Disaster and Family Treasures

Damage to family history

Disaster and family treasures;

not so odd a paring.

The things we own have stories. Seeing and touching your family history is gratifying. Sometimes things have stories. Seeing and touching your family history is gratifying.. It is hard for me to explain to others how much it means to have “things” from my ancestors.  Some of the things that I have saved over the years include:

  • Aunt Minnie’s oil lamp – Aunt Minnie was afraid of the dark and ALWAYS slept with an oil lamp next to her bed.
  • Grandma’s China Cabinet –It is a beautiful wood and rounded glass piece with claw-and-ball feet (the feet are fashioned to represent a bird’s claw gripping a ball). The story is that the piece was originally too tall to fit in grandma’s house so she sawed off the balls under the claws and now we have a beautifully devalued “claw only” footed piece of furniture.  It’s priceless to me.
  • Mom’s Blue Willow dishes – At least part of the set. As a teenager I gave away a significant number of pieces of those ‘old dishes’ to a Vietnamese refugee family my church was helping to get on their feet after their arrival in America.

The point is, every item has its own story and a disaster can diminish that story.  Earlier I shared with you some folks who had a physical connection to history. Hearing about family history is inspirational. Seeing and touching your family history is gratifying.

These items help me remember my loved ones in very special ways. But just as these items have come into my life, they can easily go away.


Hurricane Donna

September 11, 1960, I was 5 years old when Hurricane Donna passed over Florida.  It was the first time in my life time that a hurricane had come this close to St. Petersburg.  The wind gusts of 120 mph in Manatee County and 150 mph in Polk County were the strongest.  But on the south side of St. Petersburg the normally clear and sunny Florida skies were gray and swirling with activity.  As I walked out the back door onto the porch, I looked up and saw it.  A small bat, caught in a wind devil whirling across the darkening sky.  It was helpless to escape.  It’s a scene I will never forget.

This was my first brush with a natural disaster. It would not be my last.  Because of the threat of ocean surge and high winds thousands of residents had to evacuate.  Hundreds of Suncoast National Guardsmen protected the deserted properties near the waterfront.

The storm caused some death, grapefruit and orange crops were destroyed, and almost half of the largest mangrove tree forest in the United States was lost. It was the strongest storm to hit Florida until Andrew in 1992.  In all, the storm caused approximately $2 billion in damages. At the time, Donna was the only storm on record to have produced hurricane winds in Florida, the Mid-Atlantic and New England. In deference to its severity, the name “Donna” was retired as a storm assignation.

Since 1960 I’ve experienced many more Tropical Storms, Hurricanes, and wind and water disasters.  During the events the concern is always with the safety of my family and friends.  Afterwards my attention would turn to the assessment of the damages and the clean-up.


Hurricane Matthew

Over the years, I have been very fortunate in that my family treasures have remained unaffected.  Not all families are so lucky. Sometimes water and wind can damage and destroy items that have sentimental as well as monetary value to us.  Recently, Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina.  There was devastating flooding in eastern NC.  In areas like Goldsboro and Kingston, flood waters have only recently resided, 3 weeks after the storm hit.  The images coming out of the area show caskets popping out of the ground, photos and photo album floating down streets which look more like rivers than streets.

When your family pictures are soaked, ancient family bibles are water-logged, and one of a kind images of long dead relatives are lost; what can you do?  Check out the salvage and recover tips.

If you are lucky enough to find and recover such items, first take a photo of the items.  Get as many angles as you can.  An old photo, drawing, or painting may bleed or run and the image you take may be the best image you can have for the future. Crop, enlarge and reproduce a photo from a phone or tablet.  This is the same advice I’d give for objects.  You may not be able to recover Aunt Minnie’s oil lamp but a photo of it will provide inspiration in the future.  Grandma’s china cabinet may be irretrievable but a picture of it will keep the memory of it (and grandma) alive.  What family treasures will you save from disasters?


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