When I was growing up, my father would sometimes solemnly remind me to remember Francis Ward Lewis. I would just nod absentmindedly in response. I don’t recall him explaining who this man was or why he was important—I’m not sure that he even knew himself. But for some reason, it was vital to him that I remember and honor this name.
Later, when I was in my forties, my paternal grand aunt Em causally mentioned that Francis Ward Lewis (17 July 1817¬-9 November 1906) was her grandfather. Finally, I knew how he and I were linked. She recounted that on the Fourth of July, he would march in his uniform in the local parade in Concord, California, and then return home to set off a canon from the roof of his home. He did sound like an interesting individual. So, when I began my genealogy research, he was naturally the first relative I sought out.
As I researched my paternal great-great-grandfather, I was surprised to encounter some of his other descendants, previously unknown to me, who had also been told to “remember Francis Ward Lewis.” Despite the shared family mythology, none of us knew much about him. Together, we eagerly shared our clues and combined our research to discover his identity and his importance in our lives. Cousin Paul shared a note that his mom had written, stating that at one time he had sailed on the brig Elizabeth. Unfortunately, she did not list a source for this information. Pam Lewis, a cousin by marriage, uncovered his “Reminiscences” in the California State Library, which he had written shortly before his death in 1906. The fourteen-page memoir recounted his life following his 1846 arrival in California. Lucky for us, it included his photograph as an old man. As we read his thoughts, it seemed as though we were sitting at the knee of a fascinating, kind elder as he reflected on his adventures and times past. Continue reading Finding Francis Ward Lewis