My great-grandparents were married in 1870. They farmed in west-central Illinois a mile from his brother. The brothers moved to Illinois from Ohio. Earlier, they moved to Ohio from Virginia during the Civil War. The rectangle in this 1941 aerial photo shows the location of the farmstead where my great-grandparents lived after they were married.
Here are my great-grandparents and their five children in about 1890. My grandfather is the one in the center back row.
Here is my great-grandfather’s brother and his wife. They eventually had seven children. Notice a date of Oct 74 at the bottom. That is when a relative photographed the original photo from nearly 100 years before.
My parents lived on the same farmstead, worked the same land, and raised our large family between the 1930s and about 1980 when they retired. This photo from 1966 shows our farm when I was in high school.
I have a lot of good memories of life on that farm. As our family genealogist, I appreciate the history of the home place and things that tie the past to the present. Two things I treasure are diaries kept by my great-grandparents of their daily life on that farm. The oldest diary is from 1876. The old book needed some modern tape to help keep the cover on. It is 3 x 5 inches and only half an inch thick. The pages are thin and barely include enough room to write a brief memo for each of three days of the week.
I found a page where my great-grandmother did some quilting with her mother. I showed the entry to Melanie who is also a quilter. We kept reading until we got to the pages shown below. It was snowy and cold, lard was cut and rendered, worked hard, went to town, got Christmas candy, and paid for various items.
Something intriguing written on 22 December aroused our curiosity. See the yellow highlight. “Saw the fireball pass through the sky last night & thunder.” What a curious entry.
Melanie wondered if some astronomical event occurred that day. We did a quick check online and found nothing. After thinking about it, we looked again but instead for an event on 21 December. Something spectacular did happen that night. My great-grandparents witnessed it. A meteor fireball streaked across the sky from southern Kansas all the way to near Buffalo NY over 1000 miles. It lit up the sky with intensity and caused thunder claps to be heard along the way. It took place near 9 pm. About midway on this map is a red marker where my great-grandparents lived.
As an amateur astronomer, I find events like this fascinating such as this similar event in Russia in 2013. The fact that my relatives witnessed this one and calmly noted it in their diary 142 years ago is very cool. Others who studied it at the time were more descriptive of the event. Here is a report by H.A. Newton in February 1877 in the American Journal of Science and Arts.
Another account by Shepard of Bloomington Indiana was published in the Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 13. Here is an excerpt. Click to embiggen.
The event was reported in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 16. There were eight meteoric fireball events during 1876 beginning in July and ending in January 1877. Accounts of each are published in the Proceedings.
What fun it was to find this little diary entry and then discover the spectacular event witnessed by many that night. I would give anything to have been there myself. Maybe someday, I will see a similar fireball cross the sky and think of my great-grandparents when it happens.