Twila Van Leer: When Teton Dam flood took her genealogy

Associated Press/U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

This image proved by the U.S Bureau of Reclamation shows the Teton Dam bursting on June 5, 1976, about 20 miles northeast of Rexburg, Idaho. When this brand-new dam gave way in 1976, 80 billion gallons of water surged down the valley of eastern Idaho farming towns, destroying hundreds of homes, 18,000 head of livestock and 11 lives. Structure at left was the dam’s spillway.

What would you grab first if you became aware of a disaster that threatened to take your home? I’ve participated in conversations on that topic now and again, and almost always the answer is that the most important thing you’d want to salvage would be family memorabilia.

When the Teton Dam on the Teton River in Idaho burst on June 5, 1976, sending a wall of water 305 feet high at its crest and as wide as 10 football fields thundering downriver, Reba Bauer faced that awful decision. When she was alerted to the disaster and warned to flee immediately from her home in Wilford, Idaho, her first thoughts were for her family history, thousands of bits of information about ancestors stored in many books and loose papers all over her house.

Her story is told in “Links of Forever,” a collection of “Inspirational Stories of Lineage and Love” published in 1977 by Bookcraft. The stories, recounting many instances in which genealogy has been miraculously found or preserved, were compiled by…

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