Cambrian: Slice of Life

Book serves as a roadmap to roots of family tree

Capt. Richard Sopris
Capt. Richard Sopris

Please don’t try to tell me that reading a book online is the same as holding a book in my hands — because now, more than ever, I won’t believe you. Not when a small paperbound book has changed my life.

A while back, neighbor/friend Skip Moss and I were shooting the breeze about this and that, primarily his Colorado trip and my ancestral connections to the state. (Skip and I were conversing in the middle of the street, of course. After all, most Cambrians don’t have back fences over which we can chat — and we don’t have Southern-style, screened front porches in which we can sit and exchange information. Please note: I didn’t call it gossip.)

My conversation with Skip triggered my nostalgia gene, so I started hitchhiking on the information highway, looking for signposts about my maternal grandmother’s family.

I don’t have a written family tree anymore. Fire and flood destroyed the ones my mom had painstakingly assembled long before “Roots,” Google and Ancestry.

Why, oh why, didn’t I pay more attention then, before all my older family members died? If I had, I might have known who my relatives were.

All I had were my own fuzzy memories, which, unfortunately, had lots of gaps. Big ones.

Being “the adult” in the family can be such a lonely feeling.

I do remember some details. For instance, my great-great-great grandfather Richard Sopris of Denver was somewhat of a bigwig and even had a Colorado mountain named after him. (Skip had climbed that mountain! Spooky.)

Later, I Googled g-g-g-gpa and got more than 45,000 hits. Oh my! This was going to take a while.

Apparently, Sopris was a steamboat captain, miner, railroad contractor and discoverer of Glenwood Springs, Colo. He was a founder of Denver, president of the first city council, the 15th mayor, sheriff and Denver’s first parks commissioner. Busy chap.

Then my research went on hold as daily life intervened for a while. Life has a way of doing that.

In late July, I was procrastinating instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing. I saw a few paragraphs I’d scribbled after my chat with Skip. I’d written about what fun it can be to dabble in genealogical research.

I wrote: “I don’t have time to be consumed by ancestral searches, as my mother once was. But, as an only child and the eldest remaining member of my mother’s line, I do enjoy stumbling upon family details. It can be incredibly easy to do these days, thanks to the Internet. Of course, not everything on the WWW is accurate, and I’ve frequently gone down an informational garden path leading nowhere.”

Every so often, though, I stumble on a real treasure. So, ever the optimist, I tried again.

Many websites provided the same information with an identical photo of g-g-g-grandpa.

Then I clicked on a link to and found an emotional goldmine: A book about Capt. Sopris was due to be published the very next week!

On Aug. 1, I got the book. It was a strangely wonderful feeling to hold in my hand a small volume about a family member — my family — knowing I was going to learn things from it I’d never known before.

For instance, the book says that my great-great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Allen Sopris, was a descendent of Revolutionary War patriot Ethan Allen. Which means I am, too!

Most important to me, though, was the book’s foreword, written by Margaret “Peg” Farrington Hulsey, from whom the author had gotten a lot of information.

You see, Peg identified herself as being a great-great-great granddaughter of Capt. and Mrs. Sopris, just like me!

Since then, I’ve found Peg on Facebook, and we’ve been messaging — posting and emailing back and forth. We share family tidbits and treasures, and are getting to know each other. She’s just told me that we have a direct link to the Mayflower!

We’re learning that not only are we relatives, we seem to be kindred souls.

Yes indeed, that little book, all 139 pages of it, has changed my life for the better. And somehow, it just wouldn’t have been the same on a Kindle.

PS: We’ve had other delightful familial surprises, including Facebook links and online chats with paternal relatives in Sicily!