1864-1938), married Bessie M. Wilson (1868-1951), daughter of Mathew Wilson (1808-1869) and Mary E. Lenon (1828-1884). Children: Dorothy Endicott Hart (1900-1993), married Clement Cook of Plymouth, Massachusetts; Mary Lois Hart (1908-1978), married Erich Carl Oskar Pletsch (1906-1992), born in Germany; Grace Manning Hart (1897-1969), married William Joseph Marlowe (1896-1965), son of Thomas Marlowe (1864-1928) and Louise C. Moore (1867-1938); Elizabeth Hart Marlowe (born 1937), married Henry Wood, Jr. (1931-2007), son of Henry Wood (1901-1966) and Marie Annie Girouard (1901-1986).
  • Henry Jackson Hart (1833-1891), married Lois Augusta Shute (1836-1917), daughter of Benjamin Shute (1811-1849) and Lois Smith (1812-1860).
  • Joseph Hart Jr. (1799-1882), married Harriet Davis Clark (1809-1873), daughter of Phillips Clark (1769-1835) and Sophia Fellowes (1781-1868). Note: Joseph Jr m. 1st Mary Richardson, had one son, Joseph L. Hart, born in 1827 and died in Civil War. Clark line was from the Newbury, Massachusetts, line. From “Genealogy of the Descendants of Nathaniel Clarke of Newbury, Mass: Ten Generations, 1642-1885,” Press of T.R. Marvin & Son, 1885.
  • Joseph Hart (1774-1830), married Elizabeth Tapley, daughter of Joseph Tapley (1756-1820) and Mary Smith (1758-1820).
  • John Hart (1733-1811), married Lydia Curtis (1732-1818), daughter of Francis Curtis (1705-1739) and Elizabeth Barnes (1706-1737).
  • John Hart (1703-1777), married Mehitable Endicott, daughter of Zerubbabel Endicott (1667-1706) and Grace Symonds (1664-1706).
  • Samuel Hart (1656-1730), married Sarah Endicott (1673-1710), daughter of Zerubbabel Endicott (1635-1684), son of Governor John Endicott and Mary Smith (1636-1677).
  • Isaac Hart (1614-1699), married Elizabeth Hutchinson (1622-1700), daughter of Thomas Hutchinson (1595-1629) and Anne Browne Hawkes (1603-1669), daughter of Edward Browne and Jane Leids, widow of Adam Hawkes. Adam Hawkes m. Anne Browne on 21 November 1634 in Saugus, Essex, Massachusetts.
  • Thomas Hart (1592-1662), married Alice Waters (1598-1626), daughter of Edward Waters of England.
  • Peter Hart (1557-1592), married Alice Hope (1562-1647).

15 thoughts on “Earlier Pandemic Nearly Ends Hart Family Line

    1. Thank you Elizabeth! Yes, and from what I read in newspapers the Hart women were quite popular in the area.

  1. Great story in timely fashion, Melissa. I had just started looking at my tree wondering how I could figure out which families had been impacted by that pandemic as we deal with our own in 2020. I really didn’t have much luck after looking at one geographic area of family members and realizing how intensive that search would be. This glimpse of one family and your research into their lineage illustrates the task clearly. Once again I thought the Hart’s inflicted with this flu might be of my Hart lineage, but they are not. Thank you for providing all the sources to check these things out as well as capture the times these ancestors endured. Appreciate all the thought and work you put into providing us these glimpses into history.

    1. Thanks Kay! I look forward to writing about your Mayflower ties. It has been a pleasure working with you. Your HART family may be the line that settled in PENN.

  2. I truly enjoyed your article, though a real tragedy for the Hart family. I also enjoyed the family lineage. I am not sure, but several names appear on my family so I intend to follow up. The first is Henry, but in my family “Henry” was in Wisconsin. Thanks for all of your work.

  3. My family experienced the same. My maternal Grandfather (aged 26), his sister, and mother all died within a week of each other, leaving my grandmother (aged 24), mother (4 yrs) and aunt (6 months). That ended this branch of his family.

    1. Richard, Thanks for sharing and yes, there were many family lines wiped out. Have you tried to research GenealogyBank for articles and obits on the last relatives? Sometimes you can find material on them you never knew about.

  4. Interesting and sad story. I am a Hart descendant, but I am not sure it’s this Hart line. My line are more from Connecticut, with a few in Massachusetts. However, I wonder if they may still be connected back a few generations. My Hart family also suffered terrible tragedy in the 1927 school bombing in Michigan.

    1. Diane, Have you tried the My Hart website? I know when I searched GenealogyBank for Harts I did see Massachusetts lines migrating to Conn. Thanks so much for your post!

  5. Melissa,

    I just saw your article on the GenealogyBank email I received today. You are to be commended on your work. I have a question about a possible Hart ancestor. My paternal grandmother was adopted. I found an Adoption Decree from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts indicating that Isabella Hart was adopted by Walter Wolstenholme and Sarah A., and she would be known as “Isabella Wolstenholme,” and another document in which Albert Hart gave the infant, Isabella Hart, to Walter Wolstenholme with the intention that she should be adopted. Apparently her mother, Susan Hart, had passed away.

    My father had written the following: Walter WOLSTENHOLME married Sarah A. BAGSHAW on Nov. 23, 1889, in Fall River (Massachusetts). On Sept. 14, 1894, they adopted Isabella HART, daughter of Albert HART and Susan HART (deceased).

    I noted in your Hart Genealogy that you list George Albert Hart. His marriage to Bessie and their children appear to be later in the 1890s. Could my paternal grandmother’s biological father have been the same person as George Albert Hart?

    Thanks for any insight you may provide.

      1. Thanks Melissa. I look forward to receiving the information.

        I did not catch that this GenealogyBank email actually was from June 2020. I don’t think I saw it then. It suddenly popped up in my inbox yesterday. I do not know if it was lost in cyberspace or if my email hiccupped, but I am glad that I saw it.


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