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               June, 2011

      Charles Hansen, Editor

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  Weather Disasters and Your Ancestors
  — by Charles Hansen

       This spring has brought an unusual amount of disasters caused by the weather, we have had floods on the Red River in North Dakota, and all along the Mississippi and many of its tributaries, due to a big snow pack from winter and an unusually wet spring. There have also been more tornadoes this year than on an average year and so far the tornado season is just getting started. The amount of people killed or displaced by the floods and tornadoes is a record amount also. My area in Spokane has been under a flood watch for several weeks as our snow pack was unusually high last winter, but so far none of the rivers have flooded, but several are very close.

       We are very lucky now as we have a weather bureau that can predict possibilities of tornadoes, and can warn of impending floods. We also have had massive flood control measures over the years and while some were severely tested this year most of the levies held, but will people move to get away from floods and tornadoes? Probably.

       Did your ancestors get tired of the floods and move? Mine did, my grandfather left Missouri to get away from the floods and looked for a place away from a river to settle. I know a lot of people always say they will rebuild and many do but the weather may have influenced your family to move on. Is that why they moved? Have you checked the newspapers for the weather just before your family moved. If they stayed how did they survive? I know farmers liked the bottom land in valleys because it was usually more fertile, and a lot of that fertility came from frequent floods, so they put up with the floods, but it could also mean you could not plant your crops early enough to be able to harvest before frost, and without a good crop you might starve over the winter. Our ancestors raised most of what the ate so a flood could be devastating to a farmer.

       Crop failures were not always related to the weather, probably the most famous is the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1850, where about a million Irish died from starvation and another million emigrated from Ireland. This was between 20 and 25% of the population in Ireland and was caused by a potato blight. While the blight was all across Europe, the biggest devastation was to Ireland since so many people depended on the potato for their major food source in Ireland. Many that left Ireland came to the United States, so maybe you have an Irish Famine Ancestor. Did your ancestors move often? Maybe now you can find out why, and fill in some blanks for a move.

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