Every Writer Needs A Cuzzin Ralph!

Dec 3, 2012 | 2 comments

Until his death in 1999, my uncle Willard Espy was the go-to person in our family with regard to Espy and Richardson history.  Willard had spent three-quarters of his life chasing our forebears back through time – in some cases back to the sixteenth century.

No one in Willard’s direct line inherited his passion for genealogy but, fortunately, I have a somewhat distant relative who is not only interested, but has a mathematical mind and a natural instinct for accuracy.  So, as I approach readiness to send my manuscript concerning Willard’s life to the publisher, I thought it might be wise to first run it by Cuzzin Ralph (a self-designated moniker that I love!).

Ralph is my third cousin twice removed so we have to go back several generations to find a common ancestor.  Nevertheless, he is very familiar with our line and with Willard’s work on it.  Though Ralph lives in Virginia, he comes to Washington State several times a year to visit family and we have spent many enjoyable hours talking about genealogical matters.

What’s more, Ralph has a mind like a steel trap.  In 2008 he was out here for the Christmas holidays and I asked if he could spare a few days to work with me on processing Willard’s archive for the Washington State Historical Society.  I was approaching the end of a year-long project and it happened that Ralph’s time here coincided with my organization of Willard’s genealogical research.

In the years since that time, Ralph has often referred (with absolute clarity of memory) to what he saw and read during his short access to the files.  I, on the other hand, am consistently fuzzy with regard to names, dates, and relationships, though I have spent years working with the same information.  So, a month or so ago, when I became satisfied that my memoir/biography of Willard was nearing first-draft stage, I asked Ralph if he would be willing to read it, particularly with regard to accuracy of family information.

His commentary – two-plus, single-spaced typewritten pages organized according to chapter and page – is extraordinary!  One example concerns my own parents’ marriage date which I had mistakenly said was December 31, 1932.  Ralph’s comment:  Dale and Bill married Dec 30, 1932 in South Bend.  This is straight from the marriage certificate online at the Washington Sec of State Archives.

I’m never quite clear what Ralph did for a living before he retired.  I think he was a civilian contractor for the navy doing something that involved mathematics and engineering.  Whatever his life’s work was, it must have caused him to hone his research skills and develop his natural proclivity for accuracy to a fine degree.  I could not have chosen a better reader/editor for this early draft.

How lucky I am!  Every writer should be blessed with a Cuzzin Ralph!


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I am excited for you, Sydney, for having even a “shirt-tail” relative who help fact check your manuscript and I am thrilled that the process is nearing the publisher portion! I can’t wait to read it and look forward to hearing “the rest of the story” you started at your reading this Spring!

  2. Eric Byrne

    Sydney, nice to read about Ralph. I am assuming its Ralph Jeffords? If it is can you forward my email to him as I have some Espy questions I think he can answer? Thanks for your help, Eric Byrne ( another “shirt-tail”relative)


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *