This week marks the 75th anniversary of the horrific 1937 Ohio River flood. Of my ancestors who were living at that time, a great majority resided in the small river town of Ripley, Ohio. That January, Ripley's streets became waterways and the lives of its citizens were thrown into chaos as they watched their homes and businesses fill with cold, muddy river water.
As I thought about what they must have endured, I began to realize that this could and should be another avenue of research as I attempt to learn more about my ancestors. After all, my goal is to come to know them as people and not just as dates from a census or vital record. Just think about how the weather affects the way we live our lives! Many in my family were farmers. What a huge part of their lives the weather must have been! Did weather conditions prompt a move from one place to the other? Did my German ancestors choose southern Ohio because the weather reminded them of home? With this in mind, I started looking for ways to discover these weather statistics and found some interesting places on the Internet to begin. I hope they can help you!
Severe Weather in Ohio - This site has photos and videos! There is a wonderful news reel of the 1937 flood that I particularly found very interesting! It even has the dramatic, old-timey music as a background. Close your eyes and pretend you are your grandmother at the movies! Well, don't close your eyes for too long or you will miss the video!
The Old Farmer's Almanac Weather History - You will need to change the search location as my link will give you the weather history for Cincinnati in 1977 which is when I was pregnant with my daughter and I lived through what must have been the coldest and snowiest winter that this mostly southern raised Army brat has ever experienced or will ever wish to experience!
Texas Weather: Pre-1880 - This web site is from the Office of the Texas State Climatologist and has links to temperature highs and lows and precipitation totals for various locations of pre- 1880 military forts in Texas. Hurricanes and droughts are also covered here.
A History of Significant Weather Events in Southern California - Well, the title really does say it all!
Another source for weather history is old newspapers. My favorite go-to sites are Chronicling America which is a free site, Newspaper Archive, and GenealogyBank which are subscription based.
Also try putting a location and "weather history" (don't forget the quotation marks to search for the phrase instead of the two separate words!) in a Google or other search engine. Adding a specific year also yielded me some good results.
I am excited to think that maybe researching the weather along with my family history might help me discover how my ancestors lived and might add a bit of "flesh" to the dates. I do know that learning about the 1937 Ohio River flood has given me some respect for just how strong my family members must have been to experience it, clean up after it, and continue to live in that town where they knew the Ohio River would, eventually, once again come lapping at their doorstep.