Question of the Week: Have any of your ancestors survived a natural or man-made disaster?

+11 votes

We talk a lot about victims of disasters, but let's flip the question this week. Have any of your ancestors survived a natural or man-made disaster?

Check out our Worldwide Disasters Project!

in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (2.6m points)
reshown by Eowyn Langholf
I sutvived 2 hurricanes in 1970 and 71 when I was in the military and stationed in the Phililpines. Two hurricanes went right over the Naval Base, Subic Bay.  The eye of the first one came right over the base and there was about 10 minutes of silence and calm. That was really strange. Then the back side of the hurricane hit us. The same storm destroyed all but the strongest structures in Manilla. the U.S. Navy had a massive relief effort for the Fillipinos.

  The second was not quite as bad and the eye didn't pass over us but it caused extensive damage. I was The Corporal of The Guard during both hurricanes and stationedad at the the Main Gate and in charge of shutting down and reopening the auto and pedestrian gates when ordered while The Sgt. of The Guard and Officer of the Day were sitting it out at headquarters.

There was only minor damage to our ships due to the excellent harbor and the good job that the navy did on securing the ships in port. Pike-2301
My maternal great grandparents survived the Chicago Fire, and there is an account of it at the Chicago Historical Society.  In believe it was 1871.

In 1913, on Easter Sunday, there was a tornado that hit Omaha, NE.  My grandparents survived it.  They happened to live across the street from one another.  Lots of people died.  Fr Flanagan of Boys Town helped the survivors.

 In May of 1975, my mother was in the tornado that hit Omaha and survived.  So was I.  We too have written stories of the event. Three people died.

30 Answers

+7 votes
Great Aunt Fanny was not my ancestor, but she was the sister of my great great grandfather. She survived the Great Fire of Ottery St Mary (OSM, Devonshire, England) that ripped through the village in 1866.

There are Links to sources about the Great Fire of OSM on her profile.
by Robynne Lozier G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
+8 votes

The wife of my 1st cousin 3 times removed survived the 1894 Phillips Fire (he died).  The account was published.  I haven't put them on Wikitree yet because I am so backed up on tree work, & need to get joint predecessors in first.

Mary M [Locke] Kliss

Birth: Jun. 4, 1866 Sanilac County, Michigan, USA

Death: Oct. 28, 1946
Oshkosh, Winnebago County Wisconsin, USA

She had 2 children: Myrtle b. 20 May 1891 d. in fire; Frank M. b.3 Jun 1893 d. 21 Aug 1893.

(Excerpted from "Phillips Destroyed By Fire in 1894, The Phillips Fire" by I.A. "Moose" Kenyon Mellen,Wis., August 16, 1942. Copyright has not been renewed, expired Aug. 16, 1970)
"The loss of thirteen lives occurred among those who sought safety by crossing to the north shore of the lower lake. Frank Hales Kliss owned a large boat house that was built on a log float and anchored just below the box factory bridge. When fire threatened the day previous he had stocked the boat house with provisions for an emergency with the intention of poling the house, and float across the lake to a place of safety should the fire destroy the town. When the fire did come he took his wife and daughter and eleven of his neighbors, Mr. James Locke, and his wife Eva (Bursell) Locke and their five children; Hattie 7, Ruth 6, Myra 4, Thomas 1 1/2 and James 6 weeks and Mrs. David Bryden and her two children (Dave was in the woods running camp for the Shaw company) and with the help of James Locke, started poling down the channel and across the lake.

Things went well until they thought they had reached a point of safety where the wind would take them to the spot they had chosen on the north shore. But just then the fire hit the north lumber yard. One who did not witness it (your narrator did) could not imagine what a terrible thing those acres of burning dry pine lumber piles turned into. Flames shot a full thousand feet into the sky and the whole burning mass took on a rotary motion. Whole piles of blazing lumber were carried high into the air and the suction of the whirling mass seemed to draw everything loose toward it from hundreds of yards outside its periphery. The floating boat house was caught in this suction and drawn to the burning yard, whirling as it went like a spinning top.

The boathouse/log float's occupants took to small boats all except Frank Hales Kliss who was burned to death as he stood with a pike pole trying to hold the float against that terrible suction. A great tongue of flame from the yard reached out and took him just as one would snuff out a mosquito with a candle. Those in the boats fared a little better. The suction of the fire caused waves on the lake from six to eight feet high. And the boats were swamped before they had traveled a third of the distance across the lake. James Locke and his entire family were drowned. Mrs. Bryden and her two children suffer the same fate, as did also the little Kliss girl, Myrtle. Mrs. Mary M. (Locke) Kliss hung to the keel of an overturned boat until rescued by a man (James I. Kenyon) who fortunately had succeeded in getting his family across the lake before the lumber yard had turned into a whirling inferno. She was so badly burned about the head and face that she lost her eyesight a short time afterwards."

(Note posted on Findagrave: Mary moved in with Frank's family, and eventually married Frank's half brother, Robert Rudolph Kliss. They both are buried in Oshkosh.)

by C. Pings G2G6 (7.0k points)
+9 votes
All of my ancestors for the past two hundred years,+/-, lived in New Orleans.  They all survived multiple hurricanes.
by Living Tardy G2G6 Pilot (776k points)
+6 votes

In 1908, the Messina earthquake shook southern Italy. My great-grandparents (All on the Italian side) were still in southern Italy at the time.

The aftershocks reached San Pietro a Maida and caused many deaths. Eventually many people from the town migrated to the United states including my great-grandparents.  I think the aftershocks even reached as far away as Gesualdo. I'm not sure. But, it was a massive earthquake to be sure.

by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (805k points)
Two of my grandmother’s brothers were in the 1900 Galveston Hurricane and flood. One died along with his wife and daughter, one survived.
+7 votes
My wife's grandfather liked to talk about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He was six years old and living in far northern California when the quake hit. "It knocked me to the ground." he said when telling the story. The earthquake left a huge fissure on his family's property which took several years to close.
by Bart Triesch G2G6 Pilot (276k points)
I live in Mendocino county, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. My own family didn't live here, then, but I have heard stories from the old-timers here about milk being knocked out of the pails, and streams flying out of their banks. The town of Mendocino stood through the quake, but much of Fort Bragg was flattened, as it's on a wider wave-cut terrace (alluvial) and had a lot of brick buildings.
+6 votes
My maternal grandmother survived the Galveston Storm (hurricane). My maternal grandfather survived having yellow fever during the epidemic, although his growth was stunted. My mother was an only child, and my grandmother was advised not to have any more children because of some complication with the pregnancy/birth. For these and other reasons, I feel lucky to be here.
+6 votes
I think we are here discussing this because our ancestors were all survivors. Many of my own people survived the potato famine and collapse of the kelp industry by migrating to Scotland. There they found themselves in a land unprepared for the influx and faced many hardships and bigotry. Some survived the horrendous conditions of Glasgow's slums, but many did not. My great-grandmother fell victim to the 1880 plague of typhus that swept through the city. As I research my family I am appalled at the staggering number of infant deaths and am left wondering - what could have been, how many potential lives were snuffed out with those babies? One disaster just seems to lead to the next. My mother grew up in the Clyde shipbuilding districts of Glasgow and tells horrifying tales of German air raids and buzz-bombs as the area was a prime target. At the same time, my father was in North Africa doing battle with Rommel and eventually the invasion of Italy. It all makes me appreciate how very lucky I am to be here because the odds seemed stacked against any of us ever being born.
by Living McCormick G2G6 Mach 6 (60.8k points)
edited by Living McCormick
+8 votes
I personally have survived the house next door to mine exploding from a gas explosion. I was taking out my contacts and got thrown against the bathroom wall. When I looked out the hole where the window was the house next door was gone. Firefighters spent 5 hours trying to save as much as they could of my house. They had to rebuild most of my house.

I also survived a tornado ripping through my neighborhood which did damage to my roof and yard. I was one of the lucky ones as the neighborhood looked like a disaster area.
by Darlene Harff G2G Crew (440 points)
+7 votes
M Dad's, Dan Hector Moore Survived a disaster in 1925 at the age of 16, when he fell out of a tree and landed on a double biter axe in his hip on the ground. It cut the main artery in the hip. They have to put in a silver plate in his hip. He was a cripple from that time, till the day he died at age of 76 in 1985.

Kenneth Moore
by Kenneth Moore G2G3 (3.7k points)
+9 votes

Yup, all of our ancestors did... here in Maine it's called Wintah... smiley

by Jeffrey Martin G2G5 (5.1k points)
It's just a wicked pissah snowstorm. =P #Newenglandersrepresent
+8 votes

My fourth great grandfather Saverio Lazio died in the Sicily cholera epidemic of 1837 but the rest of the family (including my third great grandfather Salvadore Lazio) made it through ok. wink

by Frank Santoro G2G6 Mach 5 (58.6k points)
+7 votes
My grandmother, age 3, her parents, her grandmother and her brother all survived the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 by riding on the roof of their house out into Galveston Bay.
My German ancestors birthed and raised children in 1880-90's Galveston.  The father died and the remaining family moved to MN to be with other family members...just missing the great hurricane that decimated Galveston!  I have never been able to find their birth records or much else on them and have always believed all must have been lost in the damage from the storm.  Even wrote several agencies there, but never got any response.  If YOUR people were there, do YOU have any advice as to locations of records I was not able to find?
My family moved to Galveston in February 1900, just in time to get settled and ride the storm! I recommend newspapers for your searches.  I had to deal with a fire at a courthouse that destroyed records and newspapers helped me with wedding and birth announcements. For records in Galveston, try calling first to be sure your query goes to the right place. I called and received the 1913 marriage certificate of my grandparents.
+9 votes

My great grandfather survived the Great Vermont Flood of 1927, with a story to go with it.

During the great flood [of 1927?] there happened below Passumpsic a large "log jam" of broken timber, chicken coops, etc that had washed down the river and threatened to flood the whole village.
Old Napoleon "Pollie" Lamothe, who lived up over Passumpsic in the brick house which later became the "town farm", had in older times "ridden the logs" in the old pulp and lumber drives of a generation past. He said to the other men, "get me some sticks of dynamite and I fix him".
Well, they got a few sticks from somewheres and give it to him and he went out on the jam and set it; but, headed back to shore at a bit slower pace than in the days of his river driver youth back in Canada. The dynamite blew, the timber flew, the jam went out. But, of Pollie there was no sight.
So, the village onlookers who'd seen him go under, commenced searching downstream through the tangled wood and timber along the shoreline for about a mile seeking the body and lamenting his loss. When, here comes Pollie walking up along the far side of the river.
As in a days past, he'd ridden the timber and gone under. Catching upon a big old door he seys, "I just climbed right onto him, and leaned back and he rode right over dem ole waves and brush". Pollie'd held on that big old boy and rode it downstream with the lead end pointed up until the eddy near Moore's farm [what is now Robinson's] brought him near enough shore to walk in.

by Brian Lamothe G2G6 Mach 4 (45.9k points)
edited by Brian Lamothe
+7 votes
My grandmother, Leona Frances Jordan Tibbs Miller survived the Galveston TX, hurricane of 1900 and the Coral Gables, Fl hurricane of 1926.

In 1900 she lost her husband and her elder brother.  Her mother, another brother, and 2 sisters survived.  She did not talk about this.  Her granddaughter, Lee Brede, found her first wedding ring hidden in the lining of her sewing basket.  Leona had not told her daughter or granddaughters that there was a first marriage.  A search of marriage records and city directories gave us his name.

In 1926 Leona survived a hurricane that wrecked Coral Gables, Fl, with her husband and daughter, Celia.  Celia told of watching an alligator pursuing a man across their back yard.  My grandfather, John Thomas Miller, reached from their porch and pulled the man to safety.  They lost almost all of their belongings and had nothing to eat for several days except bread and butter my grandmother had made the day before.  My grandfather was a developer of real estate in the region and lost all of his investment.

After that my grandmother spent the rest of her life in Kansas, as far from the ocean as one can get.
+5 votes
Yes Hazard family Tarawhera Eruption
+6 votes

My mother's parents grew up in Kansas. Tornadoes were common. My grandfather, Peter Stoner, told about seeing a barbed-wire fence rolled up on a dead horse, and straw having been driven into fence posts like nails. My grandmother Edith's story was told to me by my mother, as I was only 2 when she died:

A tornado was spotted coming their way, so they all went down into the storm cellar. The tornado took the house away. The family was all standing around the outside edge of the storm cellar, and were all okay. A cow came floating down into the storm cellar, not appearing to be disturbed, and chewing its cud. My grandmother was a little girl, and was not well-versed yet in tornado behavior. She wanted to go out and get the cow. Her parents wouldn't let her, and in a minute or two, the cow floated off again.

by Alison Gardner G2G6 Mach 8 (86.6k points)
edited by Alison Gardner
+6 votes
My great-grandmother, Rosa Allendorfer, and her family survived the Johnstown flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889. I have a written accounting her father, John H Allendorfer, told to her sister, Lilly Allendorfer (the entire family lived to tell the tale.)
+7 votes
Yes. My grandmother: Winifred Rose Unwin (nee Sydow) survived the Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, earthquake in 1931. She told us it was the one and only time her brain could not believe what her eyes were seeing! The quake occurred mid morning on a bright sunny day. My Gran - known as Molly - was sitting near the window enjoying some morning tea. Suddenly there was an enormous jolt and everything around her was moving. The road leading directly away from the window appeared to be rolling in a huge liquid wave toward her, like waves on the ocean; she just could not believe her eyes and ran outside to see. The very thing we are all told NOT to do in an earthquake. Impeded by the violent movement she stopped just outside. And at that moment another cracking noise made her look up, just as a brick chimney came crashing down beside her. She always said thank goodness she was curious and looked up, beacuse that slight movement had tilted her head and body back enough to be just out of harms way when the chimney landed. Only her little toe was hurt, and remained a bruised grey colour the rest of her life.

My Gran - Molly - was a 19 year old orphan at the time. Her Dad had put her and all her siblings (but one) in childrens homes when her mother died in 1921. I have a picture of her with a group of orphans, being taken by boat to safety after the quake. This originally featured in the local newspaper, and is now in a book entitled 'Before and after' published a few years after the event.
by Krystene Vickers G2G1 (1.4k points)
+6 votes

My grandmother Marjorie Reed Taylor was 14 years old and living across the Bay in Alameda, California on April 18, 1906. From stories she told my mom, the biggest hazards of the San Francisco Earthquake (7.9 moment magnitude) were the fires afterward, if you weren't hit by falling buildings or chimneys. This was true anywhere in the Bay Area that day.

The 1906 quake was one of the main reasons the O'Shaughnessy Dam got built, impounding Hetch Hetchy Reservoir inside Yosemite National Park. Other reservoirs down the peninsula were dammed and created in the following years too. Many water lines broke that day in 1906, and there was no nearby source of water to put out the fires in the city and around the bay.


I was holding a hot soldering iron in a lab at AMD in Sunnyvale, California on October 17, 1989. The Loma Prieta earthquake was only a 6.9 moment magnitude earthquake, a factor of 10 weaker than the 1906 quake. But it knocked over the brick building housing my favorite bike shop in Los Gatos, California, which had a huge 'Condemned' sign and yellow crime scene tape across the door afterwards. There were other damaged structures in Los Gatos, including several Victorian-era homes. My wood-frame house in Saratoga, California was bolted to its foundation and was undamaged, though an unanchored bookshelf and a TV fell over inside.

When it happened, I decided this one wasn't going to stop right away, got up, and calmly walked past shelves stacked with loose oscilloscopes and other equipment to a doorway. It felt like surfing on dry land. There were visiting test engineers from East Coast IC tester company Terradyne at AMD that day. Our guys had to hold them in doorways or they would have run up and down the halls like scared rabbits.

The shaking subsided, and I went back in to finish soldering up the bench test jig I was working on - after all, it wasn't done yet. But after a few minutes, I decided I'd better go home and check the damage.

I took a back street route, avoiding heavily-trafficked Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara County. I discovered later that was the right thing to do. Because all the traffic lights were out along Lawrence, it would have taken hours to get home instead of the usual 30 minutes.

by Mark Bohrer G2G Crew (400 points)
edited by Mark Bohrer
+5 votes
My grandmother survived the 1913 flood in Ohio. There are water level marks on a lot of the buildings.
by Dallace Moore G2G6 Pilot (159k points)

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