COVID-19 Ben Vosberg and Medicine

My month in the land of COVID-19, here.


For many years I’ve done family history, and just a few days ago came across an old newspaper clipping.  A photo of it is below.  The pdf is here: Ben Vosberg (click to enlarge).

Ben Vosberg was a relative, probably my great grandmothers brother.  As is typical, the news clipping was not labeled, and a small part of the article was missing.  Ben was born in 1839 in Germany, arrived in the U.S. in 1844, married in 1865, and at the time of his visit to Galena lived in nearby Wisconsin in the area of Hazel. Green and Sinsinawa. The newspaper was probably from sometime around 1932.

Truly, Ben Vosberg lived in the old days when being born was hazardous.  He had beat the odds to be able to visit about the past at age 93.  In his day, if you got sick or were injured, you either got well or you didn’t.  Graveyards are full of young mothers who died in childbirth or soon after; and their children, often less than 5 years of age, are named on lots of headstones. Men were not immune, disease, illness, now-preventable accidents.

Years ago I was reading a family history from my Dad’s French-Canadian side, where the writer was recalling another set of pioneers in then Dakota Territory, which later became North Dakota.  She said: “There were times when help would be needed by a neighbor and a white dish towel would be hung on the corner of the house and either a neighbor came quickly, or maybe a passerby, but [those were] few and far between at the time.

There was no 9-11, no phone, likely no doctor or hospital.  The white dish towel signaled trouble inside.


It is hard to imagine this now, when we’re barraged with information about this or that.

We are blessed with all of the marvels of modern medicine – something still inaccessible to a great percentage of people around the world.  We expect miracles.

I’m recalling a powerful visit to Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health hospital in Haiti in 2006.  Poor people, young and older, had made long trips to reach this medical facility, and their only opportunity for any treatment was to wait in line for possibly only a single appointment.  (I wrote a bit about the visit in 2006.  See p. 4 here.)

Some years later came the cholera epidemic in Haiti, a great medical crisis from an introduced disease; in 2010 a horrible earthquake.  And a deadly hurricane or two.

We will all get through this national and world crisis, but there are a lot of learnings we need to have, including diligence, and patience and humility and resolve and, yes, gratitude.   Our frontline troops in this war are innumerable citizens in all sorts of occupations, most especially those related to critical care medicine.


Where was/is God in all of this?  Who is God?  I’ll leave the theological arguments to you and everyone else.  Succinctly, no one has any idea, and various theologies simply reflect human imperfection…and arrogance.

I’d be in church as usual today, but Basilica of St. Mary is closed, and our Mass on Facebook is as close as we’ll come today.  If you’re interested, here is the link.

We can all be thankful that we’re well enough to read this, and able to impact on future decisions.

We’re all in this together, big time.

Have a good April and rest of your life.

POSTNOTE:  I don’t have any death date for Ben Vosberg.  Please let me know, if you know.

COMMENTS (more at the end of the post):

from Molly: …this is much appreciated… Each of these stories is unique, and such a strong common thread relates them to each other… My Irish great-greats (Dad’s side) settled in central WI and farmed .  My Mom’s German grandfather immigrated to avoid being drafted for another term in the Kaiser’s army, and settled in NJ, where he–an engineer–worked on building the Brooklyn Bridge, then married his Irish landlord’s daughter and moved to Milwaukee…

Ya, guts, strength, resilience –and oh so many lost stories.
Blessings of the day, to you, and thanks for the candles you light for us with your blogs, stories, reflections.
from Fred: As usual very well done! You wrapped the yellowed newspaper clipping into the overall theme in an interesting way. Much food for thought.
from Sandy: Thanks for sharing! It was as always very interesting and informative.
from Brad: I thought you’d enjoy reading this article about San Francisco’s 1918-19 pandemic, SF’s 1918 Spanish flu debacle: A crucial lesson for the coronavirus era.  History’s lessons can teach us how to be proactive, and act in a time of a health crisis to survive. Indeed, avoid xenophobia, snake-oil cures, and listen to health professionals over the shrill of elected officials promoting self-interests.



3 replies
    • Dick Bernard
      Dick Bernard says:

      I’ll ‘take it under advisement’, pending more info from people who live in the county. I think the newspaper was in the 1930s. It says that Ben was 93, and it is consistent with 1900 census data which I used for his birthdate and when he came to America. Anyway, stuff like this is always an adventure! Many thanks.
      PS April 14: I took a look at your reference.
      This is definitely the same man; his sister, Christine Vosberg Berning, is my great grandmother. I’ve been to the Cemetery, St. Joseph at Sinsinawa Mound most recently in 1994. It is the church where my grandmother and grandfather were married in 1905. It is about 10 miles from Dubuque IA, perhaps three miles from the Illinois border.
      My information about Ben came from the 1900 Census.
      The newspaper, undated, is as any article is – dependent on the source of the information, and what they actually print.
      Inconsistencies like this are not at all unusual.
      It would be interesting to know when the headstone was actually placed in the cemetery. It looks much more recent than 1929. You’ll notice that his brother Joseph Vosberg also has a death date of 1929.
      Christine’s information is basically consistent with what I know. In my family history I have her as born 1848, and died Oct 21, 1931.
      So there you have it. For now, anyway!
      Thanks so much.


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