I have recently become involved in my family genealogy. This path has taken me to a better understanding of historical events giving them a personal attachment. I have created timelines with certain family members to try to understand the world that they lived in and how they made certain decisions and lived day today. Along this route of discovery I have seen my ancestors lived through certain natural and man-made disasters.
One such disaster that I encountered was the St. Bartholomew’s massacre in 1572. Religious conflicts have been the source of many such disastrous battles this being just one small example. Catholics were upset with the demands of the Protestant Huguenots and in 1572 started going town to town in France massacring all the Protestants they encountered ("Huguenot," ).
This is one of my first encounters with a family history that related to religious persecution and wars. Another disaster that forced my ancestors to the New World was the potato famine in the 1840s. While it is commonly thought to be isolated to Ireland, this plight struck the Scottish Highlands and Europe. This blight caused millions of people to leave Scotland in search of sustenance for their families ("Highland potato famine," ). While on the surface of potato blight such as this seemed like a natural disaster it was caused by humans. They planted only one type of potato instead of several species, and this one was susceptible to this fungus. So in effect, it was a man-made disaster. Man altered nature’s diversity and ended up fueling spread of this disease.
After seeing these issues take on a more personal meaning I was able to look at many other points in history and see that ultimately the greatest loss of life and property is due to human conflict, and religion was almost always at the core.
Another man-made disaster that affected my family directly occurred in 1948 and was called the Donora Smog. The death toll in this disaster was not exceptional, but over the years the toll in this small valley has been significant. The industrialization of this valley by a steel and coal mills produced significant amounts of pollution. These industries brought in substantial profit to the Mellon family who imported many immigrants to work these plants (Bainbridge, 1948).