Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Book Review: A Cold Welcome

A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2017
Author: Sam White, Associate Professor, Department of History, Ohio State University
LCCN 2017016539 / ISBN 9780674971929
376 pages

This new book by Sam White, details the period of the 16th and early 17th centuries during the time the Americas were being explored and colonized. Mr. White deals with the contemporary perceptions and science about climate change over the past several centuries, climate reconstruction and the effects of the Little Ice Age in North America, climate and weather-related challenges of the new colonies and how climate affected the interaction with aboriginal societies.

The events and settlements described, with accompanying maps include:
·         Early Spanish explorations around the southeastern coast of North America (Florida & South Carolina)
·         The Roanoke colony and surrounding region (North Carolina)
·         The Frobisher, Davis, Waymouth and Knight expeditions (Labrador Sea)
·         The Jamestown colony and surrounding region (Virginia)
·         The Gosnold and Waymouth expeditions (Massachusetts, New Hampshire & Maine)
·         The Popham (Sagadahoc) colony (Maine)
·         The voyages of Henry Hudson (North Atlantic Ocean, Barents Sea, Labrador Sea, Hudson Bay, Nova Scotia & New England to New York coastlines)
·         Routes of the Coronado and Onate expeditions (Mexico and the western states of Texas, Kansas, Arizona & New Mexico)
·         Early Spanish exploration of the California coast (Mexico & California)
·         The Cartier expeditions (Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick & Quebec)
·         Champlain in Canada and New England (Quebec, Nova Scotia, New York & New England coastline)

Information was gleaned from archaeological, historical and scientific studies, and every obtainable written record in the archives of the nations who sponsored the expeditions.

White explains how the Europeans were unprepared for the lands they tried to settle in, the inhabitants already there and the difficulties in obtaining food to sustain themselves. He compares the various colonies and exploratory ventures in many part of the continent, drawing parallels in their common failures, largely due to the climate prevailing at the time.

New visitors to the New World encountered very different physical conditions and climates than they were used to at the same latitudes, partly due to the relative position to the oceans and the size and variability of the North American continent. The period of the Little Ice Age was one of harsh environmental conditions worldwide, or at least in the world these people knew. Life was no less challenging in North America, in many instances more-so.

The book will be on interest to family historians who are looking for answers to why their forebears left Europe for the colonies of the promised lands of the New World and what conditions they found that affected their new lives.

There is also a presentation by the author on YouTube.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Genealogy and Natural Phenomena: A new (old) focus

There are a myriad of blogs and other articles, books and miscellaneous publications that promote the study of family history. Lots of help in finding records – all over the world – is available for the serious-minded or just curious family historian. This blog has presented a few tidbits over the years to assist researchers in locating documents, showing examples of how ancestors were found and connecting families. I’ll continue to do that when subjects arise that are of interest and value.

But, in the last few years, my genealogical work has taken me in a different direction, or should I say back to my professional expertise – Earth history. I have looked at many examples of how the environment has affected people and communities, some of which have been presented here during the past several months: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Droughts, Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Floods and climatic perturbations.

Most of these blog posts have focused on disasters in which many scores of people died. These are, of course, the most memorable of natural events, ones that make the headlines and the stories of which may be told for generations. But natural phenomena take many different forms, most of which are gradual in development. Changes to habitat over years or decades are no less impactful, though, and may have been primary causes of families having to relocate when their livelihoods were seriously affect or even lost.

As an Earth scientist I have a familiarity with how natural processes work and how landscapes change. I tend to look at family history through the lens of how the physical environment affected lives and livelihoods.

I published a paper of Your Ancestors and the Little Ice Age (Family Tree, Christmas 2017 issue). I have another coming out in that magazine’s September 2018 issue about Losing the Land to natural events. As I noted in my blog of 24 April 2018, my book, Surviving Mother Nature’s Tests, is now out. In it I describe many different types of natural events and how they helped shape the histories of families and communities.
Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565 – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Many readers will have collected information about the migration of their ancestors to other parts of the world, mainly North America. They may be most interested in the reasons these people decided to come so far or what conditions drove them to emigrate. The earliest of these migrations were to new colonies set up by governments and private groups in the 16
th and 17th centuries. In almost all cases they encountered severe hardships, as much brought on by harsh weather and climate as by their unfamiliarity with the new world they arrived in. That, having already left areas with similar problems!

I have put together a presentation titled Genealogy and the Little Ice Age, in which I describe many of the conditions under which people lived during that long, inhospitable time. I have two other talks in preparation that cover other aspects of natural phenomena and their effects on our ancestors, using some examples from my book. A few dates have been booked to give those talks and would like to spread the word about Mother Nature’s tests even further.

Anyway, in future blog posts I intend to often discuss the impact of changes in habitat and natural events to the lives of our ancestors. I hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

My Next Presentation

I will be giving a presentation about one of my favourite subjects next September where I will be pleased to join with several internationally-renowned speakers. Here is the information about the Unlock the Past conference in Seattle, WA. Hope you can join us.