Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 5: Tsunamis

I briefly mentioned tsunamis in my last post about earthquakes. They are spawned from major earthquakes that occur around the margins of the oceans, in particular the Pacific where the most active crustal plates are present.

2011 Japan – Earthquake and Tsunami

We were on a cruise ship on 11 March 2011 when a major earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. It did not impact us in any way, other than delaying the ship leaving Manilla harbour, but other family members were worried when they heard the news. Our daughter actually phoned us while we were on a bus coming back from shopping to find out where we were exactly and if we were OK. We relayed the news of the event to other shocked passengers.
A tsunami reaches Miyako City, overtopping seawalls and flooding streets in Iwate Prefecture, Japan, after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the area; source The Atlantic
As it turned out the wave that hit Manilla was no more than a foot or two in height. Other areas around the margins of the Pacific were not so fortunate, particularly the coastline of Japan. The confirmed death toll in Japan is estimated to have been around 16,000 with another 2,500 people missing. An earthquake and tsunami in the same region in 1896 killed 27,000.
Graphic of Honshu Tsunami energy flux and deep water wave heights – image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Scientific American 

2004 Sumatra Earthquake and Tsunami

Our family was also sitting on a beach in Cuba when the 2014 Boxing Day (26 December) tsunami destroyed many communities in the Indian Ocean. We wondered then what might have happened if the earthquake and wave had originated somewhere in the Caribbean. Around the Indian Ocean, over a quarter million people perished!
Map of Indian Ocean showing location of the major 9.1-9.3 (Richter Scale) magnitude earthquake on 26 December 2004, death toll and damage from the resulting tsunami (Reuters) 
The district of Banda Aceh in Aceh province, located on Indonesia's Sumatra Island, just days after the earthquake and massive tsunami of 2004; source Australian Geographic

Tsunamis in History: 1607 Bristol Channel, England Earthquake and Tsunami

These are, of course, very recent events and may have little to do with family history research. They do illustrate, however, what might have happened when such events occurred in the past.

A major flood was reported in southwest England in 1607 that is believed by many researchers to have been a tsunami. No technology, of course, existed at the time to record a seismic event, nor was any such event reported. In the absence of any evidence of tectonic activity it is difficult to rationalize the flood being a tsunami. Differing meteorological accounts support either interpretation. Flooded areas extended 250 miles along both sides of the Bristol Channel/Severn Estuary in place spreading inland almost 30 miles. Flood heights reached over 25 feet in some localities with water covering nearly 400 square miles (250,000 acres). Parish registers and other local accounts attest to the damage done by the flood. From a variety of sources and publications it has been suggested that the death toll was between 500 and 2,000.
Depiction of the 1607 flood from a pamphlet printed in London
1755 Lisbon, Portugal Earthquake and Tsunami

On 1 November 1755 Lisbon, Portugal was rocked by an earthquake probably in the magnitude of 8.5 to 9.0 on the Richter scale. Three distinct shocks were occurred over a 10 minute interval. The quake was felt as well 400 miles to the south in North Africa; Algiers was totally destroyed; Tangiers suffered significant damage. Many of Lisbon’s major buildings collapsed, killing thousands under the debris. Fire broke out in many areas gradually spreading until most of the city was engulfed in flame. Over 80% of Lisbon’s buildings were destroyed.

The earthquake was centred about 120 miles to the southwest of the city, along a major fault in the Earth’s crust. The movement between tectonic plates resulted in a major tsunami that rolled over the coastline, trapping thousands of people that had fled from collapsed and burning buildings. It has been estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 people died from a combination of building destruction, fire and flood. The tsunami wave was recorded in many places along the European coastline.
A copper engraving made in 1755 shows the city in ruins and in flames. Tsunamis rush upon the shore, destroying the wharfs. The engraving is also noteworthy in showing highly disturbed water in the harbor, which sank many ships. Passengers in the left foreground show signs of panic. Original in: Museu da Cidade, Lisbon.
1960 Chile Earthquake and Tsunami

The 1960 earthquake in Chile was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, at 9.4–9.6 on the moment magnitude scale. It lasted approximately 10 minutes. A resulting tsunami affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia and the Aleutian Islands.

Waves as high as 82 feet battered the Chilean coast; waves up to 35 feet were recorded 6,200 miles from the epicenter. Estimates of the death toll range from 1,000 to 6,000. About 40 percent of the houses in Valdivia were destroyed and 20,000 people left homeless.
Using historical data, NOAA plotted the maximum amplitude for the tsunami waves generated by the 1960 Chile earthquake.  (Image:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Tsunami Research)
Downtown Hilo, Hawaii, was left devastated by the tsunami. Photo Credit: The Honolulu Advertiser
The main quake on 22 May was preceded and followed by other major events. There was also a volcanic eruption about 150 miles to the southeast two days later that is likely related to the earthquake event.

1964 Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami

Readers may remember the earthquake that hit Alaska in 1964. The 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck near Anchorage causing significant damage and 139 deaths. It was the most powerful earthquake recorded in North America. Several tsunamis were produced, travelling across the Pacific. The largest wave was recorded in Shoup Bay, Alaska, with a height of about 220 feet.
Chaotic condition of the commercial section of the city of Kodiak following inundation by seismic sea waves. The small-boat harbor, which was in left background, contained an estimated 160 crab and salmon fishing boats when the waves struck. Tsunamis washed many vessels into the heart of Kodiak. Photo by U.S. Navy, March 30, 1964. 

Like the earthquakes they are related to, tsunamis have had devastating consequences on communities they have struck throughout history. Family researchers who had ancestors living in coastal areas, particularly in tectonically-active regions might think about whether such events impacted their families.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 4: Earthquakes

Among natural disasters, earthquakes rate right up top as the deadliest. Each year thousands of people are killed or left homeless. Whole families, and by extension family lines have been lost during these events. Current and historical records document the effects and aftermaths of these major intrusions of Mother Nature in the lives of humans.

Since the Earth is in a dynamic state, changes to its surface through such processes as land shifts will continue to happen and any communities or infrastructure, not to mention people it the way will in all likelihood be harmed.

The 1906 earthquake in the San Francisco area, mentioned briefly in my blog post of 18 April 2017, was felt along the entire north coast of California, particularly devastating the urban area of San Francisco where it destroyed 80% of the city. Over 3,000 people died as a result of the quake and its resultant fires.

Major earthquakes are concentrated along the edges of the Earth’s crustal plates where relative movements cause the plates to impinge on each other. California is a region where the North American and Pacific plates slide laterally in opposite directions, grinding against each other and creating major fractures and fault zones. Movement is frequent and never-ending, in a geological sense, resulting in severe tremors and vertical movement.
World map showing major crustal tectonic plates – source United States Geological Survey 
Along coastal areas tsunamis may form as a result of the shifting of the seabed, adding a secondary potential for destruction. These large ocean waves can travel thousands of miles across open water, eventually appearing along distant shorelines with highly destructive force.

There is an informative website that lists earthquakes by period, country and region and also compares the devastation in terms of magnitude, cost of damage and numbers of deaths. These are primarily events that occurred during more recent times and documented in the published literature. There is no doubt similar events occurred in the past centuries before mass media. One major difference is in the perceived human toll. The rapid and large increase in population of the past 150 years has led to more people and communities being caught up in the destruction with many more deaths and greater destruction of infrastructure.

Ancient writings, along with archaeological and geological studies demonstrate the occurrence of destructive earthquakes going back thousands of years many of which affected early communities. Turkey and Syria, for example, lie at the junction of three crustal plates – African, Arabian and Eurasian (Anatolian sub-plate). The region has been the site of numerable major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions over millions of years. Records dating back a thousand years describe the destruction from these events. Earthquakes centered near the Greco-Roman city of Antioch, in AD 115 and AD 526 each apparently resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The deadliest earthquake in recorded history occurred in Shaanxi, China in AD 1556 when over 830,000 people were killed.

Besides the well-documented 1906 San Francisco event, there have been many major earthquakes in North America including one in AD 1700 in Cascadia (Washington State & British Columbia). No written records exist from the time period in North America describing the earthquake, however, in Japan there are reports of a tsunami thought to have originated along the North American coast. Tree ring evidence from the Pacific Northwest also show a major disruption in forest growth from flooding of low-lying areas. The earthquake is believed to have been caused by the North American plate slipping over the Juan de Fuca plate with a major shift along the deep subduction zone.
Structure of the Cascadia region and history of major earthquakes – source United States Geological Survey

While earthquakes by themselves may not have been the primary reasons for the migration of people, they certainly have been the cause of the deaths of thousands and the early demise of family lines. Family historians may wish to look at natural disasters such as earthquakes when studying the reasons why ancestors died or moved. Such natural phenomena are often part of the stories about families.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Everyone is Related to Everyone

But what does that really mean? James Tanner commented in a recent blog post (Genealogy is not a competitive sport) about family trees that contain thousands of names. He also made the point that having those large numbers is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless.

Anyone can add names to their family tree. And many only do just (or only) that, regardless of whether they can justify relationships.

But so what! If you want to go back a few million years we can make a case that we are all related. In reality we can confidently only go back a few hundred years - perhaps 15 generations. Beyond the early part of the 16th century we are stretching credibility by listing ancestors or stating relationships. Few medieval records list the names of people, certainly true for the “common” people from whom most of us descend.

Many family historians want to latch on to the nobility which I think happens because only those few families published any kind of genealogical summaries. How many times have you seen someone’s tree that goes back to Charlemagne? That’s 30 to 40 generations.

Adam Rutherford poked a little fun about about relationships to the King of the Franks in a 24 May 2015 piece in The Guardian: So you’re related to Charlemagne? You and every other living European… He comments: “I am a direct descendent of someone of similar greatness: Charlemagne, Carolingian King of the Franks, Holy Roman Emperor, the great European conciliator. Quelle surprise!” He goes on to state, “This is merely a numbers game. You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. But this ancestral expansion is not borne back ceaselessly into the past. If it were, your family tree when Charlemagne was Le Grand Fromage would harbour more than a billion ancestors – more people than were alive then.”

The absence of true records of the greater proportion of the population over the centuries before about AD 1300 compels many people to attach themselves to those who have been named in formal documents. Seemingly, if you can trace a connection to any member of a European royal family then you are a descendant of Charlemagne (see Descendants of Charlemagne).
There is also an assumption that many members of ruling or royal families had scores of illegitimate children who somehow became the ancestors of so many of us. I seriously doubt that is true as there has always been a much larger number of people unrelated to those families. Their descendants would logically still make up most of the population today. Connections to any branch of royalty are often very tentative, perhaps even more like wishful thinking.

If you want to go back to Numero Uno in terms of human evolution then we can probably say we are all related. But that analysis is meaningless for family history studies. DNA may help us find or confirm some familial relationships within a few generations and among some close cousins but it won’t tell the whole story about our families and that is what we are really after, aren’t we?

There should be reservations even using DNA, assuming we could get samples from people as far back as the 9th century. One shares less than 1% of their DNA with their 6th great-grandparents which would make you wonder whether you can even truly demonstrate a blood relationship. The number is not even statistically relevant going back past 20 generations.

Going back to another post by James Tanner (Sourcecentric Genealogy), to conclusively show relationships or connections to past generations, one must work with bona fide historical records. Even some royal families’ trees or publication of them may be more fiction than fact so researchers must go beyond the summaries to find actual church or other records. And, again, any document dated earlier than the 14th century should be used with caution.

So, is everyone related to everyone else? Only in the most general, biological sense but not in any meaningful one with regard to family history!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 3: Drought

Many people researching their families’ history in North America will have ancestors that survived the Dustbowl of the 1930s. Nature’s attack of drought was most concentrated in the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas but it effects were felt in many other regions. One result of the drying up of the farmlands of the plains region was a forced migration of hundreds of thousands of people, most going west to California.
Left – Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas – 18 April 1935 (credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, George E. Marsh); Right – Map of states and counties affected by the Dust Bowl between 1935 and 1938 originally prepared by the Soil Conservation Service. The most severely affected counties are coloured darker red. (Source: Soil Science and Resource Assessment, Resource Assessment Division, United States Department of Agriculture; retrieved 23 May 2017) 

Drought is basically a condition where there is a lack of water resources. According to researchers Gwyneth Cole and Terry Marsh (2006), of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire, droughts may be caused be due to a deficiency of rainfall (meteorological drought), accumulated deficiencies in runoff or aquifer charge (hydrological drought) or limited water presentg in the soil during the growing season (agricultural drought). The primary parameters of a drought, though, are a lack of precipitation over an extended period of time and affecting a large area.

The drought that affected parts of the Midwest United States in the 1930s is one example that is engraved on recent human memory. Another is the recent arid years in California. This particular drought was predicted by many august individuals and organizations to last a millenium. It was ended, though, as many are, by record rainfall earlier this year. Not to say it cannot or will not happen again. Of course it will. That is the prime characteristic of the natural world – change!

Droughts have been part of natural events for millions of years in all parts of the world. With regard to human history, both recorded and ancient, droughts have played a significant role in the destruction of communities – even whole societies when they played out over long time periods. Many periods of severe drought have been documented in Europe over the last 500 years (Garnier et al, 2015) which resulted in thousands of people leaving their homes to find more hospitable areas.

North America has many examples:
  • ·         The Terminal Classic Drought coincided with the demise of the Mayan civilization between AD 750 and 1050 (Gill, 2000).
  • ·         Between AD 990 and 1300 there were three intense and persistent droughts in the central and southwest part of the US, each lasting decades. They all had severe impacts on natives that resulted in migration of the people and even collapse of their cultures (Jones et al, 1999).
  • ·         Droughts affected early colonists on Roanoke Island (Virginia) between 1587 and 1589 and again between 1606 and 1612 at Jamestown (I wrote about this event in a blog post in September 2016 titled What if…?) The conditions were the driest in the region in 800 years and resulted in high death rates and the abandonment of both habitations.
  • ·         The Civil War Drought (1856-1865) is considered to be the most severe in more modern times, possibly rivalling that of the Medieval period (AD 750-1300).

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorade (photo by Lorax

Family historians may come across evidence that such natural phenomena have affected their own families, at different times and in different regions. Sometimes short-lived and sometimes over extended time periods, drought can, and did have devastating impacts on living conditions.


Cole, G. A. & Marsh, T. J. (2006). An historical analysis of drought in England and Wales. In Climate Variability and Change – Hydrological Impacts (Demuth, S., Gustard, A., Planos, E., Scatena, F. & Servat, E., Eds.). International Association of Hydrological Sciences, publication number 308, pp. 483-489.

Garnier, E., Assimacopoulos, D. & van Lanen, H. W. J. (2015). Historic droughts beyond the modern instrumental records: an analysis of cases in United Kingdom, France, Rhine and Syros. DROUGHT R SPI Technical Report No 35.

Gill, R. B. (2000). The Great Maya Droughts: Water, Life, and Death. University of New Mexico.

Jones, T. L., Brown, G. M., Raab, L. M., McVickar, J. L., Spaulding, W. G., Kennett, D. J., York, A. & Walker, P. L. (1999). Environmental Imperatives Reconsidered: Demographic Crises in Western North America during the Medieval Climatic Anomaly. Current Anthropology, (40/3), pp. 137-170.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

You Can’t Keep Everything

There have been many articles and blog posts about preserving memorabilia. I try to read as many as I can find because I have a great deal of “stuff” I’d like to keep and pass along to others who might be interested in having it.

I wrote a while back about preserving pictures in photo albums for future generations by scanning the books and putting the images online (Digitizing Memories). That way, no matter where family members live they will be able to access them and copy them if they wish.

Like all family historians, I have collected birth, marriage and death certificates, wills, census records and other personal documents. I still have all our children’s report cards and many school artwork projects. The school material has also been scanned and is online where our kids and their kids can read them. Many documents were obtained in digital format and are stored on my computer (and saved in the cloud) rather than in hard copy in binders. Bit by bit I am weeding out the paper copies and discarding them – except for the original records handed down from previous generations.

My goal is to lighten the load for future generations by keeping only physical memorabilia – like the cream can and pitch fork that belonged to my grandfather – and official records that were actually owned and used by family members. My children may not have the room (or the interest) to store the material, so I will likely contact an archives office to see if they might be interested in having the documents, antiques and other memorabilia.

I read a recent blog post by Melissa Barker on Geneabloggers of interest (The Archive Lade: Preserving Old Negatives). She described how to preserve the original films. Many of us have these, either in envelopes attached to photo albums or in protective archival sleeves. I still have hundreds of negatives and slides that go back to my school days.
Some of my old negatives
I also have a box of negatives and several loose ones in photo storage sheets for pictures my parents took as far back as the 1920s. My Dad developed most of his own photos, so many of the negatives were still in rolls, tucked away together in boxes.
Some of my Dad's old negatives
The problem, as I found out when I went to have some of them printed again, is that there is no place left that does photofinishing using negatives. They have all gone to digital reproduction. What they will do is scan the negatives and then make prints or give you digital images for you to store. That sounds ok until they give you the price which can be several dollars per picture. For most of us that is totally unrealistic and means the negatives will continue to languish in the boxes they have been in for decades.

I keep all this stuff because, “You never know when you or someone else might want them!” They are still around mostly because they are part of our memories and history and I have a hard time throwing things away.

As much as it pains me, though, negatives and slides are not much good any more unless they can be digitally preserved. And then they really wouldn’t be the actual originals anyway. If the prints from those negatives are properly mounted in albums for people to look at the pages could then be scanned. Then at least you have and can see the documentation of those memories.

My wife keeps telling me, “You can’t keep everything.” That is true but it will likely be someone else who gets rid of it after I’m gone.

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Mothers' Day and Mother's Birthday

This is a special week for our family, with both Mother’s Day and our Mother’s birthday being remembered. In honour of these occasions I am presenting a piece written by my sister that so wonderfully illustrates our feelings about our late Mom.

Mom’s Cook Book
by Janice Ellen Jensen

On May 18, 2017 my mother would have been 100 years old. If we, her family, were to have the good fortune of still having her with us, we would no doubt be planning a celebration to honour such a milestone birthday. But even without the cake and the balloons I will still commemorate the day simply by remembering her and what she meant to me. I don’t really need a landmark occasion to remember her because I think of my Mom often, if not every day.

Today I am looking through her cook book – the Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book. The book was published in 1942 and I can’t help but wonder how she acquired it. Was it a gift from a friend or a family member or did she treat herself and purchase it? The book purports to have “useful information” on everything from table-settings to preserving and indeed it does. It was Mom’s go-to recipe book for most of her baking and family meals. The copy I have is well thumbed and stained from decades of use, but it is not just the recipes in the book that are memorable. It is all the recipes and notes tucked between the pages and written in the margins.
The cover of Mom's Woman's Home Companion Cook Book
There is her expired library card, certainly used to mark a page – most likely for “Hazel’s Pastry” which was written on a blank page. There were two significant Hazels in her life and I wonder which Hazel gave her this great recipe for pie dough.
Hazel's Pastry recipe with Mom's library card used as a page marker
The library card reminds me of the Saturday mornings we went to the Centre Street Library together and how she gave me my love of reading. It was there that she introduced me to Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables and A Girl of the Limberlost, to mention a few notable books. Some of these books remain on my bookshelf today. Over the years we continued to share our love of books and frequently exchanged our latest read.

There are many recipes from Ellen Smith written in the margins of the book – or even on the backs of envelopes – and stored between the pages. Ellen was a close friend of Mom and loved to cook. Mom chose Ellen as my middle name as she was the first to send flowers when I was born. I still have the locket Ellen gave to me when I was born. No doubt Mom made all of Ellen’s recipes at one time or another and tutted that she “just couldn’t make it as well as Ellen.” Along with Ellen’s Buns, Ellen’s Carrot Cake and Ellen’s Light Fruit Cake are recipes from Ada and Dot and Hilda. All were members of the “bridge club.”
Recipe for Ellen's Buns handwritten on the inside cover of Mom's Cook Book
My Mom loved to socialize. The bridge club met every two weeks, at a different member’s home each time; I loved it when they met at our house. Special treats were prepared: finger sandwiches, squares and cookies. Out came the good china and the pretty pickle trays. I was allowed to stay up until all the ladies had arrived. The club was more than a get-together to play cards; it was an evening of special companionship between good friends, filled with laughter and support for each other. I can still remember these ladies and how they each touched my life in some small ways. It was also how I learned from my mother about the value of friendship.

Recipes are not the only things tucked between the pages of this special book; it also has other items that are reminders of my Mom and her life. There is the to-do list of everything she needed to get ready for my trousseau tea and my wedding: what she had to pick up, who to call and what the “schedule” was to get all of these things done. There is a list of friends she could count on to help her get through her tasks – Kay and Elsie and Mrs. Olafson – the mothers of my bridesmaids. Mrs. Pollard was bringing the coffee (4 pounds), the cream (4 pints) and the sugar (5 pounds) and Mom was picking up the flour (92 cents), the nutmeg (23 cents) and the cloves (49 cents). Who knows why she had the prices on the list?

A picture of my Grandma Miller (Mom’s Mom) with a big smile on her face is in the book. According to the note on the back of the picture, it was given to Mom by John Oberg who married Minnie McDaniel who was the daughter of Ike McDaniel. Ike was one of Grandma’s brothers. The picture is dated July 1955 and was likely taken when John and Minnie visited Calgary. (Just a bit of family history information that I found in the cook book!)

There is also a grainy picture of Mom and Dad standing on our front porch ready for winter in their overcoats. Mom’s was green with a Persian lamb collar – I remember it well. It was her “good” coat for many years and most likely purchased at Bay Day – a sale she went to twice a year to take advantage of the bargains. She once bought me a quilted housecoat with matching slippers at one of the sales. It was one of the few ready-made articles of clothing I had as a child and I was thrilled.
Left - Grandma Miller in front of her Calgary home (1955); Right - Mom and Dad in front of their home (about 1957)
Mom was a seamstress; she also knitted, crocheted, tatted and smocked. From her I learned to sew, something which I still love to do today. Often we tag-teamed sewing a dress for a special event – one of us would run the sewing machine, the other would press open the seams and together we could put something together in an afternoon. More important than the garment was the time we spent together.

Aside from the lists, the recipes and the pictures used to mark special recipes in the cookbook (not to mention the recipes cut from newspapers and magazines), there are also a few mystery items. One is an invitation to receive the Research Summary from Faulkner Dawkins and Sullivan, Members of the New York Stock Exchange, Inc. Mom and the stock exchange? That’s hard to imagine. Also a brochure on how to buy a fridge – which seems a little strange since my Dad was an appliance repairman and would have been the more likely expert on the subject.

My copy of the Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book is a treasure itself, not only for its recipes, cooking and hosting tips but because it has survived for 75 years. There is still apparently a demand for used copies in good condition which can be had for from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. Some new copies of the original edition are advertised on Amazon.com for up to US$1,445! Like many of its contemporaries this book was an essential addition to any kitchen in its day. Several editions were published during the 40s and 50s. Mom’s copy is special to me because it contains so many memories of her. There are the recipes for family meals that I recall – the ones where a pound of hamburger could be stretched to feed a family of six, as well as the ones for “special occasions.”

There were many lean years in the 50s and 60s when dollars had to be stretched as far as they could go. Mom was a master economist when it came to putting good food on the table for a minimal amount of cost. She was never afraid to do what needed to be done. Unlike many of my friends’ stay-at-home mothers, Mom went to work when she needed to. There were years when she had a part-time or full-time job, four kids to look after and one or two boarders. She made bagged lunches for everyone; she even made the bread until she discovered she could buy 10 loaves of day-old bread at McGavins for $1. On laundry day, the kitchen was always full of freshly-ironed clothes – no such thing as perma-press in the 50s. Still she made time to bake, sew and take care of her family. She never complained and was always cheerful.

In the few years I spent with her as an adult, I came to appreciate that there had been many tough times she had to go through. We had some heart-to-heart talks about how she coped. She was truly a woman of her times that believed you didn’t burden others with your problems. She “cried her tears into the wash bucket while she scrubbed the floor” – an expression that I think she might actually have meant literally.

As a child, I was blissfully unaware of how hard she worked and how often times must have been difficult for her. She made being a Mom look effortless. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t there for me as a parent, a mentor and a friend. I asked her once how she got through some of the bad times and she told me that she held the belief that “everything would always turn out all right” and most often it did. I believe that was her version of “everything happens for a reason.”

My Mom taught me a lot of things. From her I learned to cook, to sew, to economize and to share. She also taught me to be a strong woman, to cope with adversity, to “accept the good with the bad” and to be accountable for what takes place in my own life. “You reap what you sow!” Most importantly, she taught me how to be a Mom which in my mind is my, and her greatest accomplishment.

"Mom" - Norma Mabel (Miller) Shepheard (1917-1974)

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Missing Parents and Missing Records

As an Online Parish Clerk (OPC) I get a number of requests each year for information about people who lived in one of the parishes I look after. Because I have a large database of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, burials, censuses that span centuries, I can generally put together a reasonable answer about the families in question. It helps to know what documents are available and what are missing; it is also valuable to be able to look at the relationships of family members over several generations.
One recent query involved the birth/baptism of a girl in 1871, in Cornwood parish, Devon. The researcher wanted to know who the mother was for a Clara Jane Greep who he thought was illegitimate and baptized in Cornwood.
1871 baptism record for Clara Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon (Note: all images used courtesy of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)
Little Clara Jane was indeed baptized in Cornwood, on 6 October 1871. She was a base child of Eliza Jane Greep. Nothing else is on the entry that would tell anything about Eliza Jane: how old she was, where she lived or originated, who her parents were or what she did for a living. I looked further into the records and found an Eliza Jane Greep baptized in 1846, in Cornwood, to parents John and Charlotte (Crispin) Greep. Eliza's age in 1871 made it likely she was the mother of Clara Jane. (Just as an aside, Charlotte was my 3rd great-grandaunt making Eliza Jane a 1st cousin, 4X removed and Clara Jane a 2nd cousin, 3X removed. It’s a small world!)
1846 baptism record for Eliza Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon
Now the story gets interesting. Eliza Jane’s family can be found on censuses in 1851 and 1861, living in Cornwood parish. But there was nothing from 1871. What I found out as the OPC, in reviewing and transcribing the census records for the parish was that there were two pages of that census that had not been preserved. And wouldn’t you know, the Greep family was likely recorded on one of those pages.
Skipping along in time, we find John and Charlotte Greep on the 1881 census, living in the same little village of Lutton where they had been since they had married and where their families had also lived. With these two 70-year olds was a nine-year old girl name Clara J. – but no Eliza! Clara was shown as the granddaughter of John and Charlotte.
So what had happened? Had Eliza gone off to work or get married, leaving her child behind with her parents? That was possible and not uncommon for the time.
Eliza was not found on any census past 1861, at least with the name of Greep. There were a few marriage entries for an Eliza Greep and Eliza Jane Greep on FindMyPast – none in or near Cornwood – but they did not seem to fit the right time frame. I looked further in the Cornwood records and found a burial for Eliza Jane Greep, age 26, on 28 August 1872. So, in fact she had died, which explained why I could not find her on the censuses.
1872 burial record for Eliza Jane Greep in Cornwood parish, Devon
Clara Greep was recorded on the 1891 census, working as a domestic servant in Ugborough, a nearby parish. By that time, Charlotte had died and John was still in Lutton, by then a pauper. He died there a few years later.
In 1893, 21-year old Clara Jane Greep married 25-year old Eli Lethbridge in Ivybridge parish, which is next door to Cornwood. Her father is shown as John Greep, labourer. A George Greep was a witness to the ceremony, undoubtedly her uncle.
1893 marriage record for Clara Jane Greep and Eli Lethbridge in Ivybridge parish, Devon
While some information could be found in databases such as FindMyPast, the whole family story would not have become readily clear except for someone like an OPC, who had BMD data covering several generations and in a form that could be reviewed easily and quickly.
Without having the detailed background information of the Cornwood parish records, over several decades, one might miss the connections and not know the proper relationships between all of the Greep family members. In just looking at the marriage record for Clara, we would not have learned that John Greep was by then 83 years old. From that document, but without her baptism and the census records, we might have assumed she really was John’s daughter. We might not have realized that the witness to the marriage, George Greep, was probably her uncle. We might have missed the fact that Clara was orphaned and raised by her grandparents.
Clara and her husband went on to have seven daughters, all born in Ugborough parish. The name Greep lived on as the second name of one of them, although, interestingly, none had the forenames of either her mother or grandmother. She died in 1935.

In this case my knowledge of and immediate access to the records available concerning families in Cornwood over decades helped to find details about Clara Jane.

Have a problem like this? Consult an OPC. If there is not one in the area you are searching, consider becoming one.

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 2: Tornadoes

This is tornado season in the United States and reports have been frequent informing us of carnage and death. The most recent, as of this date, was a storm that struck several mid-western and southern states resulting in the deaths of 16 people. One series of storms in Texas cut a swath over 30 miles long and 15 miles wide – fortunately (though not for those whose properties were damaged) mostly in rural areas where fewer people might be affected.

Tornadoes are common on the North American plains, and world-wide for that matter. Reports from long ago are not abundant but we do know that such events were recognized as far back as the middles ages. One of the earliest reports from Britain’s is of a F4-strength tornado that struck London, England in 1091. Many buildings and bridges sustained significant damage.

An apparent tornado was reported to have occurred in what is now the Mexico City area in 1521, two day before the Aztec capital was taken by Hernán Cortés.

The deadliest tornado in recorded history struck Bangladesh on 26 April 1989, killing approximately 1,300 people. The most extensive outbreak occurred in 2011 when 362 tornadoes were counted in the southern, mid-western and northeastern United States (the 2011 Super Outbreak). Over 300 people died. The deadliest storm in America happened in 1925 when almost 750 people lost their lives.

There is a great deal of information about tornadoes from recent centuries, as they have played a huge role in the settlement of the central part of the North American continent. The United States leads the world in the number of these storms. More storms have been counted in recent years although that may have more to do with the great numbers of people and communities inhabiting the areas in which they hit and in the more developed technical methods of observing the storms. There is no trend in the numbers for at least the last 55 years in which there have been detailed statistics kept. If anything, the strongest tornadoes have decreased in frequency.

Tornadoes and other major storms have always been part of weather patterns and human history. I mentioned the hurricane that flattened Galveston, Texas in 1900 in a previous blog post - Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes: Galveston 1900. This was just one of many large and deadly storms that have affected lives around the world over the centuries. I wrote about the consequences of one severe storm that devastated southern England in 1703, in an April 2014 blog post on The Pharos BlogNatural Disasters and Their Effect on the Lives of Our Ancestors.

Sometimes it does not take a major weather event to disrupt families and cause them to make changes. One of my uncles came to Alberta from Oregon to try his hand at farming in 1931. He settled with his new wife on land he leased in the Crossfield area, just north of Calgary, and set out to become fully Canadian. His oldest child, my cousin, was born in the Irricana area in 1932. Unfortunately, in the summer of his first year a hail storm, not uncommon in that region, destroyed his entire crop. My uncle decided there and then that farming in Alberta was not for him and he moved his family back to the United States. This was just one minor incidence in the history of our family but it had profound effects on the people involved as well as impacting future generations of people in some family branches. My cousin grew up and made his life in a country he was not born into.

All of this is to say that family historians searching for information about their ancestors might be advised to pay attention to natural phenomena, perhaps in particular how events such as major storms impacted the lives and livelihoods of people and communities. How many family lines were affected or even ended when a tornado touched down?

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Music is in Our Blood

Music has been a big part of our family activities through the generations.

My grandfather sang in the church choir before he came to Canada in 1907 and was an entertainer at many social events in the communities of Keoma and Irricana, Alberta. In 1925, he was the star vocalist and comedian in the comedy, Nothing But the Truth, an event held to raise funds to purchase a piano for the new community hall. He also sang at many social events at the local school. Neighbours remembered hearing him singing at full voice as he worked outside at his farm.

As a child I took music lessons for many years, learning to play the baritone (horn). From that I could play anything with valves. For many years I was one of the smallest kids with one of the biggest horn. I also tried (not very hard I’ll admit) to learn the violin in a short and painful series of lessons for me and everyone around me.
1956 – students of Joseph Hopkins in an early brass ensemble. Wayne is second from the right. Mr. Hopkins is standing in front of the picture hanging on the wall.
My music teacher, Mr. Joseph Hopkins (1904-1981) was a marvelous musician and teacher who could play and teach others to play almost every instrument. He assembled both a brass band and an orchestra featuring all of his students that played at local concerts and competitions. There are many photos and personal certificates related to his career in the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, with this short description of the man: Joseph W. Hopkins, 1904-1981, was born in Prague, Bohemia and graduated from the Prague Conservatory of Music. He immigrated to Calgary, Alberta in 1927 and became the founder and principal of the Hopkins School of Music. He organized classes in the towns of Innisfail, Olds, Bowden, Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe and Calgary. Students from his schools formed a student symphony, brass band and Hawaiian orchestras. His students won many awards at the Kiwanis Music Festivals in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge. He was a member of the Alberta Registered Music Teachers Association.

I was very lucky that my parents found Mr. Hopkins. He was an excellent teacher and a dedicated professional in giving all his students the opportunity to play with others in larger bands and orchestras.
1959 Hopkins School of Music brass band composed all of students of Joseph Hopkins
In high school I played in the band (baritone) and a small four-piece combo (valve trombone). While attending university I played in a pick-up Dixieland band organized by one of my geology professors.
1969 – some members of the Prospectors, a pick-up Dixieland jazz group. In all there were over a dozen musicians from all walks of life who dropped in to jam on a regular basis.
I bought my first grandson an electronic piano when he was a small boy. This six-foot high school student now plays an upright bass in the school band, orchestra and jazz ensemble as well as being a pretty good piano player. His brother is taking up the piano and guitar. My granddaughter is an accomplished ballerina at the tender age of 13. We hope she will be able to pursue dance in her adult life. Her little brother is learning the saxophone.
2017 – Shepheard grandchildren musicians and performers
Music is in our Shepheard blood although it was not a main pursuit of every generation. I like to think my ancestors also had musical talents – where else would I have gotten mine – but there is no way to know if that was true to any great extent.

In past centuries people certainly were entertained by and participated in musical activities. We can’t hear them sing or dance, so we have to guess at what entertainment they liked based on stories and songs that have been preserved in print. With luck we can hear present-day performers tackle the old versions to get an idea of how they sounded and were received by audiences hundreds of years ago. The church was generally the central gathering place in many communities, especially in the rural areas. Choirs would lead the congregation on Sundays but these same people might also be highlight singers as other social events and encourage many residents to join them.

I searched for information on music from the 17th to 19th centuries to try to find out what people listened to, primarily in Britain as most of my ancestors come from that region. I am sure that readers could find many examples from other countries.

A few websites worth visiting include:

Widipedia (of course):
This is a brief outline of the development of Western art music written during the Classical period between 1730 and 1820.
Commercial music enjoyed its origins in the music halls of the 16th and 17th centuries.

This is an article by Gavin Dixon published in Limelight Magazine 2013 in which he comments on music evolution from the Middle Ages onward. Gavin discusses music of all types from classical to jazz.

This blog piece was published in The Guardian by Suzy Klein in 201. Suzy points out that popular music, for the masses, as it originally conceived, began as the middle class grew in Britain through the 1700s. It is a very good introduction to the rise of performance art in many venues from pubs to music halls.

The originator, Lesley Nelson-Burns, has assembled songs from many regions and sources. Both lyrics and musical accompaniment can be experienced. Folk music was probably the hit parade of the day with songs sung and played in many venues from local pubs to community social gatherings.

I am sure there are lots more sites to investigate. And maybe one day I will find out more about whether my ancestors were musical.

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.