Fire, Flood or Earthquake? 5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Your Family History

We have five strategies for researching disasters for family history. They come in response to a listener email about her own “disaster-prone family.” Use these tips to learn about natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, travel accidents, and more that affected your ancestors, and very possibly more about your ancestors role in these events.

View of Eastland taken from Fire Tug in river, showing the hull resting on it’s side on the river bottom. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with full citation.

It might seem a little sad to search out disasters, epidemics, and accidents in the lives of your ancestors, but it certainly helps us see things in a different light. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton has shared recently how enthralling it has been for her to dig deeper into her ancestor’s experience of living through the Johnstown Flood. She used many of the tools I write about extensively in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Google Books, Google Earth Pro, and even YouTube) to add an amazing amount of meat to the bones of the story.

I also recently received an inspiring letter from Natalie, a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how researching disasters in her family history turned her into a passionate genealogist. Here’s what she said:

“Dear Lisa and Company,

I just subscribed to your Premium podcast and must say that listening to Premium Podcast episode 143 affirmed that I made an excellent decision!

I also had family members who were in the Johnstown Flood, since that’s where my family initially immigrated. My parents and I were born there and [I] have heard of stories of the Great Flood of 1889 since I can remember. There was a long-standing family story about my 2nd great-aunt, Julia Pfeiffer Rohr, being pulled out of the floodwaters by her hair.

Ironically or not, my ancestors relocated to Chicago a few years after the Johnstown Flood, only to have my maternal grandmother’s sister (who was a few months away from her 19th birthday) killed while aboard the Eastland [steamship in 1915]. Not sure why some families are ‘disaster prone’ through the generations, but ours seems to be one of those.

I learned about the Eastland Disaster as an adult when my mother’s half-sister in Chicago wrote and shared a family history with me. As a Twin Cities journalist, I published an article (click here and go to page 5) in one of the community newspapers about the disaster.

Still, at the time, I found next to nothing on the Eastland, which was both frustrating and puzzling. [Since then,] I’ve done a ton of research on the event and have written larger pieces, including a to-be published book. I didn’t intend to become an expert on a shipping disaster, but that’s what happened. Also, this marked my entrance into the amazing world of family history.”

5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Family History

Learn more about the disasters your own family experienced with these 5 tips that I shared with Natalie in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 145. Although these tips are for researching the Eastland disaster specifically, you can absolutely put them to work for you!

1. Start with Google. The world’s leading search engine, Google.com can lead to rich resources you may never find in a local library or archive. In the case of the Eastland disaster, a Google search immediately brought up a website dedicated to the event. The casualty list had everyone’s name, age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, and the cemetery in which they were buried.

2. Next, we go to Google Books, where Google takes you deeper and more specifically into historical books. Using the Eastland disaster as our criteria, the first result was a published final report by the American Red Cross’ disaster relief committee on what happened, and how the affected families were helped. Several published histories of the disaster were also listed there. These can be purchased, or you can find copies of them through inter-library loan at your local library. If you just want to see which books in the search results can be read for free, click the Tools button under the search box, and a new menu bar will pop up. Click Any books, then choose Free Google eBooks, like so:

Watch my free video tutorial on finding free e-books on Google. This video is one in a series of tech tip videos available for free at my YouTube channel. Click the Subscribe button while you’re there and you will be notified each time a new genealogy video is published.

3. Keep checking back! New things come online every moment of every day. In 2015, historical video footage about the Eastland disaster was discovered and identified in an online archive (see my blog post about that). But of course it’s impossible to rerun the same searches every day looking for new and updated material. The answer: set up a Google Alert for your search query. That way Google will do the searching for you, and you will receive an email only when Google finds new and updated items that match your search terms. Read my article on How to Set-up Google Alerts for step by step instructions on how to set up your own Google Alerts. Then read How to get the Most out of your Google Alerts for Genealogy.

4. Search YouTube separately. YouTube has several video clips of the Eastland disaster. The Chicago Tribune has wrapped that historical video clip into a short video documentary that includes additional photos their researchers discovered. You’ll also find an animation from the Eastland Disaster Historical Society that recreates what happened and how. Read chapter 14 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition which is devoted to using YouTube for your genealogy research.

5. Explore Gendisasters.com. This site compiles information on all kinds of tragedies from the past: tornadoes, fires, floods, and buggy-related disasters are just a small sampling of what they cover. You can search by type of disaster, but if you’re not quite sure how it might be filed (like was it a drowning or a ship disaster?), then search by year or place. I looked for Eastland disaster first under ship disasters, and I saw that events are listed alphabetically by place, specifically by city in most cases. There isn’t a way to jump easily to “Chicago,” so I had to scroll through several pages, but I did find it under Chicago, IL Steamer Eastland Disaster, July 1915. Since I already knew the city and date, I could have gotten to it faster by searching under those tabs, but I sure saw just how many events are cataloged at Gendisasters.com. It’s amazing!

Avoid Disaster with the Right Tools

Google Drive and other tipsLastly, some of the disasters you are researching may have a website dedicated to it. The Eastland disaster webpage has several interesting pictures of the ship and the disaster itself. There’s a nice long narrative about the tragedy and some transcribed newspaper articles, as well.

Researching disasters for family history can be exciting and enjoyable. The world wide web is truly like a time machine. See what other ways you can use Google for genealogy in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Effective Google searches, Google Earth, Google Alerts, and Google Translate are just the tip of the iceberg! You will become a Google guru in no time.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 221 – Recorded at FGS

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode #221
with Lisa Louise Cooke



Download this episode here

Live from FGS 2018!
Lisa chats with a podcast listener, talks about vital records with Shannon Combs-Bennett and welcomes a drop-by guest, Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage.com.

Episode highlights:

  • Fantastic news from RootsTech;
  • A great new resource from Library & Archives Canada;
  • An update from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard on MyHeritage DNA tools;
  • The long-awaited conclusion of Project Lizzie.

LIVE FROM FGS!

Lisa records the podcast in the exhibit hall with guest Shannon Combs-Bennett and a live studio audience

LIVE MAILBOX: Chatting with Jeannette

Jeannette from Niagara County Genealogical Society, shown here (left) with Lisa

The FGS conference supports the missions and activities of genealogical societies. Learn more about FGS and find a genealogical society near you here.

Genealogy Gems supports societies, too! Society memberships and reprintable articles for your newsletters. Go to the Societies dropdown menu on GenealogyGems.com:

If your society is interested in hosting Lisa Louise Cooke for a seminar, go to the Seminars tab and click Book Lisa.

INTERVIEW: Shannon Combs-Bennett on Vital Records

Learn more about using vital records in your research in the free Genealogy: Family History Made Easy Podcast, episode 4.

INTERVIEW: Daniel Horowitz, MyHeritage

As MyHeritage’s Genealogy Expert, Daniel Horowitz provides key contributions in the product development, customer support and public affairs areas. He holds board level positions at the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) among others. Daniel served as teacher and study guide editor for 15 years for the family history project “Searching for My Roots” in Venezuela.

Join Daniel Horowitz and Lisa Louise Cooke at MyHeritage LIVE!

Who: Daniel Horowitz, Lisa Louise Cooke and MORE great presenters!

What: MyHeritage LIVE

Where: Oslo, Norway at the Radisson Blu Scandinavia hotel

When: November 2-4, 2018

It’s open to anyone who would like to learn more about MyHeritage – including subscribers, DNA customers, those with free basic accounts, and those who haven’t used MyHeritage yet but would like to find out more.

Tickets include entry to the Friday night reception, keynote speeches, all conference sessions, lunch and coffee breaks on Saturday and Sunday and entry to the exclusive MyHeritage LIVE party on Saturday night. Now through September 24, register for Early Bird discount price of €75.00. MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Visit www.MyHeritage.com

Subscribe to the free Genealogy Gems newsletter
to receive a free weekly email with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals. Click here to subscribe!

LIVE MAILBOX: Adrianne Keeps Connected with the Podcast

How to identify old cars in photographs

Savvy tips for identifying old photos: An Australian family on holiday in England

Genealogy Gems Premium members may also listen to an interview with Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective, in Premium Podcast episode 141. She’s the author of Family Photo Detective, a must-have resource for identifying old photographs.

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

Get the app here

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a short but inspiring story from someone who came to one of my classes and then went and found something cool on YouTube relating to her family’s employment with airline TWA….Don’t miss it! The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

NEWS: RootsTech Goes to London

RootsTech will host an event in London from 24–26 October 2019 at the ExCeL London Convention Centre. Registration opens in February 2019. Find out more about RootsTech London 2019 at https://www.rootstech.org/London.

NEWS: The “Unconference” Experience

REGISTER TODAY: Genealogy Roots: The “Un-Conference Experience”

Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard, and Sunny Morton will share a stage on October 4-5, 2018 at the SeniorExpo in Sandy, Utah. (Psst: You don’t have to be a senior to attend!) Here’s the scoop—and a special registration discount!

Who: Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard, and Sunny Morton
What: Genealogy Roots: The Un-Conference Experience! at SeniorExpo
Where: Mountain America Expo Center (South Towne Expo Center), 9081 S. State St., Sandy, Utah
When: October 4-5, 2018, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

THE ARCHIVE LADY: Library Archives Canada Co-Lab

The Library and Archives of Canada (LAC) has introduced a brand-new crowdsourcing opportunity for genealogists or anyone interested in records transcription: Co-Lab.

The LAC has put a call out for volunteers to be part of a collaborative project to transcribe, add keywords and image tags, translate content from an image or document and add descriptions to digitized images using “Co-Lab” and the new “Collection Search”. The more volunteers that participate in this project, the more accessible and usable the digital collection will become for everyone.

You can become a contributor in two ways:

Take on a “challenge” of images put together by experts at LAC

Use the new Collection Search to find materials that matter most to you, then enhance them. Anyone can now contribute to digitized images that are found while doing research.

The volunteer must register and create a user account so you can keep track of the records to which you have contributed. Once this free account is established, a volunteer can contribute as much or as little as they would like.

The “Challenges” are content put together under a theme. For instance, under the “Challenges” tab on the website you could choose to transcribe the “Correspondence between Sir Robert Borden and Sir Sam Hughes” The theme for this challenge is listed as “military heritage.”

Or another “Challenge” someone might choose could be “New France and Indigenous Relations” whose theme is listed as “Aboriginal Heritage.”

There are also new “Challenges” being posted to the site, so check back often.

Maybe you would like to contribute using Collection Search. The website describes how this tool works: “When you are conducting research using our new search tool and find images, you’ll see that you have the option to enable this image for Co-Lab contributions. After answering just a few short questions, you can enable an image found in Collection Search for Co-Lab use and transcribe/translate/tag/describe to your heart’s content.”

There is a short tutorial to get you started and show you the ropes. The launch of Co-Lab also introduces a new image viewer, which allows you to zoom in on different parts of the image or move around the image itself. This tool is useful when transcribing or adding keywords and image tags to describe all the small details. Every image in Co-Lab is subject to review by other members. If something is found to be incorrect or if you find something that is wrong, it can be marked as “Needs Review” for others to take another look and decide what is correct.

The best part about this new Library and Archives Canada tool is that every contribution by the volunteers benefits fellow genealogy researchers and improves records access. Every additional tag or translation becomes new metadata and is searchable within 24 hours of the transcriptions or tagging being done.

So, if you are like me and are eager to get as much genealogical and historical records online and transcribed, check into The Library and Archives of Canada’s new Co-Lab and Collection Search!

DNA: Improvements to MyHeritage DNA

with Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide

Improvements to MyHeritage DNA

GEM: The Conclusion to Project Lizzie

Click here to read Ron’s blog post announcing the satisfying conclusion of Project Lizzie. To learn more about Ron, stop over at storyhow.com, where Ron teaches business people how to tell stories.

PROFILE AMERICA: Picture This

PRODUCTION CREDITS

  • Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
  • Sunny Morton, Contributing Editor
  • Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
  • Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, Content Contributor
  • Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
  • Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting this free podcast and blog!

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