Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Inspiration That Was Borne Out Of A Basement Flood and A Discarded Tissue

Antoinette LaPreta, my grandma
Before my parents even met, my career path as a family/personal historian was already determined.  A fateful day in the early 1950s when my dear maternal grandmother lost her belongings and most of her family photographs in a basement flood changed the direction of my life…and I was born a whole decade after that event!   Hmmmmm, how could that be?  Well, allow me to explain.

Around the time of the flood, Grandma also lost track of her family: at that point her only sibling (a brother) and her cousins. (Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, were long gone…her mom passed away when my grandmother was only 8 years old.) It was a whole course of events that caused them to be separated, which is a story for another day. Grandma always mourned those losses her whole life and wished she could locate her family, but resources for locating people were limited in those days.

Fast forward 30 years.  One day in the early 1980s Grandma was walking along a street in Queens, NY (nearby where she lived), and she spotted a gentleman she was sure was her brother. (She had not seen him in over 35 years.) She ran to him. They embraced, talked for a few moments, and she wrote his phone number on a tissue she had in her coat pocket. They promised they would always be in touch. Upon returning home, she emptied her pockets and discarded the tissue, thinking it was simply a used tissue. And that was the end of Grandma ever seeing her brother again.

My dear, sweet grandma passed away when she was 94 years old. She was an amazing woman who surrounded herself with the love of her three daughters and their husbands, six grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. (My grandfather had passed away when my mom was very young.) Grandma lived a very happy life despite her earlier losses, but this story of her life always bothered me. I used to visit her old neighborhood and stand in front of where her house used to be – now a park on Thompson Street in NYC. I’d ask the oldest people I saw walking along the street in the neighborhood if they knew of the LaPreta/Barbera family….from only about a hundred years earlier!

Many years later, as I grew older, and resources for locating people were available, I made it my mission to find my grandmother’s family. Through some research on I discovered my grandmother's brother had passed away only four years after their fateful encounter in Queens. Grandma lived twenty more years after that encounter, thinking her brother was still out there somewhere. I didn't stop my search there. Surely I would be able to locate other family members who were still living. I was determined. Mom and I printed from the internet the phone number of every person in the United States with my grandmother’s last name. We split the list up. I called and called and called. Nope, nope, nope. Well, lo and behold, my mom makes her third phone call, and to her surprise finds the son of my grandmother’s brother. We then found her whole family spread all over the United States. My mom built relationships with all of them.  They were quite old by that point, and they’re mostly all together in Heaven now…which is good since my grandmother waited a long time to finally see them.

The two events, the basement flood and the discarded tissue, seemingly ordinary events, inspired me to become a family/personal historian, helping other families connect generations and preserve their memories. I proudly serve as secretary on the board of the Association of Personal Historians.

(I miss you, Grandma.  xoxo)
Thank you, everyone, for reading my story. It’s important that we share our family stories.  Like my bog description says, it helps us understand why we are who we are, why we do what we do, and say what we say.  We are a compilation of the thousands of family members who came before us. 

It's your legacy. It's our legacy. Pass it on. 
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  1. Deborah,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Hi Jana. Thanks so much!! I stopped by your blog and left a comment. I'm looking forward to reading your posts. Your blog looks fantastic! Thank you again for including me.

  3. Deborah,
    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and touching story.

  4. What a sad story. My Mother lost her Mom at age 8 also, and the family of 7 children were scattered. I'm glad your Mom and you were able to reconnect with some of them. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi Bernita. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I stopped by your blog. Lots of good reading there...and great pics. I especially love the Easter Sunday pics. Very sweet. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season.

    1. Hi Deborah,
      I really enjoyed your post and look forward to reading many more. I found you on Jana's Fab Finds. Thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season as well.

  6. Hi Ellie. My grandma and her brother were in an orphanage for a short time, then ultimately they were raised by their maternal grandmother...even though my grandmother and her brother had a father. After his wife passed away (my grandmother's mother) her dad married a woman with three children of her own. Don't you wish you could pop back in time, even just for a day, to see first hand how things were? Thanks for commenting on my post. Warm regards.

  7. I can really relate to your post. I recently found a side of my dad's family that he had lost contact with, and it's been fun hearing new family stories and finding the similarities between us.