Frank McClain, 1898

This is the fifth in a series of posts concerning individual portraits taken of the children of Nathan and Mary McClain in 1898. More details about that set is in this previous post. The next child in the line-up is Frank Lester McClain.

Frank turned 12 years old in April 1898, so was probably just barely 12 in this portrait.

It is probably of little consequence, but it would be interesting to know what the button on his lapel is about. The reflection makes it impossible to make out.

Frank was 15 when the family moved to Oregon in 1901, and probably 16 by the time they reached the Willamette Valley. Given his age, he probably would have been living with his parents, at least in the first few years after they arrived.

In 1909, just days after his 23rd birthday, Frank fell into a diabetic coma. He passed away five days later. His death certificate indicates that he had been displaying symptoms of diabetes for 49 days before this. From what little I know about diabetes, assuming the diagnosis was correct in the first place, it sounds as though Frank developed Type 1 Diabetes, where the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed by disease or an autoimmune reaction. This comes on very suddenly, from what I understand, so that is consistent with the evidence in the death certificate. Type 1 Diabetes was universally fatal at this time. It wasn’t until 1910 that the existence of insulin was even theorized. It was isolated in dogs for the first time in 1921. The first human injection of insulin to treat diabetes occurred in 1922. In other words, in 1909, there was no treatment for Type 1 Diabetes. We can be thankful that this is no longer the case.

Have there been other cases of Type 1 Diabetes among the descendants of Nathan and Mary? I am not aware of any. One would kind of expect there might have been. The numbers are apparently like this: the chance of developing Type 1 Diabetes is one in 300 in the general population, but one in 16 if a sibling has it. So while the disease itself is not genetic, there seem to be genetic factors that increase a person’s propensity toward developing it.

What a shock this must have been to the family, to have a seemingly normal and healthy 23-year-old boy suddenly develop strange symptoms, and a month and a half later fall into a coma and die. So sad.

I’m grateful to whoever made Frank’s death certificate available online. Without that I would have had no information at all other than that the bare fact that he died in 1909.

The death certificate gives his occupation as “laborer.” Did that mean he had a job somewhere, or just that he was working on the family farm? Did he have a romantic interest at all? I wish it were possible to fill out the picture of his life a bit more. Regrettably I have told you all I can tell you about Frank McClain.


I guess since I have Frank’s death certificate, I should post it here so you can see it for yourself. Maybe you’ll notice something I missed.

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