These days, we have advance warnings about potentially dangerous storms heading our way. Of course, the meteorologists aren’t always right on with their predictions, but often they are incredibly accurate. In centuries gone by, it was often the elder men, the ones who had been around a while, who had watched the sky, to see the signs that would give them clues as to coming weather. Unfortunately, on November 14, 1703, any clues they might have seen would not do any good for the people of England. The unusual weather began that day with strong winds from the Atlantic Ocean that battered the southern part of Britain and Wales. The pounding winds damaged many homes and other buildings, but the hurricane-like storm only began doing serious damage on November 26. Then the winds estimated at over 80 miles per hour, blew bricks from some buildings and embedded them in others. Wood beams, separated from buildings, flew through the air and killed hundreds across the south of the country. Towns such as Plymouth, Hull, Cowes, Portsmouth, and Bristol were devastated.
Finally, on November 27, 1703, the storm system finally dissipated over England. For almost two weeks, it had ripped the country nearly to shreds. With its hurricane force winds, the storm killed somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people. Hundreds of Royal Navy ships were lost to the storm, the worst in Britain’s history. It was the loss of the 300 Royal Navy ships that really caused the death toll to rise. The ships that were anchored carried some 8,000 sailors. All were lost. Then, the Eddystone Lighthouse, which had been built on a rock outcropping 14 miles from Plymouth, was blown over by the storm. All of its residents, including its designer, Henry Winstanley, were killed. Huge waves on the Thames River sent water six feet higher than ever before recorded near London. More than 5,000 homes along the river were destroyed.
The author Daniel Defoe, witnessed the storm, and it had such an impact on him that he wrote his first book, entitled “The Storm” the following year. In “The Storm” he described the storm as an “Army of Terror in its furious March.” Sometimes the best inspiration for writing a book is the events of real life. Defoe would later go on to write the well known novel “Robinson Crusoe.”
Anyone who has ever tried to trace their family history knows just how difficult it can be to find the records sometimes. Early families kept their records mostly in the family Bible, or some other type of record keeping book, and if the records weren’t kept where they were safe, or where the next generation knew to look for them, they were often lost. It seems that some nations were more ahead of the pack when it came to registering the people…where it was for a good purpose or not. Later it was only churches that kept records of these things.
The Bible tells us in Luke 2:1-5, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.” In many way, I suppose it was from this point on that the Romans and Jews began to keep such clear records, although, according to the Bible and the lineage of Jesus told there, the Jews had kept very clear records before that. It was clear record keeping of this type that made it possible for families to know their heritage.
As I have searched for my own ancestors, I have found that in more modern times, such as the 1000 to 1700s, the record keeping was not so good. I don’t know if people were just more lax about it, or if there seemed to be no good place to store these things. I could also be that in cases where good records were kept, fire, flood, or some other natural disaster destroyed them later on. I find that to be such a sad state of affairs, because it can put up a wall between the genealogical researcher and the valuable information they are searching for.
I guess I’m not the only person to ever feel that way, because on this day, July 1, 1837, England and Wales established the Civil Registration system to record births, marriages, and deaths. It is that same system that is used in Ancestry.com to provide valuable records used by genealogical researchers to this day. Of course, in the early days, the records were stored in volume after volume in some dusty corner of a courthouse or something. It was very hard to research family through that avenue, but with the invention of the internet, and the transfer of those records to it, the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths has opened up many new doors in genealogical research.
Many people may not be aware that in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, there is almost a constant state of confusion over just exactly who they are. They are considered Great Britain or the United Kingdom, but the United Kingdom takes in the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was on this day May 1, 1707 that England and Scotland joined together to become the United Kingdom. I think the union must have been a bit surprising, given that the English and the Scots had long battled over one thing or another. Nevertheless, The Scots needed the economic support that England could offer, while for England the merger was political. The Scots would no longer have a Parliment, but they were given instead a proportion of the seats at Westminster.
The English tend to call Great Britain, England, with notorious disregard for the feelings of the Welsh, with whom they joined in 1536 and the Scots, with whom they joined in 1707. The Act of Union of 1707, states merely that England and Scotland shall ‘be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain’. Many people simply lumped them together as Britain, calling all of them the Brits, which technically isn’t so…and even the English didn’t like that name. The last official merger was with Northern Ireland in 1800, at which time the enlarged kingdom became the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
It’s hard for me to think about being a country that is part of a kingdom, and yet, I suppose that is exactly what we were when the United States of America was part of England. Although we may not have been considered a part of a kingdom exactly, we were under British rule until the Revolutionary War. I suppose that there could be a love/hate relationship among the countries of the United Kingdom to this day. I do think that the British Royals do like to go to the different countries that are a part of the United Kingdom, and maybe those countries like having them come for a visit now, but I have to wonder if that was always the case. Queen Elizabeth heads to her Scottish castle, Balmoral, at this time of the year, so she must love the whole Scottish countryside at least almost as much as she does England. For Queen Elizabeth, having a castle in Scotland is normal. I suppose that if you grew up being a part of a kingdom, it would be normal, and in all reality, while it wasn’t always a kingdom, it has been since 1536, so it might as well have been always…at least for the people who call the United Kingdom of Great Britain home.