Tips from the Pros: Bad Weather is Good for Family History

from Sherry Irvine, CG, FSA Scotsnowstorm.jpg
Old timers here on Vancouver Island can recall nothing like it. This past month the weather has been breaking records. Winds have toppled trees, rainfall has been torrential, or the snow has piled up, wet and deep. Many thousands have been without electricity for long periods.

Shortly before the power failed I was reading the Ancestry Weekly Journal. “The Year Was 1806” included the story of the violent storm in Scotland that killed twenty-one sailors on board a vessel from Stotfield on the Moray Firth. Stotfield is one of three villages in the town of Lossiemouth and all were in the parish of Drainie, county of Elginshire (later called Morayshire). Burial registers exist for 1806 and could be checked; perhaps bodies were recovered and buried there.

The fishing tragedy indicates two ways that weather comes into genealogical research. The most obvious is stumbling across the story in your background reading. The other way is not so apparent–a clue in the records.

When reading church burial registers do you look around? I look at how many died in the month or year of the death of an ancestor and then go forward and back to see if this appears to be an average number. Sometimes it isn’t, and I want to know why.

Have you lost an ancestor? He popped up somewhere and you have no idea where he came from or what made him move. It could have been the weather.

Accounts of local history are good sources for weather. Search the Web by place using the town or county name. Read diaries and early travel books such as Daniel Defoe’s “Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain.” This book and many others can be found at the Vision of Britain site. There are many books of local history in the Family History Library. Also, take a tip from the Ancestry Weekly Journal and look for contemporary newspapers.

Not only can bad weather help your research, it offers an opportunity. My neighborhood lost power one day, mid-afternoon. There was enough daylight for me to start tidying my office; I had been navigating about the piles of paper for weeks. I filled a large bag for the recycling and as the light faded felt like I had a clear head as well as a tidy office.

Make the most of bad weather!

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2 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Bad Weather is Good for Family History

  1. Thank you, thank you, for the link to “Vison of Britain.” My family is from the Yorkshire area and I’m sure there are hours of research in that site for me to use.

  2. We recently had ice in Oklahoma. We were lucky in that our power wasn’t out like many other people. Since I didn’t want to go outside because of the ice, I spent a lot of time on And I also spent a lot of time filing papers that had gotten stuffed into boxes over the years and making sure that my research log had those things put in it. Then I noticed that my computer program didn’t have all my sources in the notes, so that was next. I got a lot done.

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