The Devastation of Smallpox

Marie Philomene Barbay
Marie Philomène Barbay (1872-1957) circa 1886

In September 1883, smallpox came to the bayou town of Plaquemine, Louisiana when my great-grandmother Marie Philomène Barbay (1872-1957) was 10 years old. It infected her family, claiming the lives of her mother Marie Aurélie Hotard and her two baby sisters. She and her brothers survived the disease: younger brother Preston was left with scars on his face, while she and brother Roland were left unscarred. Her father Émile somehow escaped the disease, only to die less than three years later.

Thirteen-year-old Philomène was taken in by her aunt and uncle in Grosse Tete. There she found love, acceptance and eventually a husband, her first cousin G. J. A. Bush Jr. But that was years after this tintype portrait of her in a mourning dress was taken. Her face is unscarred, but her eyes show the devastation.

About Photo+Story: Inspired by a competition at the RootsTech 2018 genealogy conference, the series distills family stories to a single photo plus 150 words or less.