Saturday 28 August 2021

The Industrious Revolution - My Latest Article

My latest article, published in Family Tree magazine (UK), is about the Industrious Revolution. It was the period leading up to the more well-known Industrial Revolution which encompassed a change from an economy focused on agriculture and handcraft production to one dominated by powered machinery and centralized, mass production industries.

Read a bit more about how the event may have impacted your ancestors and get your own copy of the magazine here. The September issue is filled with many more informative and entertaining articles.

Monday 23 August 2021

The Little Ice Age and Genealogy

 In many of my articles and presentations I emphasize the importance of recognizing the Little Ice Age with regard to family history research.

The Little Ice Age is the name given to the cold period that lasted from about 1300 to 1850. It followed the benign, 400-year long Medieval Warm Period and predated the Modern Warm Period which we are presently experiencing.

The Hunters in the Snow – painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, ca 1565

The Medieval Warm Period began about 900 AD, and was a time when:

·         Temperatures around the world rose.

·         Weather was generally stable, particularly in Europe.

·         Growing conditions were favourable for long periods.

·         Arable land expanded.

·         Towns were established.

·         Population grew.

In contrast, during the Little Ice Age:

·         Growing seasons were shortened. Snow stayed longer in the spring and frosts came earlier. Drought was common. Weather was unstable.

·         Arable lands were significantly reduced in extent. Those with poor soil and at higher elevations became unsatisfactory for cultivation or suitable only for pasture.

·         Much of the land cultivated during the Medieval Warm Period was abandoned during the period of the Little Ice Age and has never seen agricultural activity since.

·         There was a substantial increase in landless people, unemployment and poverty.

These factors resulted in less food production and higher prices for what was available, which caused even more stress on the populace. With the unstable weather, cold and reduction in arable land, back-to-back harvest failures became more frequent, resulting in repeated subsistence crises, including major famines.

That became a serious problem for a rising population adding to the problem of sufficient food production. These elements would all have affected lives and livelihoods, indeed, the very survival of people.

Much of what we seek in terms of records having information about our ancestors comes from the period of the 14th to 19th centuries. The harsh physical conditions of the Little Ice Age would thus have had significant impact on the way people carried out their daily activities and raised their families.

Temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, from Climate, History and the Modern World (1995) by Hubert lamb

In order to construct detailed and realistic family histories, it is valuable to know something about the conditions under which people lived and worked.

I offer many examples of how Mother Nature was involved with the lives of people in my published articles and in my presentations. The more I look, the more instances I find where natural phenomena were part of the stories of my ancestors’ lives. And the fact that so many of these factors negatively affected the environment during the Little Ice Age makes that time period of particular importance to family history studies.