Saturday, July 23, 2016

Grandmother Grace

My paternal Grandmother's life story is a short one as she died at age 43 from a scourge of the times, tuberculosis. Grace Lillian Synar was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 8, 1878. Her parents were William Henry Synar and Lillian Ann Gallaher. Her mother, Lillian, also died of tuberculosis when Grace was two-years-old. The 1880 Census lists young Grace living with her grandfather John Gallaher, her aunt Tilly (Lillian's sister Matilda), Tilly's husband William Hamilton, and her father Henry Synar in Pittsburgh. (William often used his middle name Henry as a first name). Henry worked as a glass blower and William Hamilton was a clerk in oil works.

By 1900, the widower Henry and his young daughter were living with his sister Mary at 1906 S Sarah St in Pittsburgh. Grace lived here until her marriage to Frank E Cox in 1905. Her three sons would be born near Pittsburgh: John Gallaher in 1906, Fred Synar in 1908, and Robert Austin in 1910.

Cox Family 1919

Sarah Street House built in 1900
When the bacillus that caused TB was discovered in 1882 by Robert Koch, measures were gradually taken to stop its spread. Knowing that the disease could be "caught", the public became fearful of associating with tubercular patients. This was a hardship for patients as the slow progression of the disease meant that one could be well enough to receive visitors or go to town, yet still be contagious. Many sufferers likely remained at home, depending upon family and neighbors to supply their needs, rather than face uneasy strangers. Before antibiotics were discovered and mass-produced, the only treatment available was based on isolation, rest, and healthy food, The residential facilities known as sanitariums were big business, and were usually situated in a rural area providing a restful environment, the beauty of nature, fresh air, fresh food, and nursing care. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, the moderate weather and abundant sunshine of California led many TB patients living in colder climates to relocate.

In 1917, the family was living in Phoenix, Arizona, as recorded on Frank's WWI Draft Registration card. By 1920, they had settled in Pasadena, California, where Grace's condition deteriorated. Too ill to tend to her growing sons, so far from her childhood home and loved ones back east, it must have been an unhappy time for Grace, a great strain on her husband, and frightening and confusing for her children.

Mountain View Cemetery
Her suffering came to an end on September 17, 1921, ten years after her diagnosis was confirmed. Did she carry the same TB strain as her late mother? Did it remain latent until she married and had a family, only to strike when she was still a young woman? So many questions that will forever remain unanswered. Grace Synar Cox was buried near her son Fred at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California. I so wish I had know you, Grandma.

Death Certificate


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