Learning about natural phenomena & the impacts on our ancestors' lives through historic records


14 February 2020
Canadian family history researcher Wayne Shepheard has researched his British roots extensively. This April he will be presenting at Family Tree Live on, among other topics, one of his specialities: natural phenomena and their effect on our ancestors' lives, as evidenced in the records. As Wayne now explains...

Natural phenomena, including long-term changes to environment, gradual changes to physical habitats and disasters resulting from rapidly-moving events, have significantly affected the lives and livelihood of our ancestors. Finding information that demonstrate what events occurred and how they impacted people and communities is an important part in constructing complete family histories.

Parish registers alone or in combination with other records normally consulted by genealogists can be useful in discovering what natural conditions affected procurement of food, shelter and employment or caused injury, sickness and death.

Birth and death statistics, in particular, can be most useful in illustrating both long-term trends in population growth or decline, and specific short-term events such as famine, epidemics, storms, floods and other natural disasters. The relationships of such data can assist in separating socially- or politically-related events, such as wars, from those caused by Mother Nature, like famines.

Commercial data may indicate what environmental conditions were extant, especially over several years or decades. Rapid or cyclical changes in food prices, for example, brought on by shortages through drought or other events, might have severely impacted how individuals or whole communities were able to cope or even survive.

Reports published in newspapers and periodicals will describe events that were experienced in local areas and across broad regions. They may also comment on resulting injuries, deaths or property losses.

Maps will be useful in showing whether families lived in areas subject to physical change, such as along major rivers or coastlines subject to severe weather or erosion. Both phenomena may have impacted lives and property.

Climate change had a substantial impact on the physical habitat, as well as controlling major weather events. Scientific reports and historical analyses of climatic and other natural situations highlight how the environment and living conditions were altered.

This presentation will involve a discussion of what types of information are available that show how natural phenomena impacted lives and livelihoods using specific examples of records and areas.

How to book your ticket

Wayne's talk  'Natural phenomena (drought, volcanos, etc) and their effects on the lives of your ancestors' will be at 2.30am on Saturday 18 April.

To book your tickets to Family Tree Live click here

Tickets are priced £13 per day and include all lectures and workshops you attend.

Other presentations at Family Tree Live by Wayne Shepheard:

Genealogy and the Little Ice Age, 1.30pm Friday 17 April

As genealogists we seek information about our ancestors from as far back in time as possible. That being said, not all researchers may be familiar with the term, but some of the most important records we find were created during the time of the Little Ice Age (1300 to 1850 AD).

Because the 14th to 19th centuries encompass the time frame that most coincides with genealogical research, it is important to understand the physical conditions under which people lived in order to assemble the most complete histories of families.

The Great Frost and Famine, 11.30am Saturday 18 April

Most genealogists will have read about the almost countless famines that occurred during the late Middle Ages. Stories of the experiences of ancestors and how they coped may have been incorporated into a few family histories, at least in terms of the times and places in which they happened.

But is there a clear understanding of how such events came to occur? Or why they appear to have been more common during that time-period? Or how such events were so impactful?

The 1739-1741 period was a time when climatic conditions combined with political and social elements to produce a major disaster that affected all of Europe. Given those parameters, it was an event that all family historians might wish to look at from the standpoint of how it may have affected their own ancestors.


Image: British Library Flickr collection, in the public domain