Dear Granddaughter,

Here it is the night of July 4th, 2019, and outside my windows there are fireworks and explosions of my neighbors celebrating Independence Day.

Unlike most years, I’m alone this 4th of July.

Usually we have a gathering and all the family are here. There is food and fireworks and fun — the stuff of family.

But the stuff of family also creates lonely days like this, too.

I’m here alone because your Gram has gone out to Atlanta to be there for your birth. It has been 18 long months since she has seen your parents and your brothers.

That’s too long to be separated. Being here alone knowing that Gram is catching up, playing her roles as mother and grandmother, is enough for me to endure the solitude. You are worth it.

It’s not good to be alone. The Lord never intends us ever to be alone and that’s one reason why he put us in families.

It might seem weird for a man to write a letter to a yet-to-be-born granddaughter. But it’s not weird to me. I’ve written letters to my children – including to your father – every year on or near their birthdays. I just haven’t given the letters to them. I will someday.

But this one I’m putting out there now. I can’t help myself.

You must be someone special because you’re coming to a great family.

I don’t even know your name yet. I’m not even sure your parents know your name.

But I can tell you that you are very much anticipated.

Everyone is talking about you. You don’t know it yet but you’re making history. You are our fifth grandchild but our very first granddaughter. That makes you the first woman of a new generation in the family.

That is significant because the women who came before you in the family have been tremendous individuals. Some you will get to know in this life because they will share this space and some time with you here. But so many others you will only hear about.

I don’t know if it is so but in my mind’s eye they are with you now, in your final hours before you come to this world.

I know that not because I know you but because I know them. I know them to be women of great strength, power, authority, and deep, deep love.

Where else would they be right now than with you, the first woman of a new generation?

There are many things I want to tell you, Granddaughter. There are many things I want you to know.

But first and foremost, as your Grandpa, I would echo what your grandmothers are whispering into your ears right now: I love you.

We love you. Your parents and your brothers love you. And that is all that matters.

You see, when I walk through the cemeteries looking upon those names and dates – some from those very grandmothers and grandfathers you are with right now as I write this – I do not see teachers and farmers and construction workers and doctors and scholars.

I see only mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts, uncles and cousins. I see only family.

I see only the fruits of love.

The rest of that stuff is not really important. Granted, it might be interesting, in many respects, to learn the details of their earthly journey. In time I hope you come to gain an appreciation for those things and, like me and many others, take up the work of learning and honoring their history.

It is a worthwhile endeavor and one that will go far to helping you understand your identity, Granddaughter.

But Granddaughter, as you begin your life I hope your eyes reach far out to the horizon and long into the eternities. There is much more to this life than this life.

The world explains this life as ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I would explain it differently.

You are first a spirit child of God. You have been held in reserve to come forth at this time. You must therefore be someone very special.

Your presence here is merely a stopping point on a longer journey.

This is why love is your legacy – and my legacy – and the legacy of all who came before. It’s not who we are here, or what we accumulate, or what name we gain for ourselves here.

Love rises above the things of this world.

Of love you were created and of love you will be remembered.

In just a matter of days, maybe even hours, Little One, you will come into this world naked and probably crying.

In time, like all who have gone before us, you will likely leave this world the very same way.

It is what we all have in common, this thing called love.

You will spend your life trying to understand love, trying to define it, trying to convey it.

Some will accept it from you, and some won’t know how to accept it from you.

Love, you see, isn’t easy and it is not automatic in this world.

And yet, we are, in our physical state, the result of love.

Right now I would tell you that your Mom and your Dad are feeling a lot of anxiety.

I’m very proud of them.

Right on the heels of your birth they will celebrate their 7th wedding anniversary. Not many thought they would make it that far – me included, I was one of the doubters.

But here they are, welcoming you, their third child and their first little girl. Who would have known 7 years ago they would have you and your brothers?

That’s a miracle. That’s what love does. It produces miracles.

Mommy and Daddy are anxious right now because they have never had a daughter before. They want to do it well. I believe that with all my heart. I see them now, and how they work with your brothers, and I’m a believer in them. I’m proud of them.

You will not know or understand the anxiety they feel right now for many, many years. Probably not until you walk in those shoes yourself.

Anxiety is really just another expression of love, by the way. It’s a good thing.

They are worried about paying the bills. They are worried about giving you a name. They are worried about their other children, those fine grandsons of ours.

Your Mom and Dad are worried about how to dress you, how to feed you, how to make you feel safe and warm and loved. They are thinking of everything from teaching you to speak to giving you an education. They are thinking about how you are going to change the world.

No, not the big world outside — they will leave that to you.

They are worried about how you are going to change their world and believe me, Granddaughter, you have changed their world already.

You have taken them from four to five and you have already been the topic of many deep-in-the-night conversations between your Mom and Dad because you change everything.

You are their little girl and that’s new.

All that is love, Granddaughter.

Then there’s the rest of us. Your cousins, your aunts, your grandparents on every side…good grief, we’re a handful.

And we’re going to be all over you.

That’s love, too, by the way. It might be the kind that drives you crazy, but it is love nonetheless.

So too will your brothers drive you nuts and I guarantee you there is nothing but love behind them.

As of this writing they are ages 3 and 6. We have only known love from them. They are and will be outstanding men – because of love.

Your gender is important, Granddaughter.

It is unchangeable. That was written upon your soul long before you were etched as a reality in the hearts of your parents.

The world is going to try to convince you otherwise on this point. They will try to confuse you.

Out of an abundance of love I urge you to resist such foolish notions.

Your gender has a purpose. It is woven in your spirit, your intelligence, in all that you are — both for potential and for growing, ironically, in spirit and in intelligence.

Do not dismiss the gift that your gender is.

You will find, as you contemplate all those people before you who loved you without knowing you, that their gender went a long way in bringing you forth at this time.

Yup. You are not just a creation of your Mom and Dad. You are a child of God first. You are the fulfillment of every father and mother that make up your DNA. They are your family, your blood. They are all love.

I have written this and posted it here because you are making family history – just as they all did.

And someday, perhaps when you are a grandmother yourself and maybe after you have ended your mortal journey there will be others you call grandchildren who may read these words.

They will love you for being you, too.

You see, we are forever a part of each other – backwards and forwards in time. That’s what love does, too.

Now, as your Grandpa, I could go on and on.

But I am hoping to have time with you soon to peer into your eyes, to learn your little personality, to see and enjoy your light.

In time I hope to get to know your life, your little smile, indeed the very important things in your heart.

As I do I will try to say to you all the things I feel about you, and I want you to know I feel them already, even though you’re not here yet.

I want to tell you about your Mom and your Dad. I want to tell you about your cousins and your aunts. I want to give to you what knowledge I have of our ancestors going back hundreds of years.

I want to share all this with you because it’s all love and it will help you.

I cannot tell you all. And that’s because half of your story is written by your Mother’s side and I don’t know those stories.

You are going to have to seek them out, both for you and for the sake of your children and grandchildren.

I know you can do that. I expect you to do that.

Is that right of me to do, to place any kind of expectation on you at all?

Yes, it is and it is done out of love. The world condemns the Patriarchy but I still believe in it. The patriarchy is what got you here and the patriarchy is what will take you home. Never forget that.

The role of patriarch is sacred to me on every level. I take it very seriously.

Your family, from every side, will protect you.

The more you get to know them here, and get to know their past as well as their present, will serve you. I promise that if you seek them out they will be there for you.

This is your Grandfather not giving you a command, you see. I’m giving you the wisdom of my experience. That is part of my patriarchal role and it is one I learned from my father and grandfathers.

Without knowing your family past you deny yourself a gift of love that may just prove the difference in surviving the evils of this world.

I know that sounds dramatic, but I swear to you it is true.

I want you as well to know God. You are His child. That makes Him family. Do you see how this works? Your heritage is endless, just as is your potential. You are part of something great. You are glorious.

Granddaughter, as the fireworks in the sky explode outside my window, I feel cause to celebrate.

But the fireworks are gone from that sky almost as fast as they brilliantly explode.

They are a thing of this world. As such, they are too temporary, too ordinary, and much too insufficient to convey what it is I’m celebrating.

Now, the fireworks more appropriate for you are in the same night sky.

They are the stars – the brilliant artwork of God that sings forth praises.

They did that for another Baby born years ago and they do that now for you.

You are like they are: glorious in every way and a beautiful expression of celebration.

Until I can gaze into your eyes, and see once again the wonder of what God our Father does in bringing forth both Spirit and flesh, I will look at the stars – here by myself – and think about you.

When I do that, I’m not alone.

Your Mother and your Father and your brothers will see you first in this life. They are your family. You’re going to love them all.

Grandma will be there too, looking upon you for us both.

We love you so much. That is the first thing we want you to know.

That is what we always want you to know.

Love,
Grandpa

Today, the 9th of June, I received an email from FamilySearch.org reminding me that my 7th great grandfather, Jeremiah Drake I, would be celebrating his 312th birthday.

It is not often that I cannot immediately make the connection between myself and a name on our tree. But for the life of me I couldn’t remember which line the Drakes came through.

Confusing to me even more was a memory of someone telling me that we’re related to Sir Francis Drake, the famous explorer of the oceans who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

DrakesSo I had to go look, if anything to properly celebrate the birthday of Grandpa Jeremiah. After all, he’s waited a long time, eh?

So I went to FamilySearch to look at his profile and to no surprise it is mostly empty – there is nothing there other than his June 9th birthday in 1707 and his death in 1759. He lived to be 52 years old, got married and had five kids. End of story, right?

Wrong. Catching my eye was the fact that Jeremiah was born in Piscataway, NJ. I had to laugh a little at that fact. In my present employment I manage a number of projects in New Jersey – Piscataway, Woodbridge Village, Rahway, etc. What are the odds that I would have a grandfather from there?

I began to wonder if the Drake family had anything to do with the founding of Piscataway. 312 years is a long time. Just how old is Piscataway anyway? And where did that name come from? And how am I related to Jeremiah Drake again?

I read this email from FamilySearch, by the way, at about 1 am.

Going down these paths to research a little family history is what makes for sleepless nights. Did I really want to do this?

Yeah, I did.

The first thing I did was to discover our connection. I was surprised to learn it came through my Westover line.

Ruth Althea Rowe Westover – wife of William Westover, born in 1861 – can claim Jeremiah Drake as her 3rd great grandfather.

That means all descendants of William and Ruth have Jeremiah Drake as a grandfather.

Ruth’s grandparents – David and Hannah Rowe – came from Ohio before heading west to Utah. While in Ohio, David and Hannah were strong Baptists. Hannah Rowe’s maiden name was Manning, which is quite a famous last name in the history of the Baptist church in the US. Hannah, coincidentally, was born in Piscataway.

Her father was a Baptist minister hailing from Piscataway. His name was Enoch Manning. Enoch was ordained a minister by his father, Joseph Manning, who was also from Piscataway. Joseph was married to Martha Drake, daughter to our Jeremiah Drake – also from Piscataway.

Martha was named after her mother, Martha Dunn. Remember that name, Martha Dunn. We’ll get back to her in a minute.

If you research the Rowe line on the tree on FamilySearch you will see names like Manning, Dunn, Martin, Fitz Randolph and Drake all tied together by one place: Piscataway, NJ.

In my mind the next question was this: Could it be possible that family would have something to do with the founding of Piscataway, New Jersey?

Um, yeah.

Piscataway, New Jersey is one of the first 50 towns established in the British Colonies.

In 1664 King Charles II (remember him?) gave his brother James, the Duke of York, the land that would later be known as Piscataway.

The Duke later gave that land to two of his friends and one of them appointed a cousin, Philip Carteret, as governor of New Jersey.

A grant was then given by the governor to settlers in New Hampshire, who were none too pleased with how they were being treated in the Puritan community they lived in there.

One of these settlers was a man named Francis Drake – grandfather to our Jeremiah Drake.

Who was Francis Drake?

No, he’s not Sir Francis Drake but he is Captain Francis Drake.

Our Francis Drake was born in 1615 in England to Robert Drake, a fairly wealthy and connected “sergemaker”.

Robert Drake was a contemporary to Sir Francis Drake’s brother, Thomas. Thomas was given the estate of Sir Francis Drake upon his death. Robert Drake is believed to be related to another Robert Drake, who was famously burned at the stake in 1556 for his religious defiance. When asked by a priest to renounce his faith Robert Drake of 1566 said, “As for your Church of Rome, I utterly deny its works and defy its power, even as I deny the devil and defy all his works”.

That passion for religion seems to be a family trait. The next several generations of Drakes were driven by their religion.

So how did Francis Drake come to America?

It appears he came to New Hampshire with his parents around 1640. They were Puritans.

His father, Robert, was a sergemaker – which is described as a kind of textile producer – who became a shop keeper in Hampton, New Hampshire, selling fabrics he brought over from England.

Robert Drake was father to many children.

It is said that two of his older sons – Nathaniel and John Drake – came ahead of Robert and his younger children, including Francis Drake. They settled in an area near Piscataqua River in New Hampshire.

Politically, this part of New Hampshire was part of the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Company even though many of the early settlers in that area were Baptists and Quakers.

Those religious differences wormed their way into families – including the Drake family. While the Puritans fled England due to religious persecution it proved as well to be a challenge to them on the other side in coming to the New World.

As such, many living in this mixed religious base of New Hampshire felt harassed by the combined forces of Puritan church and state and began looking for a way out through a new frontier.

That new frontier came from the land grant by Governor Carteret given to four men disaffected in New Hampshire.

After a falling out with his Puritan father Robert over religion, new Baptist Francis Drake followed the original four settlers of what would come to be known as Piscataway, NJ and he was granted 245 acres there.

It was there that Francis married, raised a family, became a surveyor, opened a tavern and served in local government and as captain of the local militia (thus the name Captain Francis Drake that you see on FamilySearch).

The many children of Francis and Mary Drake were all Baptists.

In fact, they were prolific Baptists. Their names are associated with nearly a dozen Baptist churches in New Jersey and the most famous descendant of Francis ended up being Reverend John Drake, who founded the Stelton Baptist Church as the First Baptist Society of Piscataway.

The children and grandchildren of Captain Francis Drake also had huge families. And they served in the militia. Captain George Drake, the son of Captain Francis Drake, had 17 children. One of them was Captain Andrew Drake, who was married to Hannah Fitz Randolph and had 15 children, including our grandfather, Jeremiah Drake.

Not much is really known about Jeremiah – except that he was born in Piscataway, he was a Drake and he was very Baptist.

He married Martha Dunn. Who was Martha Dunn?

Martha appears to be a lot like Jeremiah. She was born in Piscataway, she was a Dunn, and she was very Baptist.

Martha was the fourth child of Hugh Dunn, Jr and Elizabeth Martin of Piscataway. Both the Dunns and the Martins had a big history in Piscataway long before Martha was born.

Her grandfather, also named Hugh Dunn, was famous for his piety and his singular devotion to the Baptist faith. Hugh Dunn Sr. was married to…Elizabeth Drake.

Elizabeth’s father was…Captain Francis Drake.

So our Jeremiah was a great grandson of Captain Francis Drake…and his wife Martha was a great grand daughter of Captain Francis Drake. Cousins!

So it was destiny, I suppose, that they would remain in New Jersey and raise their family among the Baptists.

They had a daughter, whom they dutifully named Martha Drake.

This Martha Drake would grow up to marry…a Baptist minister.

Joseph Manning was the son of a Baptist preacher and grandson to James Manning, who was president of a Baptist college in Rhode Island.

Hannah ManningThat brings us to Hannah Manning – born in Piscataway, New Jersey – grandmother to Ruth Althea Rowe Westover.

What does this late night adventure into the 312th birthday of an ancestor teach us?

It teaches us that we have a 500 year history through the Drake line of very real religious independence. It teaches us that the cords of religion and family both unite and divide. It teaches that faith is a dominating part of life.

It also teaches that faith stokes the fires of liberty. The Drakes, the Mannings, the Dunns, the Martins and all others associated with the broader family in New Jersey were patriots. They fought in the Revolution and they escaped the religious persecution in Old England.

Though we lack details of much of their lives we do not lack their lessons.

I always try to spend a little time with my grandfather, Carl Begich, each Memorial Day. He is, to my knowledge, the only of our family to have given his life in the service of our country.

Memorial Day is to honor those who paid the ultimate price. Remembering Grandpa Carl by searching anew anything I can find about him or sharing something I have not shared before on Memorial Day is my way of taking part.

It would, in a perfect world, be best to visit his grave and to honor him in person. But he is buried in France and I will likely never be able to visit his grave.

Carl Begich

Carl Begich, at home in Minnesota about 1940

He died on May 18th, 1945. I remember him on that day, too, though it fills me with sadness to think of what that day came to mean to both my grandmother and my great-grandmother – and the rest of his family.

Most have an image in their mind of what it is like to lose a family member at war. The visions are of gun fire, explosions or perhaps even tanks and air planes dropping bombs.

But Grandpa Carl was a radio operator and a “code breaker”. From the very beginning he belonged to a unit tied to “Army intelligence”.

This made his war experience quite different and his death shrouded in mystery.

Grandpa Carl was born the third of seven children to Mike and Katherine Begich on January 11, 1920. His was a happy upbringing in a home filled with faith and tradition.

Carl had many pursuits – he was musical, he enjoyed writing and he with his brother developed a passion for the emerging technology of amateur radio.

When he left Minnesota after high school to pursue a career as a journalist in New York City he maintained his radio license and continued to pursue the hobby.

He met and fell in love with my grandmother, Winifred C. Welty, while in New York.

They married in May of 1942. In January, 1943 – on Carl’s birthday – my mother, Susanne C. Begich, was born.

As fate would have it they would have precious little time together as a family. In mid-February 1943, Carl enlisted and was whisked away for basic training.

The Army had needs for a man with Carl’s skills.

For a while they told him he would be engaged in a project helping to break codes against the Japanese. He was told that he would be stationed on the West Coast and was so certain of it that he sent my grandmother and my mother to California to find a place to live.

He never got to them.

Instead by September 1943 Carl was stationed in England, and there he waited with thousands of other GIs for the invasion of France. There he trained with British officers receiving hands-on training intercepting real-time German radio messages at various places throughout England.

Vans of the 3rd Radio Squadron Mobile

World War II, being far more fluid than World War I, marked the advent of the mobile radio intercept unit whose task was to pick up, decrypt if possible, and pinpoint enemy units sending their messages through the airways.

In England, late in March 1944 while the English and American armies were feverishly preparing for the invasion of Normandy only two months away, the U.S. Ninth Air Force, whose assignment it was to conduct the tactical air war over the Continent, ordered a Major Harry Turkel to form and train a new unit in time for the invasion.

The new unit’s task was to monitor and intercept German Air Force radio traffic while operating out of mobile caravans designed to keep pace with advancing armies. This new unit was to be aptly named the 3rd Radio Squadron Mobile (“G,” for German). Carl Begich was assigned to this unit.

Over the course of his war experience Carl wrote a prolific number of letters. In sending them home he instructed that they be saved as notes he would later use to write about his war experience.

Dutifully my grandmother saved them and they have become a treasure to us today.

These letters are all we have to know Carl Begich.

From England in September, 1943, Carl said: “I mentioned I was happy here. I meant I got accustomed to surroundings in a hurry and was glad only that I can now consider myself part of this man’s army and this theatre of operations. It had been my desire, inwardly, you know, to be part of this, actively.”

This is an amazing insight to me.

Carl was 23 years old, married, a father, and he knew well the feelings of his mother, who desperately did not want him in uniform and in Europe, in particular, during the war.

Yet Carl had the same feelings of most of who we call the “greatest generation”. He was both duty bound and anxious to serve.

In December 1943 he was missing home.

He wrote: “Reading what you wrote about the little things Cathy got coming for her Xmas and whatnot makes me homesicker than ever. Darlin’, you have no idea just how much I wish I could be there with you and the little darling. Gee…. I am glad you liked that poetry I sent you. Of course, dear, you understand what’s happening to a feller especially when he starts writing poetry. Can you beat it? Undoubtedly, I shall get those nostalgic but really lovely spurts again, I know. And when I do, I shall pass the outcomes along to you to insert in your scrap book. That scrap book idea, incidentally, is a grand one. I am keeping one here, too. Oh yes, my diary is getting pretty plumped these days, dearest.”

We do not know what became of the personal items of Carl Begich after he died. What we would not give now to have his diary.

In June 1944, Carl sent just two letters home. It is interesting in retrospect to read them, knowing what we do now of D-day.

“Three months ago the fellows in my outfit here began an invasion kitty, destined to give the correct predictor of the invasion date, something like 8 pounds (about $32, roughly). I was very surprised to know that I had won that jackpot….the general concensus of hopes herearound is that perhaps we may be home to celebrate Christmas this year…”

The “code breakers” of Detachment A, 3rd Radio Squadron started their voice-intercept operations a few miles south of Point de Hoc on June 11th, 1944.

After the breakout from Normandy Detachment A served both the 8th Air Force HQ and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.

Christmas of 1944 came and with it came the last real Nazi push of the war known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive.

Carl was there, as was the rest of the Ninth Army, and the 3rd Radio Squadron played a big part in turning the fortunes of the war there.

His comments home were vague and revealing at the same time, in a letter from December 29th:

“I’m glad for one thing and that is that you don’t continually barrage me with a lot of queries concerning my duties here. You can find out all about such things from your daily newspaper for from the latest radio broadcasts. Now if you can put two and two together, you will know a story. And if you can make three out of two you will have a superb picture of reality.”

Clearly Carl was in the thick of it and seeing unbelievable things.

At 0415 on December 16th, 1944, the radios of Detachment A came alive with a short but hastily sent message from behind German lines.

It was unusual to get such traffic in the dead of night. The intercepted message was taken to the tower where the late night shift of code breakers started to work on decoding it.

It is impossible to know now if Carl was on duty at this time.

While engaged in decoding a second message came in, exactly like the first.

This was really out of the ordinary.

The code breakers identified the German encryption that was a family of codes they had named after musical composers, an “elgar” used by the Germans to contact their antiaircraft units. It was quickly broken, and read “… 90 JU 52s and 15 JU 88s going from Paderborn area to area 6˚-6˚ 30´, E to 50˚ 31´-50˚ 45´ and returning by same route.

The code breakers plotted the co-ordinates on maps as between Hofen and Monschau on the Belgo-German border. In the dim light of the tower room, eyebrows went up even higher.

JU 52s were transports. JU 88s were versatile aircraft used as bombers, night fighters and occasionally as transports; it was thought they would be used as transports. Never had the Germans used 105 transport planes at night.

Then, an hour or so later a message was received canceling the German operation.

Nevertheless the message had already been sent up the line to Ninth Army HQ and the next day, when the Germans launched the operation for real, the result was a devastating set-back for the Germans that marked the beginning what was to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The “bulge” which formed as a result of the German offensive separated Lieutenant General Bradley’s 12th Army Group Headquarters on the southern flank from the major part of the

First U.S. Army and the Ninth U.S. Army, which were located on the northern flank.

Communications between group and army headquarters were cut. To remedy this situation, Eisenhower’s staff recommended that the American Ninth and First armies be shifted to the command of Montgomery’s 21st Army Group which was in the north.

On 20 December 1944, Eisenhower ordered the shift of forces. This decision would prove to impact the life and mission of Technical Sargent Carl Begich.

Under Montgomery, the Ninth Army and the 84th Infantry Division crossed into Belgium and into Germany over the Roer River in what was called Operation Grenade.

Carl’s letters reflect the rapid movement East as he was without a typewriter for a period of time. The letters also stopped coming and going abruptly.

“Things look good over here but not quite good enough,” Carl wrote at last in February 1945. “Those stubborn, bullheaded Nazis have got to be horsewhipped into making them know they are finished.”

While things were advancing quickly towards the war’s end so too were pending changes being felt.

Carl wrote cryptically on February 24th, 1945: “I have a funny premonition that some very funny events will occur shortly which may concern me and you and Cathy…but when and if you do hear of these, do not be alarmed because there will be a reason, at a later date, covering each occurrence….”

In March, he spoke of a longer delay in coming home: “I am very conscious of the fact that our anniversary is due up on May 14th. I am too darned well conscious too of the fact that I will not be home then, and, more so, may not be home for perhaps for the next three years. I believe I may as well face the situation eye to eye…”
What could he possibly be talking about?

By April of 1945 the Ninth Army was well into Germany and the feeling overall was that war would be over “soon”.

But the ending of the war brought continued uncertainty for Carl: “Now that things are coming to a close and now that situations are settling down, what’s to happen? Of course it is needless for me to say just what is on all our minds over here. I almost quite sure that by the time you receive this, this war over here will have been over and won. In such case and as a result of this, will no doubt cause a widespread anxiety over many of you. I hope, though, that you are fortified well enough – so that your hopes will not be shattered; what I mean, dear, is that I have absolutely no idea just what will happen to me after this blows over over here. And neither do the other fellows. We are in the dark and we will probably remain as such for a while yet.”

Fate for Carl was just over the Rhine.

The Rhine is more than a river. It was a sacred waterway to the Germans, the source of most of their legends and myths.

Now it was the last barrier between the advancing Allied armies and the conquest of Germany. If the Germans could hold their beloved river, they might be able to stand off the Allies.

Carl was at the Rhine with the 1.2 million combined forces under the command of Montgomery. The force consisted of the 1st Canadian Army, the 2nd British Army and the 9th US Army.

The Rhine was 400 yards wide at the Wesel crossing point, and to defeat the river and the heavy German fortifications, the 2nd Army alone collected 60,000 tons of ammunition, 30,000 tons of engineer stores, and 28,000 tons of above normal daily requirements.

The 9th Army stockpiled 138,000 tons for the crossings. More than 37,000 British and 22,000 American engineers would participate in the assault, along with 5,500 artillery pieces, antitank and antiaircraft guns, and rocket projectors. They would engage in what would be called Operation Plunder.

The Germans were truly taking their last stand. They were short of nearly everything in supplies and their forces consisted of both the very young and the very old.

By the 28th of March the bridgehead over the Rhine was 35 miles wide and extended 20 miles further into Germany.

Churchill himself was there at the 9th Army’s crossing point.

He reported to Eisenhower personally: “My dear general, the German is whipped. We have got him. He is all through”.

While the war was ending for the Germans it was not ending for Carl.

Carl’s last letter home, dated May 2nd, 1945 from Germany, was even more suggestive of what could happen to him: “…I’ve been reading in the Stars and Stripes about all of these “War Over” declarations making the rounds back there. This all brings to mind a deduction I have made in the past four or five days…and which I believe in…I do believe that a quick trip is in store for myself. As for a majority of the others here – to the far east – possibly India, China or Burma! …One never knows! And, if someone does know, he “ain’t tellin’…for security reasons, both personal and strategic and tactical.”

On 18 May, 1945, under conditions never fully explained and still classified, T/Sgt Carl Begich died – DNB, it says (Died Non-Battle) – in the Rhine River.

Last year, both of his sisters who are well into their 90s, told me the family has never believed it. Carl had a mortal fear of water.

A wedding ring he wore was taken from his finger and sent home to my grandmother. My Dad has worn this band as his own for decades.

Little else is known or was given of Carl’s to the family. Are that are left are questions:

Did Carl really die in Germany?
Did he learn to speak fluent German?
Can more be learned of his work?
How many men were in Detachment A of the 3rd Radio Squadron Mobile?
Did any of them survive? Did they leave a record?

These questions of the war experience of Carl Begich now still matter. As his 100th birthday is noted there can be no denying the long reach not only of his passing but also – and mainly – of his living.

There are two seasons of the year where I see folks focusing on their family history: right around Memorial Day, when we remember those who have passed – and during the month of October, which is National Family History Month.

As a Family History Consultant, it is around these times that I frequently hear two common statements: “I don’t know how to do my family history and don’t know where to start” and “My family history is done”.

I have not used these pages much to instruct or advise as I thought I would. There is already so much out there that can help people, no matter how they see their family history.

But these are becoming common questions at these times of the year even among family and I feel compelled to impose my opinions on you about these two statements.

Not knowing where to start is so very common.

It is overwhelming to think about how to approach doing family history when you start with absolutely nothing. I get it.

It may seem an odd thing to say these days but I believe the best place to begin is with a pencil and a piece of paper.

On that paper you draw the first four generations of your family as you know it – in your head.

Just the simple stuff: names and birthdays for four generations: you, your parents, your grandparents and your great grandparents.

Of course, “you” means you and your spouse, if you have one. You will want to record names of each couple as you go along.

The first thing you will notice when you begin in this fashion is that you either do not recall or were never told the full names, birth dates and, where appropriate, the dates of passing of the first four generations of your family.

This is normal and there is no reason to feel bad.

Using this simple piece of paper and seeing the holes you have in the information you are now free to get on the phone, dig through old family group sheets or even go online to find this information and get it recorded right.

The first thing you will notice is that paper is completely inefficient in getting this information down.

It can be done, but surely technology has provided a better answer for doing this, right?

Right. But this is where the confusion really starts in.

Do you go to Ancestry.com and do it their way? Do you go to FamilySearch.org and do it their way? Or do you use some other computer tool you don’t yet know about?

Many people stop right there in confusion.

This is a photo of the Manti Temple Dedication in 1888. Albert Smith was there, as well as other family members. Albert did his family history then, taking nearly 1400 names to the temple after it was dedicated.

But here’s what you need to know about all those things thrown around by family history geeks: None of them are the solution. They are all merely tools.

You see, your “family history” is the record you leave behind for your children and grandchildren.

Nobody can do it for you. Even if someone in your family has made huge efforts that marks much of your family genealogy and ordinance work “done” that doesn’t mean it’s really done.

Your mother or grandmother, after all, has a different family history than you do. She has a different spouse and her children come from different branches than your children.

Your siblings can’t do it for you because they have a different family history for the same reasons.

You see, family history, odd as it is to say, is not about the past – it is about the children – YOUR children and grandchildren.

Only you can do that unique history for them.

You can’t leave them a piece of paper with scribbles and guesses of your history. You need to jump into the deep end of the pool and do these three things:

Buy a family tree program. There are several out there. I’ve used Roots Magic and Legacy Family Tree. Both of them are state-of-the-art and interface with common online tools like those listed below. There are many other reputable tools out there. They will take time to learn.

Get on FamilySearch.org. Most people don’t understand what FamilySearch is. It isn’t a place to make a tree for your family. It is a place to add your information to the whole-world-family-tree they are building at FamilySearch. Everyone builds it, anyone can edit or contribute to it. This frustrates some people at first but if you understand that it exists to facilitate temple ordinance work you can see the sense in it. As new people add new records, sources and information to the profiles of each individual on the tree the record gets stronger. Overtime, FamilySearch has become an endless resource for incredible family history information and you will want your software program both feeding information to and taking information from FamilySearch.org. If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you can tie your account at LDS.org to FamilySearch and see what ordinance work has and has not been done for each person.

Get on Ancestry.com. This is the biggest commercial family history site online and it has a lot of information. Some information is great, some information is erroneous. Your mileage may vary, so I urge caution on Ancestry. If you have an LDS.org account and a FamilySearch.org account you get premium access FOR FREE FREE FREE to Ancestry. It’s not all of Ancestry’s premium features that are available to you – but most of them are. You can make a tree on Ancestry and most people do. But do NOT make Ancestry your only tree.

The thing to remember about Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org is that they and all the information they contain are on the Internet. You will not always have the Internet. You can use these resources but recognize they are just that.

Your record of YOUR family history is what you generate and distribute to your family through either computer files or printed material.

There are a billion hidden details in what I’ve described above. There’s no way to make a numbered list of steps you need to take to do your history. The point here isn’t to discuss it all, it is to just get you started.

As you begin, I encourage you to reach out to me or another Family History consultant you know (every ward has one) to help you move along. I even offer you this toll free number — 877-799-7481 — that rings my personal cell phone 24 hours a day. Call me. I’d love to talk about what you are doing and help out if I can.

Of course, there are much more than four generations to your history and there is much more than just names, dates and cemeteries to Family History.

In fact, because there is much more that is why your family history is never done.

I don’t care what Grandma did. She needs to be fact checked.

She did her best with what she had at the time but there’s so much available now that wasn’t back when she was working on it. You need to validate what those in your family past did to your family history – and correct it.

I am yet to find a person anywhere who is “done”. Family history is NEVER done. Ever. I have met many who have an admirable amount of work done. But I never have met anyone who could actually “finish” their family history in their lifetimes.

And that brings us back to being overwhelmed.

There is no escaping that feeling, folks.

I’ve been hard at this now for about 7 years and I’m more overwhelmed now than when I began.

But you don’t have to eat the whole cake.

Every effort you make to chip away at it and to leave a better record of your family than was left for you is a worthy effort.

Do the best you can. Expend the time you can. And if you’re so inclined, even put money into it.

Just do more than what you were doing before – it will be enough.

If you are of a certain age or just a fan of popular American music then you likely have heard the name Del Shannon. This was Shannon’s first big hit in 1961:

Everyone knows the song. It was, after all, a #1 Billboard hit.

But did you know the Del Shannon is actually a Westover?

Over the course of the years since we launched this site I have been asked at least a dozen times how we might be related to Del Shannon, who was actually born as Charles Weedon Westover in 1934.

I have largely dismissed the question because it most often comes from outside the family.

Shannon was famous and still has millions of fans. Sometimes they come here seeking more information about him.

I am not really interested in exploiting Shannon’s memory as an artist for the sake of family history, plus we are merely distant cousins at best.

But… when the question comes from within the family – and this time it has – I suppose the time has come to at least talk about it.

So here is the tale of how Del Shannon is actually a Westover:

If you have watched our video titled Brothers you should be familiar with the name John Westover, a grandson of Jonah Westover, Sr. from whom we all descend. This John Westover lived in Sheffield, Massachusetts where he was clerk of the local church and a prominent member of the community.

I focus on this John Westover a lot for three reasons: first, John and his wife Rachel had by far the largest family of their generation. Second, of their 12 children, 7 of them were boys – Levi, John, Job, Moses, William, Noah and Amos (our line comes through Amos). These men would do much to carry forward the Westover name in North America in many places.

Why? Well, that’s the third reason: the sons of John and Rachel Westover with all the Biblical names came of age during the American Revolution.

After the war was over they set off in seemingly all directions to explore the frontier. Today their great grandchildren are all over the world, but mostly in the U.S. and especially in Canada.

John and Rachel’s 2nd son, also named John, stayed in Sheffield, Massachusetts. All of his children with his wife Ruffus were born on the family homestead in Sheffield.

John, a farmer, and Ruffus, had seven children, the sixth born being a son named Issac.

Issac covered some ground during his life time.

When he was around the age of 24 he can be found in Connecticut where he married a woman named Polly Wales. Shortly after they married in 1798, they traveled to Quebec, where they more than likely found the beginnings of a new life near great uncle Moses Westover, who had fled to Canada after the war.

(Moses, along with brother Job, were loyalists. Even though they enlisted and served with a Colonial militia during the Revolution, opportunities in post-war Sheffield were not great for loyalists).

Anyway, Issac and Polly would have two children in Quebec before Polly passed away at the age of 23 in the year 1803. Two years later Issac would marry again, this time to a woman named Tamer Emma. Together they would have four children including a boy they named Charles Edward Westover.

Charles Edward Westover would wed a woman named Sabra Mindwell Gleason. While this couple met in New England they move their family to Haldimand Township in Ontario, Canada.

Together they had four children including a son they named Jonathan Gleason.

Jonathan Gleason Westover was a blacksmith in an area that would come to be known as Gleason’s Corner. He and his wife, Jane Rae, eventually would take their family to Michigan and would have a son they named Jonathan Gleason Westover, Jr.

JGW Jr. was a merchant for many years in the community of Nunica, Michigan and with his wife, Edith, would have 6 children including a son they named Burt Leon Westover. Jonathan Gleason Westover, from the pictures at least, is the very image of a family man:

His son, Burt, would stay in the community and become a mailman known to most in the small farming community of Coopersville. Burt Leon Westover married Leone Mosher and they had a son they named Charles Weedon Westover – who then went on to fame as Del Shannon.

Where did the name Weedon come from? Shannon’s maternal grandfather was named Weeden Henry Mosher.

Is there anything in the family history of Charles Weedon Westover that would foretell his talent for music?

Not really. His many biographies say he was taught the ukulele by his mother and that he took so passionately to the instrument that by fourteen his guitar skills were very well developed.

Shirley Westover, Shannon’s wife, would later comment that if there was anything genetic that affected the life of Del Shannon it was alcoholism.

Complicating matters for Shannon was a natural melancholy which would lead to fits of both creativity and depression. Many feel these qualities would later be an influence in his popular music.

He picked up gigs in local night clubs in Grand Rapids, married his childhood sweetheart (Shirley) in 1955 and then was drafted into the Army in 1956. While there he played in a band called the “Cool Flames”.

After his military service Charles returned to Coopersville and took different jobs in his home town.

He worked in a carpet store and was a strawberry picker for a while. At night and on weekends he continued to play with a country rock band at a local bar. Over the next several years as he grew in experience he signed a record contract and had to come up with a new name.

He adopted the name Del Shannon because Westover, he said, “had no ammunition.”

It is said the name “Del” came from a Cadillac Coupe de Ville driven by the manager of his carpet store job and “Shannon” was a wrestler name a friend wanted to adopt.

It should be noted that Shannon never completely abandoned his Westover identity. Even a 1968 album would be titled The Further Adventures of Charles Westover.

Shannon’s career foreshadowed the arrival of the Beatles by a couple of years and came after the phenomenon of Elvis. His rush to fame was no less spectacular than those artists and at times it was a bit much for the small town artist, Chuck Westover (as we he was known locally). All of it was overwhelming.

In fact, his history notes that when he made it big he returned home to a mixed welcome by the community. He had many supporters but the town mayor wasn’t one of them. They just were not yet sure about rock ‘n roll in Coopersville, Michigan.

Del Shannon would go on to a storied music career, ending up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Despite his success Shannon would eventually succumb to his depression when he died by suicide in 1990.

In tracing the genealogy of Charles Weeden Westover I noticed that the recorded histories of his parents and grandparents dating all the way back to John Westover in Sheffield around 1775 is pretty scarce. There is a lot of work to be done there.

I suspect, as with all of us, the story of Del Shannon cannot be fully understood until the life experiences of his ancestors can be fully discovered.