NOTE: As of December 2020, this website appears to be gone.
By chance, I stumbled on an interesting website called GenDisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives.
It appears it’s been around a long time since the copyright notice on the screen is current and goes back 15 years.
Connecting our families to the times in which they live isn’t always the easiest task. When one or more of those ancestors just disappear, it’s sometimes impossible to find out what became of them.
In other instances, perhaps one of the ancestors was in the news for a positive reason, like a heroic deed. Unless that lore passed down through the generations, it would be pure luck coming across the details.
GenDisasters is a free website, searchable by disaster, year and location and surname. There is an option to register, so I’m guessing if you want to submit articles or information that you need to be registered to do so.
What kinds of information can you find? Well, I found it because I was looking for a Passaic, New Jersey flood in 1925. I didn’t find that, but here is a sample of what you might find:
Passaic, NJ Orphans Prevent Train Wreck, May 1933
I’m guessing that most of these disasters are from the 19th and 20th century because of the availability of digitized newspapers, but I could be wrong. The list of years spans from 1755-2017.
In the case above, boys living at the Passaic Orphan Asylum were credited as heroes for preventing a bad train wreck. They are named as Jacob Merinizek, 15, John Murdock, 11, Doug Fleming, 15, Rudolph Borsche, 14, Frank Mazzola, 13, and his brother, Michael Mazzola, 11.
I wanted to find out more about them and, to my amazement, Robert A. Waters, who blogs at Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem, wrote about this very story in 2013. The boys apparently loved baseball and got to meet the “Sultan of Swat” himself, Babe Ruth. Mr. Waters even made contact with John Murdock’s son!
The Paterson Fire Journal blog also posted this story on 18 June 2009, a reprint of the article in Time Magazine published on 4 May 1933.
Orphans might not have had many family stories to share, depending on their age when they lost their parents, but descendants of these six boys sure have a great story to tell.
GenDisasters is a great website to check out, particularly if, like me, your towns of interest don’t yet have digitized newspapers available. I checked for another of my favorite places, Calais, Maine, and learned of a decimating fire there in the summer of 1870.
Calais, Maine Fire in 1870
$1,000,000 in 1870 is the equivalent of about $18,000,000 today. Calais had a lot of rebuilding to do after that fire.
GenDisasters includes links to Canadian provinces, too. Of the stories I’ve read so far, they have painted a picture of daily life in long gone times. This website is definitely worth a visit.