Christmas Flood of 1717

In addition to learning the facts about our ancestors, it's important to learn about the times and places in which they lived. It is nothing but helpful to try to put our family into context - sometimes, it will help you decipher the motivations of why they might have moved from one place to another; it can help you figure out what language they might have spoken or what religion they might have practiced, both of which can be clues to where there might be records about their lives; it can give you clues to what their occupations might have been; at the very least, it can give you an idea of what their daily lives might have been like, or what might have been some big events and upheavals they dealt with.

In the course of researching my Tiedemann family - my immigrant ancestor and 3rd great grandmother, Meta Tiedemann, was born in Mittelstenahe, Hanover, Germany - I discovered that they hailed from all over the German state of Lower Saxony (which, strangely enough, is in the northern part of Germany), in particular the more northern coastal areas near the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven - Mittelstenahe is 42 km east of the coastal city of Bremerhaven, at the mouth of the Weser river; it is 41 km south of the coastal city of Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elbe River, smack dab in the middle of the Elbe-Weser Triangle. Other cities in the vicinity my family came from include Lamstedt, Stinstedt, Osterholz and Hackemuhlen. While researching these branches of my tree, I learned that a terrible natural disaster hit the region: the Christmas Flood of 1717, or  or Die Weihnachtsflut vom 24. Dezember 1717 in German. My 8th great-grandparents were living in the area in 1717.

According to Wikipedia, the Christmas Flood of 1717 was the result of a northwesterly storm, which hit the coast area of the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia on Christmas night of 1717. 

In total, approximately 14,000 people drowned. The whole region is flat and low-lying, which is why the flood was so devastating. It was the last large storm flood in the north of the Netherlands. Floodwaters reached towns 21 km inland. Many villages near the sea were devastated entirely. The local communities had to cope with population loss, economic decline and poverty. No area of the coast between the Netherlands and Denmark was spared. Everywhere dyke breaches were followed by wide flooding of the flat country. Between Tønder in Slesvig and Emden in East Frisia about 9,000 people drowned - this is right in the area of where my family lived. Cattle were lost, houses were washed away and the damage to dykes was immense. Many survivors waited months to learn the fate of missing family members, and some never found out what happened to them. The coldness of winter didn't help the situation of those who survived, and another flood hit two months later.

The family members I know of did not live right on the coast, but they lived along the rivers that led to the coast. Were they affected by this devastating flood? Did they come from towns closer to the coast, where they might have still had family? Did they travel to these coastal areas for business? Did they see the devastation firsthand, and if not, what did they think when they first learned of it via word of mouth, maybe months later? Did it affect the economy of the region? Travel and trade out of ports along the damaged coastline, the loss of crops and livestock, all must have taken a toll on the entire region.

My Tiedemanns and adjacent family lines remained in Lower Saxony for years and generations afterward, so whatever personal loss or setbacks from the flood must not have been lasting. It's just interesting from a historical perspective to learn about these events that for the most part, just fade away into the ether, unless you have some personal tie or connection to it.

In the course of your family history research, have you come across any events - natural disasters, political uprisings, epidemics, etc. - that occurred where your family was living that might have affected them personally? I'd love to hear about it!

Unknown - Copper Engraving Abbildung der fast übernatürlich-hohen Wasserflut am H(eiligen) Christ-Tag 1717 und am 25. Hornung (= Februar)


Wikipedia, Christmas Flood of 1717.