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.