Did you see it? My husband and I did and I was overwhelmed by just how wondrous it was. I remember seeing a partial eclipse as a kid with my shoebox viewer and ever since I have wanted to see the full-meal deal.
Knowing just how short a drive it would be for me to see it, I’ve had the August 2017 one on my calendar for 18 months, and I even made my husband block it out on his calendar – paper and phone! – so we’d be sure to be able to go. As the scary hype increased – there will be 75 kajillion people on the roads – no gas, no cell service, no air left to breathe – we wondered if we were doing the right thing. But I knew if I didn’t at least try, I’d be kicking myself for the rest of my life for having missed it.
So we outfitted ourselves with supplies for any emergency, (we’ll be eating granola bars for the next 27 years!), we left early, and we made it with plenty of time to spare. My “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, we’ve gotta do it” argument to my husband immediately turned into “When’s the next one?!” search. Um...I think we’re looking at a genealogy-cum-solar-viewing trip to Illinois 8 April 2024, honey.
The eclipse got me wondering about my ancestors. I remember my dad saying his mom reminisced often about seeing Halley’s comet in 1910 when she was in her early 20s. I had the 1986 one on my radar for 20 years, waiting and waiting for the spectacle, but sorry to say it was kind of a bust. I’m not sure I’ll be around to see the 2061 comet return– it may take a medical miracle, but who knows.
But did my ancestors ever get to see a solar eclipse? Were they as thrilled as I was? I found a set of maps on the NASA website and looked across several decades from 1800 or so, just to see what I could find. I think a few of them might have been as lucky as Mark and I were to see this incredible display of nature’s wonder.
I’m not positive, but I think my great-great grandfather, Peter Bradley might have been living in Pennsylvania in time for the 26 April 1827 annular eclipse. I know his brother was there, attending seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland at the time. Nine years later, on 15 May 1836, an eclipse passed over Northern Ireland where my Graham ancestors lived. They might have been able to see the whole show, and I imagine my other ancestors elsewhere on the Emerald Isle could have seen something pretty close to totality. 1854 saw another one – John and Mary Devlin Fields were in Boston at the time and may have seen the show. My Fruhauf ancestors in Illinois might have been the luckiest of all – residents in their neighborhood saw eclipses in October 1865 and August 1869. Wow!
One passed over Northern California on New Year’s Day 1889 – my grandma who so enjoyed the comet was barely two months old at the time, but I imagine her parents might have seen it. As far as I know about where my ancestors were living, that 1889 was likely the last total solar eclipse any of my forebears might have seen. I guess I got pretty lucky to live in the right place and time to be able to check that experience off my bucket list.
How about your ancestors – have you mapped them on the eclipse paths? Check out the maps at https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/solar.html. Scroll down about 2/3s of the way to see the link to the maps. Let me know about your ancestors in the comments below.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.