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Finding Family Mentioned In A Novel

September 12, 2018 by in category The Writing Journey by Denise Colby, Writing tagged as , , ,

Imagine you’re reading a fiction historical romance book set in the back country of Montana and one of the characters asks another character if he’s always been a freighter.

He responds with no. He was a trapper.

Aww. Cool. Immediately my mind went to my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather who was a trapper. I continued to read.

He was a part of the great mountain men.

Wait! My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was called that too. Now my heart was thumping faster as I continued to read. Somehow I just knew what I would see next.

Mountain men like Jedidiah Smith and Jim Clyman.

Stop the presses! That’s my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather’s name! Here in the fiction book I’m reading!!

How cool is that?

I ran around the house showing everyone my Kindle I was so excited!

A lover of all things history, I’ve wanted to write a blog post on James Clyman and our family history for a while, but I’ve been so busy with other topics, I hadn’t gotten to it, but I just had to share this exciting news and tell you a little about him now.

James Clyman.  My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather. 

James Clyman Trapper, Mountain Man Great, Great, Great Grandfather to Denise M. Colby

He called himself a mountain man. A trapper with Jedidiah Smith, he was the one who sewed Jedidiah’s ear back on after a bear almost swiped it off.  He also came over the pass in the sierras and encountered the Donner Party, advising them not to go that way since winter was settling in. And unfortunately they opted not to listen.

Just how do we know all this? He wrote journals. Daily. Details describing who he met and what he did.  Those journals have been printed into books. One titled Frontiersman, was printed in 1960 in a limited number mostly for libraries.

James Clyman Frontiersman Book James is Denise M. Colby Great Great Great Grandfather 6th generation


He apparently wrote it all on slates and his daughter composed it into a book. I haven’t read it through completely but there’s a chapter on the Black Hawk War and being in the same unit as future President Lincoln and another on his later years when he settled in Napa, Ca.




James Clyman Journal of a Mountain Man Book Denise M. Colby 6th Generation to James Clyman


Another smaller version came out in the 1980s. My dad signed that one for me. Writing on the inside cover that I’m the 6th generation born in Napa to James Clyman. Pretty cool.



And even more cooler…I’ve actually seen the original journals.  They are in the Huntington Library in Pasadena.  


James Clyman in a 4th grade history book with jedidiah smith

A Page from a 4th Grade History book from 2014



He’s in the 4th grade history books as well, which was a real treat for my boys whenever they got to that particular unit.






He’s buried in the same cemetery as my parents and his grave is part of a historical tour they host every once in a while. 

Another historical nugget – the original ranch house is still standing. My dad used to spend his summers there and when the land was sold off for housing developments my parents purchased in the neighborhood.  You could see the top of the ranch house if you stood in my parents backyard.

Great Great Great Grandfather to Denise M. Colby 6th Generation to James Clyman


There’s more but I’ll save that for another post. I have plans for him to make an appearance in a book or two someday. With all the books out there to read, how fascinating I found someone who beat me to it.

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