Saturday, November 25, 2017

Adding Context from a Diary

I am editing a very rough draft translation of Abraham F. Reimer's #3945 (1808-1892) diary for 1870-1874.  It's been tough to get going because it's been hard to figure out his handwriting and because he shortens words and uses some Low German words.  But I'm finally figuring it out and finding some interesting things.

I'm interested in this diary for several related reasons.  Abraham F. Reimer was my great-great-great-uncle, so he has interesting information about my Reimer ancestors.  He was also good friends with my maternal great-great-grandfather Gerhard Klaas Siemens #6461 (1805-1877), so he mentions him frequently in his diary.  Since he was a member of the Kleine Gemeinde, he knew almost all my maternal ancestors.  And he was a keen observer of people and natural phenomena.  He was called Foala Reimer (Fool Reimer) because he was much more interested in breeding flowers, astronomy, and many other intellectual pursuits than in farming.  But that is exactly what makes him a good diarist.

In just the first two pages of the diary, I've come across a couple interesting observations.  First, he faithfully records the temperature morning, noon, and night using the Reaumur scale that was common in Russia.  (The Reaumur scale uses 0º as the freezing point of water and 80º as the boiling point.)  From 17-29 January 1870, the weather was extremely cold, and the lowest temperature he recorded was -25º Re., which was -24º F., on 27 January 1870.  The official low temperature for Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, the nearest large city is -20º F., so clearly this was a run of extraordinarily low temperature for the area. 

I'm sure this was a memorable event for all my ancestors, who lived in that part of Russia.  Think of the difficulty of feeding animals, breaking ice in the stock tanks, burning enough wood to keep the house warm, doing laundry, and many other daily tasks.  The worship service was even cancelled.

Abraham F. Reimer (1808-1892) diary, Steinbach, Borosenko Colony, South Russia, 1870-1874, Mennonite Heritage Centre Archive, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Kleine Gemeinde collection, vol. 5907, item 4, p. 2.
And here is the translation for that date:
27. Tues. –25 degrees [-24º F.] in the morning and  –14 degrees [0º F.] at noon, in the evening –22 degrees [-18º F.].  The junior Penner from Rosenfeld was here and also at the Toewses. The Russian came again.
The previous day, the 26th, Abraham Reimer witnessed a spectacular display of parhelia, or sun dogs.  They are caused by refraction and reflection within ice crystals in the atmosphere.  They occur most often when there are high, thin cirrus clouds; low temperatures; and dry air and when the sun is low in the sky.  To see one or two sun dogs is fairly common, but Reimer saw six large and four small sun dogs as well as half of the parhelic arc that can extend all the way around the horizon at the level of the sun.  The additional sun dogs are visible when the arcs created by various internal refractions and reflections in the ice crystals intersect in the sky.  I myself have seen left and right sun dogs, the upper tangential arc, and the 22º circle around the sun.  But he saw ten total sun dogs plus half the parhelic arc, which is amazing!  I'm sure he and many others remembered this display all their lives.

Here is the translation for the 26th:

26. Mon. –19 degrees [-11º F.] in the morning. -15 [-2º F.] at noon, and –20 degrees [-13º F.] in the evening.   In the morning we had six[?] large sun dogs also with four small sun dogs and a ring over half the horizon.

I had a terrible time trying to figure out what he saw.  In the text, the word looked like "Neben Sonen," but I couldn't find that in any dictionary.  "Neben" means "secondary" in German, but I couldn't think what a secondary sun might be.  And how would he see ten secondary suns?  Then it hit me that the weather conditions he described were perfect for sun dogs, so I looked that up, but I couldn't find "sun dog" in my English-German dictionaries either.  Then in an English-Low German dictionary, I found the translation of sun dog as "Biesonen" or "beside-sun" which actually describes it quite well.  But that wasn't the word that Reimer used.  Finally I decided to read a little about sun dogs in Wikipedia and learned that the technical term for a sun dog in English is parhelion.  When I looked "parhelion" up in my English-German dictionary, I found the translation "Nebensonne," which is the singular of the word that Reimer used.  Mystery solved!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is some great job, Steve!

    -31 deg C? Wow! And this was in SOUTHERN Russia? I wonder what the temps were in Northern Russia.