Stewart's Creek

Weather and Genealogy

I am sitting here at my porch desk, watching Hurricane Harvey dump 14 inches of rain on my house in the past 36 hours. This weather started me wondering, how has weather affected our ancestors?

Stewart's Creek
Stewart’s Creek, on the property of the author, after 14 ” of rain during Hurricane Harvey

In history we learn about the Dust Bowl during the 1930s, and how the drought conditions of the central prairies caused families to abandon their farms.  We also learn about the extreme cold of Valley Forge causing the soldiers to literally freeze to death.  But how many times to we look to weather when researching our own family history?

This really struck home a few years ago as I was exploring a line that lived in Galveston, Texas.

The Galveston Conundrum

The family had lived on Galveston Island for two generations, and in June 1900 they were still living in Galveston.  In 1910 they were living in Colorado, but by 1920 they were back in Galveston, and have been there ever since.

I could not figure out why this family was living in Colorado in 1910 and then back in Galveston by 1920.  I searched through records and was having a difficult time trying to figure out why the father would move his wife and multiple children after June of 1900 and before 1910.

This was mulled over for some time until my teen daughter mentioned the 1900 Galveston hurricane in casual conversation.

Yes, we have casual conversations over disasters.

Anyway, it struck me.  Here was a catastrophic event that killed an estimated 8,000 people between 8-9 September 1900.[1] The entire city was destroyed, but it appears this family survived and relocated until the city could be rebuilt.

Weather Affecting our Research

In more recent history, Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands of folks from New Orleans to Houston and other cities.  Many of these chose not to return to the Crescent City, beginning new lives in their newly adopted cities.[2]  In 100 years will genealogists realize the reason their family relocated to another state?

When we, as genealogists, are tracking the migration patterns of our families we think of reasons to move.  Some of thee include economic opportunities, religious freedoms, gold in them thar hills, or to be closer to other family.  Rarely do we think of our family being forced from their ancestral homes due to weather.

So next time it doesn’t make sense why Grampa Joe moved from Mississippi to Michigan, look at the weather conditions of the time and place he was located at.  It could be as simple as a flood or tornado destroying the farm.


[1] “Significant Weather, 1900-1919,” Texas Historical Commission, Texas Almanac (http://texasalmanac.com : accessed 27 August 2017)

[2] Tom Dart, “‘New Orleans West’: Houston is home for many evacuees 10 years after Katrina,” The Guadian (London, England), 25 August 2015; online article, The Guardian US (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/25/new-orleans-west-houston-hurricane-katrina : accessed 27 August 2017)