Paris - 13 November 2015
XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Encounters

XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Weather Disasters of Poitiers

La misère

At the conference, we attended a talk by  Monsieur Jean Hervier entitled "La météo à Poitiers sous la Révolution". It covered a broader time period, the forty years from 1776 to 1816, and every one of them interesting. Too often, Dear Readers, we look for an emotional, religious or political cause for ancestors having left France: a broken heart, a duel, a family quarrel, a staunch aristocrat during the Revolution, a staunch Communard fleeing the reprisals after the Paris Commune, the Protestant escaping persecution, but the reality is that the cause is just as often economic.

Recall that, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the world, France included, was largely agrarian and each small farm teetering on the edge of ruin at every climactic irregularity. We have written before of how disease of farm animals could bring ruin and ruin could lead to emigration. We are must indebted to Monsieur for presenting plenty of other reasons why some living in Poitiers may have given up and gone elsewhere, among them:

  • 1776 - The rivers were blocked with ice floes and did not flow, delaying spring planting. When the ice began to break up, many boats were destroyed by it.
  • 1781 - A June hail storm destroyed property and early crops
  • 1784 - There was a very hard winter, with snow for six weeks, for two weeks of which it snowed non-stop, to a place that did not normally have much snow at all. Farm birds and wild birds died of the cold, the hay ricks were ruined, houses collapsed from the weight of the snow. Markets and fairs did not take place as transport was impossible and it was too cold for many.
  • 1787 - Though not directly a weather issue, during this year there was a measles epidemic that killed many.
  • 1788 - A July hailstorm was so severe that the hail stones killed livestock. The summer storms were so heavy that there was flooding, which brought mudslides.
  • 1789 - Before the storming of the Bastille up in Paris France experienced one of her worst winters ever recorded. In Poitiers it was so harsh, with two months of temperatures below zero, that the rivers froze and farm animals died, as did fruit trees. When they thawed, the blocks of ice were so big and the water rushing so fast that the blocks smashed up bridges, watermills, boats, trees and houses.
  • 1803 - July hailstorms again killed livestock.
  • 1816 - This was "the year without a summer" around the world. On the 10th of April 1815 the volcano, Tambora, in Indonesia had erupted, filling the atmosphere with ash that blocked sunlight. In Poitiers, temperatures dropped to freezing in August, there was no harvest and almost no fruit, nothing in family vegetable plots had enough sun or warmth to ripen. 

These weather disasters were too often followed by epidemics, famine and ruin. At the same time, from 1789 to 1815, France was almost always at war. It must have seemed, to many, as if the Apocalypse had come. The only wonder is that more did not make the decision to walk to the coasts and take whatever leaky vessel they could to whatever land would offer them hope and opportunity. Most of us are proud of our migrant ancestors. If your ancestor left France during the period above, it may have been due to the bad weather, and all the consequences thereof.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy