Saturday, August 1, 2009

Disasters: Not Today

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Carnival of Genealogy ~ 77th Edition

"As human beings, our very existence is proof of the survival skills, faith, or just plain luck our ancestors possessed in order to persevere through millenia of disasters: epidemics, wars, pestilences, famines, accidents, and acts of nature."  Here is my submission for the 77th Edition of Carnival of Genealogy, "Disasters" that will be hosted by Miriam at AnceStories:

Not Today

As I listen to Harris County's Judge Ed Emmett on the radio give his reminders and suggestions for hurricane preparedness, I am reminded of the ferociousness of Mother Nature and just how much she doesn't change.  While the world in which she exists improves and updates, her fierceness stays the same.  As relentless as Mother Nature can be, the human spirit is that much more determined.  More determined to rebuild after the destruction that Mother Nature leaves in her wake.  More determined to be bigger than what she has destroyed.  More determined to be better than what existed before she leveled the landscape.  For while Mother Nature doesn't change, neither does Man.  Man's spirit - in the face of adversity, in the face of death, and in the face of destruction - fights back with a hand in the air, as if to say, "You didn't get the best of me!"  This struggle between Man and Mother Nature has always been.  It has not changed.

In the area of the country that I live in, the Gulf Coast, we have heat, occasional flooding, and tornadoes, but the weather "buzzword" that seems to get everyone's attention, and rightly so, is "hurricane."  Of course, if you're "from" the Gulf Coast, you are merely alert at the mention of a hurricane.  Before you get all upset about the notion of standing in long lines for additional water [you can never have too much], you must first assess the hurricane situation.  Is it in the Gulf yet?  What category is it?  What's the wind speed?  How fast is it moving?  Where's it suppose to hit?  Are they evacuating the oil rigs yet?  What does Frank say?  [O.K., Frank's one of our local weather guys, and he's the one I place all my meteorological trust in.  If Frank says, "Don't worry," I don't worry.  If Frank says, "worry," I worry.  However, I'm sure you could replace his name with the name of your own meteorological "know-it-all", but for me, it's Frank - all the way.]

Today we are blessed and spoiled when it comes to being prepared for Mother Nature's fierceness.  We are able to buy batteries, gasoline, ice, beer, water, crackers, chips, bean dip, Cheese Whiz, Spam, and other canned goods - all to be prepared for the "x" amount of time you'll be without electricity .  [Warning: Hurricanes really do bring out the finer [or stranger] palate and are not for the faint of heart, or rather, stomach.] While we are better prepared nowadays, there is something that is still the same.  Once the hurricane hits the coast, once the flooding from the storm surge begins, once the lights go off, and once the torrential rain bands come, you are in the middle of a hurricane.  There's no going back.  It's just you and Mother Nature.  The same as it was for your ancestors before you.  The same as it was for my ancestors before me.

Last year [2008], my family and I were well-prepared for Hurricane Ike, or at least as much  as one can be.  After everything was purchased, after all the camping gear was carefully laid out ready for use, after all the patio furniture, plants, and my car were packed into the garage, and after a huge meal of steak and fresh Gulf shrimp was eaten [to clean out the freezer], we sat down and watched Frank on the T.V. explain our situation right up until the lights went out with the first forceful winds of Ike.

Much later in the evening after the eye of the storm had passed, I was laying on one of our couches located in front of a big window listening to the rainstorm and sweating.  [It seems hotter when you know you can't escape it.]  My genealogical mind couldn't help but wonder about my ancestors and their experience with the Storm of 1900 on Galveston Island.  How did their experience compare to mine?  Was there any comparison to be made?

From what I can tell from reading the accounts of the Storm of 1900, the main differences between the two experiences center around being prepared.  To say that they didn't have enough time to prepare for the storm that hit 8 Sep 1900 is an understatement.  [They didn't have Frank like I did and do.]  I have no written account left by my ancestors of what they exactly went through, but a little of the effects of the storm can be determined indirectly.  I can only suppose that one thing we had in common was maybe the feelings of fear, anxiety, and anticipation for daylight to come to be able to see was left and what was not.  My great-grandparents on my Dad's side, John  & Emma (Schleicher) Marschall and their children, John Jr., Jane, Antonetta, Laura Ellen, Rolland, Joseph [my grandfather, "Big Paw Paw"], and Mary all made it through the storm alive.  Thankfully, they left their farm and sought shelter in town, for if they had not, they would not have survived.

With the rising of the sun over the Gulf that next morning, my great-grandfather would soon find out the family farm's fate.  According to Charles Henry McMaster's "Report On Condition of Island Farmers"  in the space for the condition of their farmhouse on Galveston Island are two simple, but devastating words: "All Gone".  Such was the fate of many farmhouses on the island.  The report lists also that my family lost all their horses, but they had fifteen cows, 17 farm tools, and 200 household items left.  I've tried to imagine what my great-grandfather's thoughts were upon learning the extent of the damage.  Certainly, this hadn't been part of his plan when he came from Posen, Prussia to the Port of Galveston on Christmas Day in 1878.  I'm sure he was thankful that his wife and seven children were safe and sound [unlike so many other island families], but how was he going to feed those 8 mouths?  How was he going to support his family?  Likewise, I can only imagine what my great-grandmother was thinking and feeling when she heard those words, "All gone".  What exactly those 200 household items that were left were, I have no idea [my junk drawer, alone, probably has 200 items in it], but can you imagine how Emma felt?  How she felt about the loss of momentos such as pressed flowers tucked inside books, letters, photographs, journals, diaries, possibly a family bible, and jewelry.  All "things", certainly, but they were her "things".  All "things" that had meant something to her, and all were either lost or damaged.  "Things" aside though, the same question that was running through her husband's mind was probably running through hers as well.  How was she going to feed her seven children?  I can only imagine the destruction and grief that they and all the islanders faced that next morning.

As is typical after a storm [then and now], the community pulled themselves up by their boot straps, took account of the damage that was left, and got to work repairing and rebuilding.  Some 8000 people did not make it through the Storm of 1900 as my family did.  The survivors, however, persevered and rebuilt the island, strengthening it for the future storms that would come.  My family also "rebuilt" themselves with John and Emma's children growing up, marrying, and having children of their own.  Two of John's sons would eventually be in real estate development - John Jr. in Galveston and Joseph [my grandfather] in San Antonio.  Both, incidentally, building communities.

My ancestors' experience the day after the storm was nothing like mine and my family's - not really.  While I knew that my family was O.K. like they did, I additionally knew that my "things" were O.K. and that my husband still was employed.  We had been prepared for Ike and had all the necessities.  Our future was not in question, and we were going to be O.K.  Another part of our good fortune was our location.  We live about 80 miles northwest of Galveston Island, Texas.  We had a lot of wind and rain, which caused our electricity to be off for nine days.  We were merely uncomfortable, but we weren't worried about our future like my ancestors must have been in 1900.  However, those who lived on the coast when Ike hit, were not so lucky.  While the loss of human life due to preparedness was vastly different, their experiences with the loss of their "things" and their livelihoods because of Ike were more like that of my ancestors.

One thing that can be said about the Gulf Coast storms - whether it be 1900 or 2008 - Islanders of Galveston [and the people of the surrounding areas] continue to raise their hand in the air, as if to say to Mother Nature, "You didn't get the best of me.  Not Today."

[If you have the time, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the photos from Ike here.  They are a better depiction of the aftereffects than I could ever put into words.  The pictures below are of comparisons of certain places [and my children] between Galveston, pre-Ike 2008 and Galveston, post-Ike 2009.]

More information & photos can be found concerning both storms in the following places:


  1. I did not get a story ready for this carnival, but I sure did enjoy reading yours. I have never lived on the Gulf Coast, but my grandparents & assorted kinfolk did/do (Sinton) & my sister & her family do (Lake Jackson), so we've been well aware of every hurricane since the 1950s, when the Sinton bunch would join us in Rockdale to escape the threats entering the Gulf. Although I did have a large assortment of family members living in Texas at the time of the 1900 hurricane, I have never heard of any personal stories from any of them related to that disaster. I do like the way you personalized this story for your family. {Hugs} V.

  2. This has been a fascinating account. My sister in law lost her house to a tornado in Louisiana a few years changed her life. We are fortunate to live in a place where we are not faced with the likelihood of having a tornado in our town, although our state has a section called tornado alley. I had heard of the tornado in Galveston, but had never read an account of it. Thanks for the blog.


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