More pictures in the Toppa Family Reunion album.
About 300 people came to the Toppa family reunion on Saturday. They were mostly “Newport” Toppas (descended from my great-grandfather), along with a smattering of “Middletown” Toppas (descended from his brother, my great-great uncle). The Toppa brothers came to the US in the early 1900s from Lettomanoppello, Italy. My father told me a story his father told him, that there was also a 3rd brother who went to New Jersey and killed someone there, so he went back to Italy before he got caught. I also found a mention of a sister in some documents that I have, but I don’t know where she went. Their name was actually Toppi, and it’s recorded correctly in their records from Ellis Island. But after they came to Newport the name changed to Toppa. According to another story my father heard, my great-grandfather’s last name was misspelled as Toppa on his first paycheck (he was a mason, and helped build Thames St and other roads in Newport). Rather than risk making trouble with the boss, he didn’t say anything about it, and the name stuck (that doesn’t explain his brother making the same name change though). Apparently we have distant Toppi relatives in Maine and New Jersey. My great-grandfather had 8 children and his brother had 11, getting the generational powers of multiplication off to a good start. My guess is that there are two or three times as many relatives as came to the reunion, as not all the Newport Toppas came, and only a few Middletown Toppas were there.
The reunion was held at Kempenaar’s Clambake Club – the same venue that was used for the last reunion in 1970. They provided good food and drink, a tire swing and toys for the kids, horseshoes and volleyball. I brought an 18ft wide print out of the family tree (using the smallest legible font I could) and a Many Meanings of Toppa (PDF) display. Someone put together a great video of family pictures going back 100 years, several people pinned up old pictures for everyone to see, and the Maher’s Brothers (also Toppas) band played for us. There were several relatives I never met before who did a lot of work on the family tree at geni.com, so it was fun to meet them in person and hear their stories. My favorite was a story about my great-great uncle. Apparently he was a bootlegger during Prohibition. He had an elaborately hidden room in his shop with three 2-story high stills inside. His family also had a bakery they used as a front, so they could buy yeast and hops without raising suspicions with law enforcement.
I guess I found it inspiring, because I did something I’ve never done before – I had a beer (actually two) with lunch. It was my first time drinking at noon. Plenty of others joined me, although I don’t think it was such a new experience for them… The reunion lastest about 5 hours, and a good time was had by all.