Saturday, 3 May 2014

What a disaster!

Events that may have had a hand in shaping the character of our ancestors don’t always necessarily happen to them, or about them, but also around them.  When you read a good book, it is not just John Smith did this, or said that. The author describes the surroundings. The scent in the air. The sounds of the night. The chill off the snow. Why does he do this? So you, the reader, can see, hear and feel what John Smith is experiencing at that moment, and get a better sense of his life.

Our ancestors did not live in a bubble or a box.  They lived, loved, laughed, and experienced the hardships of life.... and some lived through the most terrifying disasters. We also have to remind ourselves that in earlier days some of these disasters occurred for the first time in their isolated lives and people had no clue what was happening or what to do about it.

So imagine you are in the year 1663.  You have come far from home and everything you know on a great adventure to New France. You are a husband and wife, maybe a couple of kids, and you have a nice little spread in Kébec. Life is good. It is the 5th of February, around 5:30 in the evening. The deepest winter chills are starting to ease off now. The two cows were milked by husband just as it started to get dark about a half hour ago, while wife got the kids washed up for the dinner that cast its appetizing aroma around the cabin as it was simmering on the wood stove. Now you are all sitting around the beautifully handcrafted pine table, made from the wood cut down when the land was cleared to build the house and plant the fields.  All of a sudden the dishes start violently rattling, the house is creaking and moaning and shaking….. WTH? Your little family runs outside only to behold something they have never seen or experienced in their life!  Something that could only have been sent by the hand of God to punish you for some forgotten slight!!

Your family was experiencing the high magnitude Charlevoix Earthquake of 1663, which was felt through all of eastern Canada and New England (note the US was using a different calendar at that time). Several accounts of the earthquake were recorded, and in the above menu I have provided an English translation of an accounting by the Jesuits.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 (called the Great White Hurricane) trapped families in their homes for almost a week in the Eastern US and parts of Canada. The San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed over half the city and left half the population homeless. The Tsunami of 1607 swept away houses and whole villages in Great Britain. There was also the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883, which was the basis of the classic 1969 movie "Krakatoa: East of Java" (one of my faves, by the way). I have also provided links to these and other natural disasters around the world.

Did your ancestor (or you) live through an event that was terrifying?

Relevant Links:

List of disasters by death toll

Le tremblement de terre de 1663 dans la Nouvelle-France

Jan Kozak Collection: Historical Earthquakes

GenDisaster website - Canada and US

List of Historical Tsunamis

Great Blizard of 1888

San Francisco Earthquake and Fire 1906

Eyewitness reports of San Francisco Fire

Great Chicago Fire – 1871

Eyemouth Fishing Disaster – Scotland 1881

Eruption of Volcano Krakatoa 1883 - eyewitness accounts

Search media and photos of Canadian disasters at LAC

The Pemberton Mill Disaster, Lawrence, Mass: List of names of killed and wounded, list of contributions to relief fund, report of coroner's inquest - 1860

1 comment:


    Maybe not a one-day disaster but just as devastating were droughts on the Prairies after WWI. .
    My father remembers the wind storms and how they wiped out crops for three years in a row. One of his memories was of his parents standing at a window looking out at the destruction, his mother gently crying and his father looking beat. To Dad that was the final blow that made the family give up farming and coming east to Quebec (from Saskatchewan).
    Because of your article Dianne, found out why what Dad described as wind storms happened. Now know why when searching more than once over the years, for 1920 wind storms in Saskatchewan could not find anything that related to the family moving in 1924. Now know it was all part of the Drought.

    Thanks Dianne – you are bringing more of my roots together than you’ll ever know :D


Leave me a note to tell me you were here! Thanks for visiting.

By joining our Facebook group you get other genealogy news from time to time, and you can download pages of links that go with the posts. Use follow buttons at top right under search bar.

Copyright © Genealogy: Beyond the BMD
Division of Dianne at Home