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Ancestors in a time of Panic

The words panic, recession, and depression bring to mind pictures of the Dust Bowl, people with all their belongings strapped on rattle-trap cars or old pick-ups and looks of desperation in their eyes.


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Type: Article
Resource: Tracing Lines
Prepared by: Ruby Coleman
Word Count: 509 (approx.)
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The words panic, recession, and depression bring to mind pictures of the Dust Bowl, people with all their belongings strapped on rattle-trap cars or old pick-ups and looks of desperation in their eyes. The word panic is also applicable to America's current economy over the last few months. Unfortunately our country and its people have suffered through more than one or even two panics or depressions.

There were panics in the years of 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907 and the Great Depression. In almost all instances the panic can be traced or related to credit, scarce money, bank failures and poor investments. The panic of 1857 followed boom times of the discovery of gold in California. This is known as a boom and bust cycle.

Regardless of what it is called, these bad economic times impacted our ancestor's lives. Not only did they have to pinch their pennies, but in many cases they had to uproot and change their lives drastically. Migrations increased during a panic or depression.

Deeds will reflect foreclosures and sheriff sales of property. If you have "lost" an ancestor during any of these time periods, it is worth your while to check the land records and mortgages where they were living. These will normally not tell you exactly where they went, but will give you a better idea of the time period as well as information on what was happening in their lives. At the same time, consider looking into court records for lawsuits over property. Court minutes may also contain information on insolvencies and unpaid taxes.

Newspapers often contain quips in the local news or gossip sections that somebody has left the area. There may also be lists of insolvencies or lists of past due taxes on property. There are many newspapers online at places, such as, GenealogyBank and also at World Vital Records. If you cannot afford subscriptions, inquire if they are available at a public library or Family History Center (LDS) in your area.

Noticeably during a panic or depression era, people did not spend money on unnecessary items, one of which was tombstones. You may realize this as you progress through your research connecting missing stones to these time period.

There are interesting web pages that will aid in understanding the times of panic. Understanding what was happening will assist you in putting together the pieces of your ancestors' lives.

Panics, Depressions and Economic Crisis Prior to 1930

Panic of 1819

Panic of 1837

Panic of 1857

Panic of 1873

Panic of 1893

Panic of 1907

Great Depression
Homefront Pictures 1938-1944

What records can you locate for ancestors who lived during a panic? Make a list of what might reflect what was going on in their lives, as well as their ages and where they lived. Did they leave journals, diaries or letters that might provide clues? Even if they uprooted, they may have tried to stay in touch with family members, thus letters may survive.

Tough times produced tough people. Your ancestors were survivors. You just need to be tough enough to locate records pertaining to them during these panic time periods.

Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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