Friday, July 31, 2009

This post is a DISASTER!

Carnival of Genealogy Poster - by footnoteMaven.comThis post is written for the 77th Carnival of Genealogy

As human beings, our very existence is proof of the survival skills, faith, or just plain luck our ancestors possessed in order to persevere through millennia of disasters: epidemics, wars, pestilences, famines, accidents, and acts of nature.
Tell about a disaster that one or more of your ancestors lived through. Did they survive a hurricane, flood, tornado, train wreck, sinking ship, plague, genocide, explosion, mine collapse, or some other terrible event? How did they survive? Research the details of the disaster and explain how it affected your ancestor (guilt, fear, faith, gratitude, etc.), your family's history, and even yourself!
I have relatives who survived (and others who didn't survive) genocide, but my ancestors managed to get out of Europe before World War II. There are no disasters I am currently certain any non-living ancestors directly experienced. (I exclude War, and the Great Depression, though there may be a strong argument to include the latter.)

However, there were two great cyclones/tornadoes in the St. Louis area which have been written up as noteworthy disasters, and I had ancestors living in the St. Louis area at the time. The question is how much they were impacted.

The Great Cyclone of 1896
[image from NOAA's National Weather Service]

"The 'Cyclone of 1896' has been described as the single most deadly event that hit the St. Louis area in recorded history."

Over 250 dead, over 150 missing, over 1000 injured.

The St. Louis Cyclone
Words by Ren. Shields, 1868-1913
Music by George Evans, 1870-1915

In the city of St. Louis on a busy afternoon,
Just before the ev'ning shades began to fall,
The streets were filled with people who were home from toil,
No danger seemed to threaten them at all;
Each one was smiling gay as they strolled along the way,
The world to them had never looked so bright,
When a cyclone with a roar down the streets and byways tore,
Leaving sorrow and destruction there that night.

Many hearts are aching,
Many homes forsaken,
Many lov'd ones gone forevermore;
Wives and mothers weeping,
At the harvest death is reaping,
As it travels on its way from door to door.

Rest of song (NB: midi auto-plays)

My paternal Cruvant, Feinstein and Blatt ancestors were all in St. Louis in 1896. However, the path of the cyclone is described as hitting the Southwest portion of the city, and my ancestors were in the central corridor at the time.

The Tornado of 1927
[image from NOAA's National Weather Service]

Between 72-79 killed, over 550 injured. This tornado struck the central parts of St. Louis City. However, I think my ancestors had moved west of the city by then.

In addition to all four branches of my paternal ancestry, my maternal grandmother, Myrtle Van Every, was in town. The divorce proceedings from her brief marriage in California to Dale Ridgely had been filed a month earlier, and according to her employment records from the US Post Office, she had resumed her job on Sept 26th. The cyclone hit on Sept 29th.

While I'm not certain what impact these natural disasters had on my ancestors, I also have an inverse situation. There may have been a disaster that killed three of my ancestors, but I am unable to identify it.

  • My fifth great grandfather, Mark Fretz, lived from December 1750 to Feb 24, 1840.
  • His daughter, my fourth great grandmother, Barbara Fretz Sliver, lived from April 21, 1775 to June 10, 1840.
  • Her daughter, my third great grandmother, Elizabeth Sliver Denyer, lived from Feb 20, 1798 to Aug 10, 1840.
The latter two are recorded in family histories as having died in Texas, while their father/grandfather is likewise recorded as having died in Pennsylvania. It could easily be happenstance, but three generations dying in the same year seems suspicious to me.

1 comment:

Thomas MacEntee said...

A suggestion on the 1840 possible disaster: a cholera or typhoid outbreak. These were fairly common in the 1830s and 1840s - in fact this is why many cities outlawed cemeteries within the city limits (and how the rural cemetery movement was born in New York state).

I would check for accounts via newspapers or even personal letters from the area to see if there was some type of epidemic.