Friday, April 12, 2024

Might One of My Ancestors Have Seen a Total Solar Eclipse?

I thought April 8th's total solar eclipse was amazing.  We travelled back roads to a little town about 45 minutes away and sat in the tiny parking lot of a store.  We listened to NASA's live presentation as we waited and watched.  We saw two minutes of totality but not total darkness as shown in this photo.  It was like sunset all around the horizon.  The temperature cooled and some of the birds began their evening song.  Really, just a once in a lifetime experience (unless I'm still alive in 2045!)
Photo courtesy of NASA HQ Photo.   Thank you, NASA.

My ears perked up when I heard one of the NASA hosts use the word "generation."  She may have said something like, it will be more than a generation before the next eclipse comes to Ohio, but I'm not sure.  Just the word "generation" took my thoughts to my ancestors.  How many of them might have seen a total eclipse?

As I researched online, if what I read can be trusted, a total solar eclipse happens about every 18 months but crosses the same part of the earth in only about every 375 years.  That didn't give me much hope for my Ohio and Pennsylvania ancestors seeing a total solar eclipse. 

Looking at maps of past eclipses, I could not find a total solar eclipse that crossed over the localities where my ancestors lived at the times they were alive.  I had hoped we might share that in common.

However, there were plenty of newspaper reports of eclipses which my ancestors might have read.  I enjoyed the quaint language of this section of a small article from the August 7, 1860, issue of the Cincinnati Daily Press on page 4, column 1, entitled "The Late Solar Eclipse in Europe."
It reads,
    The Paris correspondent of the London
Times writes as follows:
   It wanted a few minutes to two when the
eclipse began, and whenever the sky cleared
the opaque body of the moon might be seen
creeping on in slow but sure advances.  The
greatest portion of the sun was covered about
three o'clock, and such parts of the sky as
were visible assumed a darker blue.  It was
nearly a quarter to four o'clock when the sun
got quite released from the grasp of his in-

Some past total solar eclipses happened on the dates below, but I didn't note the locations.
  • June 16, 1806
  • February 12, 1831
  • November 30, 1834
  • July 17, 1860
  • August 7, 1869
  • July 29, 1878
  • January 1, 1889
  • April 16, 1893
  • May 28, 1900

Thinking of my ancestors and solar eclipses reminded me of a post I wrote years ago titled Sharing the Sun.  My ancestors and I may not have a lot in common, but we have the sun. 


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  1. Wasn't the eclipse just amazing? I enjoyed your musings on your ancestors!

    1. Thanks so much, Ellie. Yes, it was amazing. We were in an area of totality and I was surprised that it didn't get darker. We only had four minutes, so maybe it would have been darker if the eclipse lasted longer where we were. But really, just amazing!


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