As long as people have been travelling to and from other lands, they have been spreading disease. Most epidemics in New France began shortly after the arrival of a ship. With travel so much easier and more common the outbreaks spread farther afield, as in the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the latest ebola epidemic, affecting multiple countries.
When I was a child I contracted the usual childhood diseases... measles, whooping cough, chicken pox (which is why I got shingles last year, ugh!). Some diseases it was thought better to have while young, so any kid in the area that got sick, all the other kids were sent to "keep him company". When my younger brother got mumps we had a house full of kids for a while. But my older brother and I never got it. Now you can get vaccinated for these diseases and they are not so common.
My grandfather's sister contracted tuberculosis in 1937 and was sent to a sanitorium. She died soon after, at the age of 31, and meanwhile my mother had been sent to stay with a relative in the country. In the 1950's there was a polio epidemic and our beaches were closed to swimmers, and public pools were heavily chlorinated.
Diseases that have been more or less eradicated across the country are making a comeback. "Measles is one of the most contagious and potentially harmful diseases that is preventable by vaccination. Since the vaccine was developed in 1963 there have only been rare cases... "until earlier this year where outbreaks have been reported in Europe, the US and Canada. During the outbreak in Canada some schools would not allow children who have not been vaccinated to attend class.
Some of the epidemics our ancestors may have experienced are typhoid, the plague, cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, dengue fever, measles and influenza. If you find two or more family members (and probably a few neighbours) dying at the same time, you can look for an epidemic occurring at that time.
Below are some lists of victims, and some information booklets or websites. Try local books and newspaper accounts at times of epidemics for lists of victims. For the last two newspaper links below I searched using keyword "epidemic" - try searching using one of the diseases as keyword.
A short account of the malignant fever in Philadelphia : with a statement of the proceedings that took place on the subject in different parts of the United States ; to which are added, accounts of the plague in London and Marseilles ; and a list of the dead, from August 1, to the middle of December, 1793
A short account of the yellow fever, as it appeared in New-London, Connecticut 1798
The malignant fever, prevalent in the city of New York and list of burials 1799
An Accurate list of persons who have died of the malignant fever in New York, including those at Bellevue - 1803
An account of the yellow fever in New York in the year with a list of deaths 1822
The Bilston Cholera Epidemic of 1832, list of victims (still on Wayback Machine)
The Grosse-Isle Tragedy and the Monument to the Irish fever victims, 1847
Immigrants at Grosse Île Quanantine Station (database) 1832-1937
The epidemic summer. List of interments in all the cemeteries of New Orleans from the first of May to the first of November 1853, with names and ages, cause of death, etc.
Death Roll from the Yellow Fever outbreak in Buenos Aires 1871
The Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878 and names of the victims in Memphis.
Dr Dromgoole's Yellow Fever Heroes, Honors and Horrors of 1878, Louisville.
Yellow Fever epidemic at Hickman, KY (including names of victims) 1878
Sketch of the medical and statistical history of epidemic fevers in Ireland, from 1798 and a comparative view of cholera morbus - Dublin 1832 (with 8 named cases)
Some account of the fever which existed in Boston during 1817 and 1818 (some names)
History and description of an epidemic fever, commonly called spotted fever; which prevailed at Gardiner, Maine, in the spring of 1814 (cases but no names)
Annals of influenza or epidemic catarrhal fever in Great Britain from 1510 to 1837.
A Tuberculosis Directory; List of Institutions - United States and Canada 1916
Interactive Timeline - Diseases and Vaccines (use slider at bottom to change year)
Cholera and The Thames (info website)
List of Epidemics world wide (Wikipedia)
Epidemic accounts in Newspapers (google)
Epidemic newspaper accounts - Trove