Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Webinar Participation

I had the pleasure earlier this month in presenting my talk about Genealogy and the Little Ice Age to two groups. One was in Seattle at the one-day conference put on by Unlock the Past. I was joined there by international experts, Blaine Bettinger, Maurice Gleeson and Cyndi Ingle.

As a special bonus, registrants to the conference can view all of the presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website. It is not too late to sign up. As Unlock the Past has announced in their latest newsletter. Details can be found for late registration on the Unlock the Past website. In addition to getting access to the 10 presentations, the price also includes an entry into a prize draw and a AU$90 discount coupon (approximately the full value of the livestream registration cost) on an order of Unlock the Past’s genealogy ebooks. A great deal!

As they say, “UPDATE 18 September 2018 – the conference and livestreaming itself has ended. You may still book for the recorded sessions – until 30 September 2018. The recorded sessions, will be available from (or before) Thursday 20 September 2018. A link and code to access these will be given to all who have registered. You will have access to the recordings for a month after you receive information on how to access them. Those who pre-booked or registered on the day for the in-person conference at the library may add access to the recordings for just the US$20 price difference.”

As a presenter, I only got to hear a few of the other talks as we were split into two rooms. I am looking forward to now hearing the rest.

Regular subscribers of Legacy Family Tree Webinars have access to the recordings as part of their annual membership. So, if you are already part of that wonderful resource, I hope you will sign in and watch all of the Seattle conference talks.

The Seattle conference and my presentation in Alberta this month offered me an opportunity to introduce my book, Surviving Mother Nature’s Tests, to more genealogists. I am eager to spread the word about how habitat has played an important role in the lives of our ancestors and that many decisions they made with respect to relocating may well have been due to the physical circumstances in which they lived or because of disasters that befell them.

Readers may purchase my book directly from Unlock the Past (Gould Genealogy & History), including an electronic (PDF) version. Print copies can also be purchased from me for Cdn$40 (plus shipping cost for those living outside Calgary, Alberta). Anyone interested can email me at survivingmnt@gmail.com to inquire about ordering.

I continue to research topics concerning natural phenomena and family history and will write more about the stories and reports I uncover – both on this blog and in articles in various journals and magazines. I am also preparing other presentations for public webinars. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

What happened in the year ….?

We have all seen those booklets for sale in gift shops and pharmacies loaded with trivia highlighting the events of certain years. They are directed at those people who are curious about the activities, people and news stories during the year in which they were born. I have one such publication, given to me by my sister on the occasion of my 60th birthday (So many years ago!), called Once Upon a Time in the World 1945.

The booklet has information from the year of 1945 about: news stories, fun facts, science & technology, sports movies & Oscars, music, birthdays, zodiac and much more.

The booklet used to reside in the bathroom (euphemistically referred to as the “library”), along with other reading material, where I could occasionally look back on that momentous year, such as the following:
·         among many World War II news stories, in February of 1945, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt met in Yalta to discuss war arms
·         the Nobel prize in Medicine was awarded to Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst B. Chain and Baron Florey for the discovery of penicillin
·         the Oscar for Best Movie went to The Lost Weekend starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman
·         the song, Sentimental Journey reached number two on popular music’s Top Ten Hits
·         in August, atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan.

So I wondered what I could find for those years in which some of my ancestors were born. Perhaps looking at the news of the day would give me a better understanding of life then – what important events might have affected day-to-day life or just what might have interested or entertained them.

There is a not-so-surprising amount of information on the internet for any particular year, going back hundreds of years. You might have copies of documents generated in the community, such as parish accounts, in which your ancestors lived that could add to the narrative.

I thought I would start with my paternal 2nd great-grandfather, John Shepheard. His birth in 1830 was far enough back that it would offer interesting comparisons with the modern-day world but not so far back that finding information would be very difficult.

I thought newspapers would be a great source of information. On December 30th, the date John Shepheard was baptized, the newspaper, the four-page Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post had all kinds of interesting information on:
·         world affairs – comments on the effect of the French and Belgian Revolutions on trade; the Five Great Powers agreeing “to acknowledge the independence of Belgium”; the King of Prussia adopting “precautions to preserve his share of the plunder of Poland from the epidemic of revolt”
·         government notices – one given setting the date for the Epiphany General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Devon
·         domestic matters such as – a report on a meeting about Poor Relief; the Quarter Sessions summary for Exeter City
·         results of criminal court matters – such as the sentencing of three gentlemen to transport to New South Wales “for disinterring and carrying away dead bodies at Stoke Damerel”
·         classified advertisements for – real estate for sale and rent; positions available; commercial goods and services; auctions
·         association and club meeting notices and reports – including some information about future fox-hound group meeting dates
·         commercial transactions and market reports
·         birth, marriage and death notices from several areas in Devon and elsewhere

Interestingly, page one of the Post had a series of advertisements for many medicinal products including Butler’s Cajeput Opodeldoc (a remedy for chronic rhematisms, spasmodic affections, chilblains, palsy, stiffness and enlargement of the joints), Improved Pectoral Balsam of Horehound (for coughs, colds, asthmas, hooping [sic] cough and all obstructions of the breast and lungs), Partridge’s Concentrated Pills (for “head ache, giddiness of the head and dimness of sight”), Hart’s White Itch Ointment (for obvious afflictions and which could “be safely used by persons of the most delicate constitution”), Dr. Sydenham’s Antibilious or Family Pills (for “bilious and liver complaints, gout, indigestion, flatulencies, habitual costiveness, spasms and nervots [sic] headaches”), Congreve’s Balsamic Elixir (for “coughs, hooping [sic] cough, shortness of breath and asthma”) and Powell’s Balsam of Aniseed (also for “coughs, colds, hoarseness, difficulty of breathing and huskiness in the throat”). These notes were real eye-openers of the complaints of the times!

It was like reading “A day in the life of. . .!” There were no reports from the Cornwood area in that particular edition of the Post, of course, as Exeter is some distance away and a small, rural parish did not always generate much activity that was newsworthy. I did find some references to the parish in other issues of both the Post and the North Devon Journal published during the year 1830, though. And there was a great deal going on in many other parts of Britain and the world that I have not reviewed yet.

A google search for “events in 1830” had 32,500,000 hits so it looked like I would not have any trouble finding out what was going on that year. Narrowing the search to “events in 1830 – United Kingdom” alone resulted in 858,000 hits. Wikipedia listed a number of events, including:
the death of King George IV and his succession by his brother William IV in June; the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway; the last hanging for piracy in London; the Swing Riots by agricultural workers in East Kent who protested against the use of labour-displacing threshing machines; another disturbance called the Otmoor Riots, in Oxfordshire, following the enactment of laws concerning enclosure which disadvantaged many farmers; and, closer to home for me as an Earth scientist, the publication of the first volume of Principles of Geology by the Scottish geologist, Charles Lyell.

Next up – what happened in the year 1792, when my 3rd great-grandfather was born?

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 17: Glaciers & Ice Fields

This may sound like a strange genealogical topic as most of us do not live anywhere near glaciers, nor have we ever felt threatened by them. But the subject has come up in the news often in recent years as many sources point to the retreat of ice in mountain valley as signaling doom for the planet from global warming.

The retreat of glaciers is not unique to the modern period, though. It has happened during every warm period for tens of thousands of years, just as the formation of these great ice rivers took place during the many intervening cold epochs.

Think, for a moment about what it might have been like for one of your ancestors to have watched as a mountain of ice slowly advanced on their farms and houses, crushing and grinding up everything in its path. Or how they may have felt the cold winds as the glacier fronts crept closer. Ice-cold rivers, filled with debris, may have overrun their fields, destroying any potential for harvests.

During the Little Ice Age, beginning about 1300 AD, glaciers formed in almost every mountain range in the world. The greatest advances of glaciers since the last major ice age – 25,000 years ago – occurred in the last 400 years, culminating in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. That cold age, of which glaciers were a part of, brought misery and distress to most of the old world, so the idea of their existence is also an indication of a climate that was, at best, unfavourable for habitation.

By 1600, in the Alps at least, glaciers on all sides had reached their maximum position. Many church and other records from communities in that part of the continent contain information about the devastation caused by advancing glaciers: overrunning farms and villages; and destroying infrastructure that had been in use for hundreds of years. Pastures in the upper reaches of valleys became inaccessible and mountain passes were blocked. Animals and people were injured and even killed by rock and ice falls, and floods.

In 1616, an official arrived at the Argentière glacier tongue (near Chamonix, France) and reported: “. . . The great glacier of La Rosière every now and then goes bounding and thrashing or descending; for the last five or six years . . . it has been impossible to get any crops from the places it has covered . . . Behind the village of Les Rousier, by the impetuosity of a great and horrible glacier which is above and just adjoining the few houses that remain, there have been destroyed forty-three journaux (of land) with nothing but stones and little woods of small value, and also eight houses, seven barns, and five little granges have been entirely ruined and destroyed.” (Le Roy Ladurie, 1971, p148).

On more than one occasion, priests were summoned to perform blessings and offer prayers to God to halt the progress of glaciers that threatened communities with total destruction. They did not always work.

In Scandinavia, tax records show that relief was being granted farmers from the payment of taxes as a result of their fields being destroyed by landslides caused by ice movement and outwash of debris loosened by the glaciers and sent downstream by raging streams. Here, too, the lives of people and livestock were put in jeopardy, and even taken from time to time. Property damage was often severe, to the point that people had to abandon their homes and livelihoods.

One petition for tax relief from Olden Skipreide (Norway) in 1755 stated: “. . . when the freeholder was out fishing in the fjord, a great avalanche broke out from the mountain and not only swept all the farm buildings and carrel into the lake but also his wife, children and servants, eleven people in all and all of them being killed. . .” (Grove, 1988, p.81).

During the same time period, the ice pack of the North Atlantic shifted south, almost engulfing Iceland, Greenland and parts of Scandinavia. The ice restricted passage through the northern part of the ocean and limited access to ports, cutting off supplies of colonies. The fishing industry was decimated as fish stock, particularly cod, moved out of the increasingly cold waters, forcing fishermen to travel farther as well as change their target catches.

I recommend that genealogists investigate natural phenomena in any region in which their ancestors lived in order to determine whether such factors were important in day-to-day living or survival. For genealogists, the importance of glaciers is not where they are today, for example, things that interest tourists, but where they were during the Little Ice Age when your ancestors lived, as they are direct indicators of climatic conditions. For some they were part of everyday living and survival.


Grove, Jean M. (1988). The Little Ice Age. London & New York: Routledge.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. (1967). Histoire du Climat depuis l'an mil. Flammarion, Paris. (translated by Barbara Bray as Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate Since the Year 1000, Doubleday and Co., 1971).