Let me give you three examples:
1. “The Summer That Never Was,” 1816, may have been caused by an Indonesian volcano that erupted April 1815 spewing 100 miles of cubic ash and dust into the atmosphere. During the year 1816, New Englanders had snow and frost in June, frost in July and August, crops failed, and 1800 froze to death. This was the straw that spurred many New Englanders in 1817 to flee New England and head west to the Ohio Valley. Maybe someone in your family was among that group.
2. If your ancestor was in debt about 1790, he could have been sent to prison. It was a Catch-22, however, because if he was in prison, he had no way to earn money to pay the debt! Thus, he may have spent a LONG time in prison or moved to avoid it.
3. Banks failed during the financial Panic of 1837. This began a five year depression. If you’re family moved about that time, they may have been spurred by financial troubles.
The economy was the driving factor in why many people did what they did. For instance, when times were tight, they may have:
- moved or hunkered down
- changed jobs or even types of occupation
- moved from the farm to the city
- moved from the city to affordable western lands
- lost their farm in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s
- been lured to the California gold fields
- suffered from damage to their land from wars or natural disasters
- had a negative impact from canals, railroads, political factors, etc.
What I’m trying to tell you is, you need to examine a really good historical and economic timeline to have some insight into the factors affecting your ancestors. One such timeline is found at The History Box. You can read more about each of these financial crises at that site.
We often think of the 1929 stock market crash as the only time our country has suffered from severe depression, but that isn’t so, evidenced by this economic timeline (a sampling):
- 1791: The First Bank of the United States opened
- 1816: “The Summer that Never Was”
- 1819: The Panic of 1819
- 1832: Panic and Depression
- 1836: Panic and Depression
- 1837: Panic of 1837 starts a depression that lasted until 1843
- 1857: Panic of 1857
- 1869-1871: Panic and Depression
- 1873: Panic of 1873
- 1893: Panic of 1893
- 1901: Panic of 1901
- 1929: Stock market crash, depression begins
- 1930s: Dust Bowl exodus from parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Colorado
- 1938: Severe recession
Can you find a date your ancestor moved that may have coincided with one of these economic troubles?