Memoirs and biographies are the most current genres for the literary world. Stories of a person's life can captivate a reader as their history unfolds with intrigue, suspense and devastation. More and more people are feeling compelled to pen their life's story. I appreciate the core drive to write and read a memoir. It is, or can be, cathartic for both the writer and the reader.

But is the genealogy of the person, their ancestor's story and history, really that important to the life you are reading about? Can the struggles and accomplishments of the subject's great grandfather have any point or purpose to the life you are studying?

Recently completing the biography of Julia Child, Dearie by Bob Spitz, I was faced with these questions. As the story of Julia begins, the author describes the trials and triumphs of Julia's ancestor's rise to wealth; a grandfather who created a family fortune from panning gold in California, leading to vast land and banking acquisitions.

A story of a man two generations removed from Julia; a man that many would consider of little influence or importance to Julia herself.

And to be honest, I found myself yawning as I meandered through the genealogical history of Julia Child. I felt the author could have given more 'ump', more 'wow', as he described the family history of a woman full of perseverance, strength and independence.

A woman that was so groundbreaking and revolutionary that her French cookbook for American housewives and her live cooking shows were the springboard to today's Food Network and 'foodie' craze.

Perseverance, strength, independence, and revolutionary: words that could describe not only Julia Child, but her ancestors and the grandfather who built her family fortune.

So yes, Julia Child's genealogy is quite relevant to understanding her life and who she became. Gaining a deeper perspective of who came before her gives the reader a more meaningful understanding of Julia herself.

Our lives are not held within a vacuum. We are who we are because of who came before us. Even if they never touched us, they are still apart of whom we have become.

Write your family history, your genealogy, in your memoir so your future generations will understand what made you who you are and who you will be.

But please, when you write your ancestor's story, give the reader a little 'ump' and 'wow.'

Keep searching for answers,


Seize The Memories


Sgt. Paul W. Capps
After tossing the last load of supplies into the back-end of the plane, Paul slid into the cockpit, buckling his helmet and flipping a switch overhead. Waiting for the pilot and another soldier to board, Paul scanned the large control panel, checking the instruments and running each through a sequence of tests. Intuitive and well-skilled at the mechanics of the plane, he was meticulous in each detail, preoccupied with perfection. But Paul's expert eye could not foresee what would soon lie ahead for the three World War 11 Army Air Force soldiers.

Paul's two platoon buddies jumped into the plane and the small crew headed the large C-47 down the airstrip, off to a familiar mission: flying the 'Hump'. It was a weekly run made from their Army Air Force base out of Chauboy, India and though seemingly routine, the flight was laden with danger. Their mission was to jump their plane over the Himalaya Mountains and plunge down over enemy lines; quickly dropping food and supplies to the American troops.

On this particular day, nothing was out of order. Every operational detail was normal; another run, another mission. Swooping over the large, majestic mountains, the plane dipped its belly close to the ground. As the men found their target area, one soldier swiftly pulled open the large side door and both began kicking the supply bags to the ground. But suddenly, the sound of bullets from Japanese soldiers was heard ricocheting off the side of the plane and Paul began to blindly fire his pistol from the door. And then with little warning, the plane's belly hit bottom, crashing behind enemy lines.

The spellbinding story of my father, Sgt Paul W. Capps, was a small piece of his total war experience during World War 11. But it was never heard until a few years before his death. A man of few words, stories such as these were buried deep within his soul, concealed from view.

A few years before my father died, I presented him with a Father's Day gift: a journal. Explaining I had always longed to hear of his experiences of the war, perhaps he could finally feel comfortable writing them down. But what I was unconscious of at the time was there were few memories left: The evilest of enemies, dementia, had seized his precious memories of days past.

Weeks later the journal was returned, pages filled with stories of the war, but to my dismay, my mother had composed them. Attempting to provide me with some of dad's memories, mother did her best to rewrite the stories he had told her so long ago. I cherish the journal but much of the details, the little precious nuggets of his experiences, were never told.

The story of my father and fellow soldiers sweeping their plane behind enemy lines was described briefly, hidden within a journal of mostly mundane stories. Fortunately, he survived the crash without injury or enemy capture, but I was stunned to learn of such a life changing adventure. And I long for more details to fill in the missing pieces of the stories of his war years.

On this Father's Day, grab the moment to discover all the details of your father's stories. Whatever his great adventures were, they were unique to him. And a hundred years from now, your father's descendants will be probing for records and searching for stories. Visit with your grandfather and father and help them write their stories. Seize the memories before they are stolen from them; so their stories will not be left for others to complete.

Keeping searching for answers,

**Here's another tip: Put together a memory box of your dad's records; military, medals, letters, etc and search through and other sites for draft records, and other documents. His descendants will be forever grateful.

'It was a crisp spring morning in 1831. George Crawford walked to the kitchen table, turned the small tin can over and counted the coins that tumbled out. He slowly pulled out forty shillings, leaving only a small amount of coins in the can. As he handed the shillings over to the tall gentleman standing at the door, George had an overwhelming feeling of relief that this would be the last handed to the English landlord. His eyes moved across the room, taking long pauses at each chair, each wall and then, staring long at Sarah's face, he knew this was his last glance of the only home they knew.

George and Sarah completed the last of their packing: clothes, blankets, Sarah's family china dishes and Rebecca's precious baby bed. Then, they called out to their young girls, "time to go", and for the last time, they walked through their front door. With baby Rebecca in hand, the young family stepped into John Rolston's wagon. George and Sarah both felt a rush of excitement but it was bittersweet, knowing they would never see their family again.

The trip to Londonderry seemed unusually long. As they traveled through the countryside, they took in every moment; long glances at each house and waves at every neighbor. Finally reaching their port, George was struck by the size of the large, beautiful ships waiting for boarders. The lines of passengers were long, but waiting in line was only a minor annoyance, knowing they were to start a new life in a country that Sarah's cousin wrote as 'a land of plenty'.

George, Sarah and their four girls pulled out their trunks and Rebecca's baby bed from the wagon and Sarah kissed her father John, a tearful goodbye. Leaving parents behind for both George and Sarah was painful but a reality they knew they would have to face in this new, wonderful journey. George purchased six tickets and the family stepped onto the ship, ready to embark on their new life.

As the ship left the dock, the family began to settle in, staking out a small area on a lower deck that would be their home for the next four weeks. Early in the voyage, Sarah and George felt contented as they prepared their small area for sleeping and eating. However, as time passed, the trip became tiring and at times unbearable. As the weeks went by, many passengers became ill and tempers flared. Fortunately, the Irish bagpipes eased the weary and provided a feeling of calmness, a sense of home.

The ship finally embarked on the new land Sarah's cousin spoke so highly of and the Crawford family stepped off the dock, prepared for a better life in a country full of opportunities. But dreams are sometimes only dreams, and reality is often mixed with fear and doubt.

George and Sarah continued their travel with their girls on to New Jersey where Sarah's extended family was living. But the Crawford family quickly became dismayed with the anti-Irish sentiment that seemed to permeate every town they entered. The 'land of plenty' was not an easy one for an Irishman, but George Crawford was determined to build a life here.....'

The story above is my interpretation of what happened to my immigrant ancestors: George, Sarah and their daughters from Ireland. The truth of their adventure will never be known, but my mind drifts and I am struck by the hardships they must have endured in order to build a life in America. Immigrant ancestors I never knew, yet their lives have a direct affect on mine. How different would my life be if George Crawford never felt compelled to uproot his family and sail to an unknown world?

Search for your immigrant ancestors but do not stop with the discovery of their passenger lists or immigration records. Look not only at when they came to America but how long it took, where they embarked and where they settled. Read in between the lines, searching for their story. Because finding their story is finding a small piece of yourself.

Keep searching for answers

(Copyright 2011 Cheryl Capps Roach All rights reserved.)