Finding Photos of Your Ancestors’ Weather

By Maureen A. Taylor

The photos from those affected by Hurricane Harvey are devastating. Those of us watching from afar, on the news and on Facebook, can hardly believe what we’re seeing. Our thoughts and hopes are with all those who are witnessing this terrible storm firsthand.

History will have a lasting visual record in these millions of photos and videos from Houston. The visual record of weather disasters our ancestors experienced is far less thorough, but does exist starting in the late 1800s. Although our ancestors didn’t have the ready access to cameras that we do, they did manage to capture the life-altering blizzards, dust storms, hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes they experienced.

Library of Congress

Evidence of historical record-setting weather events may be in your ancestral photo collections. Historical newspapers will have other images.

Washington, D.C. photographers George W. Harris and Martha Ewing captured the scene above after a
windstorm hit the nation’s capital on July 30, 1913.

Today’s meteorologists might call this a microburst. It would take a big wind indeed to cause this destruction to the B.F. Saul Building at the corner of Seventh and L Streets N.W. You can read about it on page one of the July 31, 1913 Washington Post.

washington post storm

Search for weather events your ancestors experienced in the Library of Congress image collection, and on websites of local and state libraries and archives. Before storms were named, try searching for the
place, year and type of event, such as 1937 Mississippi flood or 1880 South Dakota Blizzard.

Houstonians, take care. When you’re able, upload your photos and videos from Hurricane Harvey to the cloud and tag them with identifying information, including the date, so they’ll be findable in the future. Also consider recording your memories of your experience. They’ll be important to your loved ones in the future.