Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Genealogists can Set the Record Straight

In 1906, an earthquake shook San Francisco. It came to be known as the Great Quake and nearly leveled the city. Afterward, a fire raged, turning whatever was left to ash.
When the shaking and burning stopped, there were, officially, 478 dead-- a number that seems ridiculously low when viewing the images of the disaster.

Subsequent counts estimated the number of dead closer to 700, but in the last decade there has been extensive research, created in part by genealogists searching for data to fill their family trees.

Gladys Hanson, San Francisco's City Historian, started counting the dead when genealogists in the 1970s began contacting her about death records. By cross referencing cemetery records, death records, and other genealogical data, she now estimates the death toll closer to 5,000--- and she isn't done.

Many people said that the official death count could never be accurate because so many people fled San Francisco after the quake and just never returned. While this is true, there are just as many family histories claiming relatives died in San Francisco-- after the quake relatives outside the city never heard from their loved ones ever again. It stands to reason that if you lived in the city and survived this horrendous disaster, you'd communicate to your family back east that you were okay, right?

Genealogy does go hand in hand with history. I can't even begin to recall the number of times I've lost ancestors inexplicably and needed to see what was happening in the area historically to find them again. I can't imagine how difficult a large scale disaster like the 1906 Quake would make it to find ancestors. Especially if they were just never heard from again. I think I like Gladys Hanson, a lot.

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