Once Upon A Census- The House and the Storm

Written By Lisa Coffey

My childhood home was in a town called Arabi, part of the greater New Orleans metropolitan area. Arabi was a great place to grow up. Your best friends were your neighbors, and everyone looked out for each other. I could walk or ride my bike as far as I wanted, and someone would always recognize me. When my mom didn’t meet me at the bus stop one day, a kind lady walked me all the way home in pouring rain! My older brother and sister brought their friends over and I was able to get to know them, too. My best friends lived only a walk away. All of these wonderful things created a strong sense of connection for me. I knew who I was and how I fit into my world. What a lucky little girl I was!

But all of that changed on September 9, 1965. I was seven years old and in the second grade. Heavy rains, flash flooding, and hurricanes came and went, and we all somehow went on with our lives. But not so with Hurricane Betsy. I couldn’t have known what was coming and how it would change my sense of safety for a very long time.

My family evacuated to a nearby school building. The storm was a violent one and it seemed to go on forever as we tried to sleep on blankets in the gym on the main floor of the school. Suddenly there were loud voices, and we heard the terrifying news, “the water is coming up!”

We gathered our things and hurried to the second floor. We settled into a classroom, where I looked down through a window to see brown water everywhere, making the street I had walked along so many times look strange. There were submerged car tops barely visible and houses with water up to their eaves. I walked to our Sunday church meetings down this street; why did it look so wrong?

Eventually we had to be rescued from the roof of the school by the kindness of strangers who offered their boats. It took several other boat or amphibious vehicle trips to get us to higher ground. We made our way slowly but surely to a friend’s home in New Orleans, and my uncle picked us up and took us to my grandparents’ home where we lived while our house was being repaired.

Of course, we had lost much of sentimental value. I remember my mother’s heartbreak at her wedding dress having to be thrown away. I still carry that sense of loss and upheaval, after all these years. But the grief I felt at the loss of what I held dear has changed into something wonderful over these many years. I’d love to share that with you. I hope you can learn from my experience!

Losing everything in Hurricane Betsy taught me:

…that time is a gift, that it passes quickly, and most of all, that anything can happen. My sense of what is important has been sharpened, my ability to see to the heart of a matter is clearer. I have learned to see something special in everyday moments.

What does this have to do with family history? I will answer with the following questions:

What would you save if you knew you would suddenly lose everything you owned?

If these questions bring to your mind a special object, memory, or person, then you have awakened the part of yourself that longs to know the story of who you are and how you are connected to your family and loved ones. This desire will take you on the wonderful journey of searching for your family history! As you search, you’ll learn that you fit into a larger story. You’ll begin to see how valuable you are as an individual and come to understand that your influence is greater than you could have imagined! You will understand how you are a valuable link in your family, community, and the world around you.

If you are new to the idea of searching for your family history and keeping a record of it, I sincerely hope you’ll try! Searching for my family history has made my life richer and fuller as I add to my family’s story. I have connected with family members I haven’t spoken to because of distance and time, and we have become very close friends. The joy is in the journey!

Have a great week!

Next Week: The Why of Storytelling

This Week’s Challenge:

1. Call a family member you haven’t talked to in a while.

2. Ask a close family member for a story of one of your common ancestors.

3. Choose an ancestor to learn about. Start with one, and once you’ve found what you can, begin with another. This is truly the best method to family history research: it’s all about the one!

Here is a link to FamilySearch if you want a place to start: FamilySearch

This Week’s Writing Prompt:

What would you save if you knew you would lose everything you owned? Describe it and tell where it came from.