Monday, April 28, 2014

52 Ancestors: #17 ~ Happy 100th Birthday Grandpa Debs! We Miss You!

This is part of the "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" Challenge begun by Amy Johnson Crow, author of the blog No Story Too Small.

Yesterday my maternal grandfather, Debs Warren Webster, would have turned 100 years old. In August of this year it will be 20 years since he passed away. I've written about him a lot on my blog in the past. Specifically, about his family's immigration story. Today, I'm going to share a little about him personally.

Debs Warren Webster

Debs Warren Webster was born on 27 April 1914 in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil to his parents Watson (Frederick) Emory Webster and Esther Matus Villatoro. Debs was the third of five children born to Frederick and Esther.

You may have noticed that I referred to Debs' father as Frederick instead of Watson. That's because Watson changed his name to Frederick at some point in his life. My regular readers may also recognize his name because he is known as "The Traveling Dentist" here on my blog.

Yes, Debs' father traveled a great deal during his life. And that meant that Debs did too. I really don't know how Debs attended school when he was young. But, he was very smart and spoke three languages – Spanish, Portuguese, and English. He also became a dentist in two different countries – Brazil and the United States.

Debs met his first wife,
Sarah Vasques Madeira, in Brazil. They fell in love and were married on 4 April 1936 in Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Sarah Vasques Madeira and Debs Warren Webster
Sarah Vasques Madeira and Debs Warren Webster

They were so very happy. Their happiness increased with the birth of their first and only child, a daughter (my mom).

Tragically, only six years after Debs and Sarah were married, Sarah passed away. She died on 15 July 1942 in Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. My mom was only four years old at the time of her mom's death.

Debs was left a widower with a small child. He hadn't completed his college degree yet. He was working and going to dental school. How was he going to take care of his little daughter? Thankfully, family members helped him. My mom was taken care of by a couple of her mom's sisters, Isabel and Lucia, and then by her father's Aunt Crecenciana.

Debs found happiness again when he met and married Willis Quillin. They were married on 16 March 1944 in Dobrada, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Willis Quillin Webster
Willis Quillin Webster

They had one child together, a son. They also adopted a little boy in Brazil. Now they were a family of five – my mom, from Debs' first marriage, and two sons.

Almost a year after Debs married Willis, he received his dental diploma. Debs received his diploma on 13 February 1945 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Debs Warren Webster Graduation Picture
Debs Warren Webster

In the early 1950s, Debs and his family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They decided to move to the United States. In July of 1952, they boarded the ocean liner S.S. Brazil and sailed to a new country and a new life. They took this family photo on 10 June 1952, about a month before they left Brazil.

Webster Family Before Leaving for the United States in 1952

Debs thought he was going to be able to practice dentistry in the United States. But he later found out that he wasn't allowed to practice here because he hadn't graduated from a United States college. So, Debs went back to school and eventually became a dentist here in the United States. What an accomplishment! And how difficult this must have been for him and his family.

Debs was a very hard worker and was also very kind and generous. Over the years he opened his home to family members who also immigrated to the United States from Brazil. They were welcome to stay at his home until they were able to get on their feet and become acclimated to their new country.

Debs didn't like his first name and legally changed it after arriving in the United States. He then went by Warren Debs Webster. He passed away on 15 August 1994 in Petaluma, Sonoma, California at 80 years of age. He is buried at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette, Contra Costa, California.

Debs Warren Webster Grave Marker

I began researching our family history after my Grandpa Debs passed away. When my mom and I were going through some of my grandpa's personal belongings, we found a photo of his great-grandfather, Ebenezer Perry Carlisle Webster, who was a Civil War veteran. I had never seen that photo before and had no idea who Ebenezer was or that we had any ancestry connected with the Civil War.

I don't remember my grandfather talking about his childhood or his family history. I think he had a difficult childhood and didn't want to talk about it. It must have been painful for him. His mother died when he was a boy and three of his four siblings didn't survive to adulthood. I wish I had started my family history research before my Grandpa Debs had passed away. There are so many questions I wish I could ask him now.

My Grandpa Debs was a wonderful and loving grandpa. We miss him.

Thanks for reading!


© 2014 Copyright by Jana Last, All Rights Reserved


  1. Enjoyed this post about your grandfather - you obviously thought a great deal of him!

    1. Thank you so much Carol! Yes, my grandfather was a wonderful person. We love and miss him.

  2. What a wonderful tribute to your grandfather, Jana; well done.

  3. Can you imagine being told you have to go to school all over again?!?!
    Excellent tribute ~

    1. No, I really can't imagine having to go to college all over again. I admire my grandfather for having done this after he came to the United States.

      Thanks Wendy!

  4. Jana, Your blog is amazing. I love it!

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words Denise!

  5. These pictures are amazing---his face never changed. Wonderful post. I, too, wish I had started doing genealogy research years and years ago when my older relatives were still alive. So much now is lost forever.

    1. Thank you Amy!

      Like you, I wish I had started my research many years ago so I could talk to my older relatives about so many things. I'm thankful that my paternal grandmother wrote about her life in her Books of Remembrance. What a treasure her written memories are to me.

      Thanks for stopping by!




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