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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree Christmas 2017 > Your ancestors & the Little Ice Age

Your ancestors & the Little Ice Age

Overall the harsh conditions of the Little Ice Age altered lives and livelihoods, disrupted normal activities and, in many instances, forced people to change their way of life or move. Some of the most important records we find were created during the time of the Little Ice Age – but what is this, when did it occur, and what were the specific consequences on our ancestors’ lives? Geologist Wayne Shepheard explains

A weather eye on the past

Frost on the Thames, 1814 from Old & New London by W Thornbury and Edward Walford (Cassell & Co, 1897), from the British Library flickr collection

The Little Ice Age was a cool climatic time period generally considered to have lasted from about AD 1300 to 1850.

This was a time in history when, from a physical or environmental standpoint, and in comparison to the warm periods that preceded and followed:

• temperatures around the globe were substantially cooler

• weather was mostly unstable

• storms were more frequent and more intense

• food production was especially challenging

• living conditions overall were harsh.

All of these factors had enormous impact on the lives and livelihoods of people and contributed to famine, spread of disease, social unrest, migration and, in some cases, significant harm to being and habitat.

The Little Ice Age followed the Medieval Warm Period, a 400-year-long climatic phase extending from about AD 900 to 1300. That long, comfortable era had seen:

• warm temperatures around the globe (about 1°C warmer than the most recent century)

• generally stable weather

• ideal growing conditions over very long periods

• glaciers in full retreat

• expansion of arable land into more northerly regions and higher altitudes

• significant population growth (Europe grew from c35 to 80 million people)

• extensive interaction between regions and regimes.

On the heels of the Little Ice Age the Earth entered into another warm phase called the Modern Warm Period, ending much of the inhospitable environmental conditions and physical hardship that had been imposed by Mother Nature.

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About Family Tree

Welcome to the Christmas issue of Family Tree – we’ve got festive family history treats galore in store for you. Dive into our delicious feast of digitised documents – rare historic collections for you to enjoy browsing and researching on your device. Enjoy some genealogy jollies: a family history crossword, quiz and memories of Christmas traditions from centuries past. And last but not least, this issue sees the launch of the Family Tree Academy – this is your opportunity to hone your family history skills. In part 1, this issue, we’ve got documents for you to decipher, old handwriting for you to transcribe and a research case study for you to pit your wits against. Join in with our learning experience today to become a better family historian!
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