We Think It’s Hard Now!

I have been “doing” genealogy seriously for only about seven years, but I have known about genealogy for a long time, ever since Thelma C. Anderson published her meticulously researched Workman Family History in 1962.  In almost 900 pages Ms. Anderson documented the Workman family, which came to America in the 1640s, settling in New Amsterdam and beginning a family history that spanned 12 generations and established a presence in 48 of the 50 states in the United States – only New Hampshire and Vermont are left out, and Rhode Island squeaks in with only one Workman appearing in the book.

My mother’s maiden name was Workman, and as a family member she received a copy of Thelma Anderson’s book when it was published.  I remember paging through it randomly when I was still living at home, wondering at all of the names and other information in the book, but not thinking too much about it.

Here’s an example of what can be found in the Workman Family History – this is page 73, showing my grandfather, his three children, and their children.  I am the Karen Sue Arnold highlighted in yellow in this image:

Workman Family History snip of page 73, my immediate family

This book illustrates an organizational approach to genealogy that I had no knowledge of the time, but which I understand today.  It is an Ahnentafel (German for “ancestor table”) that allows you to trace each entry to an ancestor in the tree.  For example, this Ahnentafel tells that my mother Violet Henrietta Workman (number 209) is the daughter of Thomas Calvin Workman II (187), who is the son of Thomas Calvin (154), the son of James Abraham (121), the son of James (116), the son of Abraham (69), the son of Jacob (6), the son of Abraham (1) – the first of the line that Ms. Anderson was able to construct in America.  If I want to learn more about each person on this page, I just have to find the reference number (116 for James, for example) and go to the page where his information appears.

A note about the lineage before Abraham – by all accounts, she got this wrong.  She identifies the Workman family in New Amsterdam as being descended from English and Irish ancestors, and later research proved that this was incorrect.  There were people with the surname Workman living in Ireland and England at the time, and some of them may have come to America, but they were almost certainly not the ancestors of her (and my) Workmans.  I don’t fault her for this – her work is of enormous importance to my understanding of my ancestors, and the fact that later research has altered our understanding of who our earliest Workmans in America were is of little importance.  I assume that, had she had access to the information that we have access to today, she would have drawn different conclusions.

Ms. Anderson was working in the era before computers, when all genealogy research was done by letter, phone call, or physical searching in libraries, archives, courthouses, and people’s houses.

In the introduction to her book, Ms. Anderson talks about how this book came to be.  She describes her mother, Mary E. Workman (1883-1956), as a “fragile” child growing up in Utah, who spent a lot of time in bed recovering from various illnesses and accidents.  To occupy the child, her father put her to work, recording facts and information about her immediate family.  Mary’s family had come to Utah as part of the Mormon migration there in the middle of the 18th century, and the family had a strong sense of family history.

When she reached adulthood, she married and had five children, putting aside her family research for a time.  Her husband died unexpectedly in 1913, leaving her to raise her children by herself.  This she did by becoming a schoolteacher.  But she never forgot her early interest in family history, and secured a teaching position near Salt Lake City, where even in the early part of the 20th century the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) were establishing a genealogical research library. In 1856, her grandfather Jacob Lindsay Workman (who was part of this Mormon migration from Illinois to Salt Lake City) had compiled a family history that Mary was able to use as the nucleus for her research.

By 1920 Mary and her father had created a Workman Family Organization formed around the descendants of John Workman, the earliest family member to come to Utah in the late 1840s.  At their first meeting, the group collected a small fund to allow Mary to make a research trip to gather more information about the family.  She went to Ohio that summer, where a branch of the family had settled in the early 19th century, and collected a lot of information there.  On this trip she met a distant cousin, Delmon S. Workman of Danville, Ohio, who was to become an important part of her research – and of her life.

Mary went back to Ohio in 1925, this time accompanied by her daughter Thelma (the eventual author of the Workman Family History).  They gathered information in Ohio, but also expanded their travels to Kentucky and Tennessee, where branches of the family had lived.  Delmon Workman and his wife Hattie became collaborators in this work and traveled with them.  However, Hattie soon died, and Delmon traveled to Salt Lake City to try to persuade Mary to retire from teaching and to pursue her genealogy research full-time.  She agreed to do this, and after she and Delmon were wed (in 1927) they spent the rest of their lives doing genealogy research.  Before Delmon’s death in 1939, they had collected thousands of documents, written hundreds of pages about their findings, and founded several chapters of the Workman Family Organization in Ohio.

They tried for years to find an avenue to publish their research, but were unsuccessful.  However, Mary’s daughter Thelma picked up the project and was able to get backing from a variety of sources to compile the research and produce the book.  Mary died in 1956, before the book was published in 1962.

I have found copies of the Workman Family History in a number of genealogy libraries, including the Library of Virginia (Richmond, VA), the Clayton Genealogy Library (Houston Texas), and the Oklahoma Territorial Museum Library (Guthrie, OK).  I assume it is in the collection of many other libraries across the country.

So hats off to Mary Workman Chidester Workman, Delmon S. and Hattie Workman, and Thelma Chidester Anderson.  They left us a precious document and gave us information to work with as we move forward in documenting our family history.

Tracking My Family’s Movement

As I have worked on my genealogy research over the past six years, I have discovered a pattern that makes my research both more complex and more interesting than I thought it would be.

I knew almost nothing about my family tree before I retired and had time to pursue this hobby that has come to occupy virtually all my free time.  I knew my mother’s family had come to New Amsterdam in the 17th century; a genealogist has written and published a comprehensive family history in the 1960s, and every family member received a copy of it.  We had that book around the house while I was growing up, and I thumbed through it occasionally, but I didn’t study it in any detail and didn’t pay much attention to the information it contained.

I knew next to nothing about my father’s family – the most recent surnames were classically English and German, and I assumed that meant my ancestors had come from England and Germany.  But I had no idea when they came or where they settled.


That all has changed a great deal.  I discovered that both my mother’s and father’s families were in America in the 17th century – and that they settled in 11 of the original 13 colonies (only Delaware and Georgia failed to make the cut).  I then discovered that literally none of them stayed put in the areas where they originally settled; I had no direct ancestors still residing east of the Appalachian Mountains by the 1840s.  Every one of them had moved west – to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee – and after the Civil War they had continued moving – to Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The Great Depression led both of my parents’ families to become part of the “Depression Diaspora” as economic hard times moved them to Arizona – my mother’s family migrating from south Texas in 1931 for reasons of health and poverty, my father’s family leaving western Illinois where no one in the family had a job in 1936.

My parents met in Tucson in the late 1930s and married there in 1940.  World War II relocated them as it did many people in their situation, leading them to move to the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, by 1945.  My older brother, my younger sister, and I were born there over the next 10 years.  We all stayed in Virginia through our early adulthood; my brother moved on, never to return to Virginia permanently, while my sister lived in North Carolina for 30 years until she moved back to Virginia 15 years ago.  My parents lived in Virginia until their deaths – my father in 2001, my mother in 2012.   I have lived in Virginia my entire life.

5 generation where people lived chart

This chart, reading from right to left, shows where my ancestors lived over the course of their lives.  For example, the top line shows that my father’s great-grandparents (my 2nd great grandparents), lived in Maine, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, and then moved back to Illinois, where they died.  Their son, my great-grandfather, was born while they were living in Illinois, moved to Ohio, Illinois, and Kansas with his parents, and then lived the rest of his life in Illinois.  His son, my grandfather, was born in Illinois and lived in Arizona, where he died.  His son, my father, was born in Illinois, and lived in Arizona before moving to Virginia, where he died. I (the red box on the left) have lived my entire life in Virginia.

How They Moved Around

For my current genealogical research project, which I’m calling Over the Hill, I’m researching how my ancestors (generally 3rd great-grandparents) moved from the eastern seaboard, where all of my family lines lived before the American Revolution, to the West – the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys – by 1830.  I think I’ve figured out one thing today that I want to share with you and get your reactions.

I have ancestors who lived in Maine and Vermont in the 1790s or so and ended up in Ohio by 1830.  An overland route seemed very difficult.  So I began looking at possible water routes.

Lake Champlain (on the border between Vermont and New York) connects to the St. Lawrence River by the Richelieu River.  I thought that they maybe could travel north to the St. Lawrence and then west through the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie to Ohio.

Then I discovered a couple of things:

  1. The Champlain Canal (connecting Lake Champlain with the Hudson River) was opened in 1823, on the same date the Erie Canal was opened.  This provided a water route between Lake Champlain and Lake Erie.
  2. The Erie and Ohio Canal (in Ohio, eventually connecting Lake Erie and the Ohio River) was opened between 1825, and the first leg of this canal went from Lake Erie to Newark, Ohio, in Licking County (which is where my ancestors moved to when they left Maine and Vermont.)
  3. If they went up the Richelieu River to the St. Lawrence and then west by boat to Lake Ontario, they would then have encountered the need for a portage around Niagara Falls, between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie on their way west. But the Welland Canal, which completely bypasses Niagara Falls to provide a navigable waterway between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, was also built around 1830.

So what do you all think of this as a possible route for people to get from east to west in the 1820s and 1830s?



BREAKING DOWN THE BRICK WALLS: Brick Wall Number Seven: Cyntha Lambert

  • 3rd great-grandmother on my mother’s side
    • Mother of my 2nd great-grandmother Susan Amesley Overman
    • Susan was the mother of my great-grandmother Martha Elizabeth Kyle
    • Martha was the mother of my grandmother Susan Vernon Anthis
    • Susan was the mother of my mother, Violet Henrietta Workman
  • I don’t really know who Cyntha’s parents were. Several family trees indicate that her father was Jeremiah Isham Lambert and Sally Blanton, but I have no documents to prove this.
  • Cyntha married William Sutton Overman in Virginia in 1823
  • Cyntha and William had 11 children; they moved to Missouri by 1850
  • William died somewhere along the line and I don’t have information about Cyntha ever remarrying
  • Cyntha died in Texas in 1880 after living with one daughter in Missouri for a while and then living with another daughter in Texas at the end of her life.

Things I need to know about Cyntha:

  1. When and where was she born?
  2. Who were her parents?
  3. What happened to William?


  • 2nd great-grandmother on my mother’s side of the family
    • Her son Thomas Calvin Workman Sr. married Mary Elizabeth Thomas
    • Their son Thomas Calvin Workman Jr. married Susan Vernon Anthis
    • Their daughter Violet Henrietta Workman married Lloyd Cecil Arnold
    • I am their second child
  • She was born in Overton County, Tennessee, in 1825
    • I don’t know for sure who her parents were
      • Some sources suggest that her parents were John and Sarah Kitchen..The only John and Sarah Kitchen anyone cites were born in England and I don’t think they are the correct John and Sarah Kitchen.
      • John was a private in Capt. Trimble’s Tennessee militia in the War of 1812. Sarah got a widow’s pension based on this service, but I can’t find the date John died.  I can find a James Kitchens in the roster of TN War of 1812 militia but not John
    • She married James Abraham Workman (sometimes referred to in the records as Abram) in Overton County, Tennessee, in 1847
    • She died in 1859. James soon remarried, to Adeline Buck, who was 13 at the time of their marriage

Things I need to find out about her:

  1. Who were her parents? When and where were they born?  They would be my 3rd great-grandparents, the generation which is the focus of this research project.
  2. Did she have any siblings?


BREAKING DOWN THE BRICK WALLS: Brick Wall Number Two:  George Washington Thomas

2nd great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family.

  • I don’t know when or where he was born
  • I don’t know anything about his parents
    • These would be my 3rd great-grandparents, the focus of my research on this project.
  • Married Carolyn Roberts in 1852 in Morgan County, Illinois
    • Had one child James Thomas in 1853
    • Had two more children. Twins, I think, in 1859
      • Mary Elizabeth Thomas, my great-grandmother
      • George W. Thomas, who I think died young. I have found him in the 1860 census but not in the 1870
    • I believe he was dead by 1860, when Caroline married Eliftet Taylor, although I don’t know that for sure. I’ve been looking for him in Civil War Records but I haven’t had much luck.
      • In the 1860 census, Caroline is noted as living with her father Wiley Roberts and her three children in Christian County, Illinois.
      • By 1870 Caroline was living in Christian County with her 3rd husband John F. Watkins (or Wadkins), whom she married in 1869 after the death of Eliflet Taylor
      • By 1880, Caroline was living in York County, Nebraska with her children Mary Elizabeth and James, along with two other children, Minnie and Wiley. I think Minnie is the daughter of Caroline and Eliftet, and Wiley is the son of Caroline and John.  In the 1860 census, John Watkins is also shown as living in Nebraska, but in Seward, about 30 miles from York.  In this census he identified himself as a widower.  One story I have found suggests that John left Caroline and that she raised her children by herself.

What I need to find out:

  1. When and where was he born? Who were his parents?  Did he have siblings?
  2. What can I discover about his parents? His parents’ generation is actually the focus for this project and they’re the only 3rd great-grandparents I’ve been unable to identify at all.
  3. Where was he living before he married Caroline Roberts?
  4. When and how did he die? Where is he buried?


This project has led me to recognize some brick walls in my research — people whose lives I have found difficult to document. For the next few blog posts I’ll be writing about these brick walls. If anyone reading this has ideas to help me find the information I need, please let me know!

Wiley Roberts (1783 – 1878)(I think)

North Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, and Kansas

  • 3rd great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family.
    • His daughter Caroline Roberts married George W. Thomas in Morgan County, Illinois, in 1852
    • Caroline’s daughter Mary Elizabeth Thomas married Thomas Calvin Workman, Sr., in Hastings, Nebraska, in 1887
    • Mary Elizabeth’s son Thomas Calvin Workman, Jr., married Susan Vernon Anthis in El Campo, Texas, in 1919.
    • Thomas Calvin’s daughter, Violet Henrietta Workman, married Lloyd Cecil Arnold in Tucson, Arizona, in 1940. Violet and Lloyd were my mother and father
    • I was born in Arlington, Virginia, in 1947
  • Born in North Carolina in 1783
    • I believe he was the son of Solomon James Roberts and Sarah Ellis. I need to find out more about his parents and where they came from
    • Married in North Carolina
      • One possible marriage: Polly Blankenship, marriage date 1808
      • A second possible marriage: Nancy Marcrom (or Markham), marriage date 1812. I think this wife in the one I’m interested in. One problem – the birth dates of their three children were spaced out between 1817 and 1832. I haven’t found information about children who did not survive, so this number of years before their first child and the years between their subsequent children leaves me with some questions.
      • My problem here – I think there were actually two men named Wiley Roberts in North Carolina at this time. My best guess is that Nancy is actually the mother of Caroline Roberts, but I’m not sure.
    • Served in the War of 1812 in Captain Clarke’s unit in a Wake county detached militia unit
    • In the US Census
      • 1820 – Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
      • 1830 and 1840 – Overton County, Tennessee
      • 1850 – Morgan County, Illinois
      • 1860 and 1870 – Christian County, Illinois
    • Died in Osage Mission, Neosho, Kansas, on December 26, 1878

I’m pretty certain about the course of Wiley’s life once he’s in Tennessee. I understand his move to Illinois and I think I understand how he came to die in Kansas. The 1875 Kansas State Census shows his daughter Caroline living with her third husband and her three children (including my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Thomas) in Osage, Kansas. Wiley doesn’t appear on this census but it makes sense to me that he might have been either living with the family or visiting them when he died. His other daughter, Martha, was living in Kansas by 1880.

What I need to find out:

  1. Who were Wiley’s parents? Where did they come from? I have some evidence that they came from Virginia, but I’m not sure.
  2. Who was Wiley’s wife? I believe it’s Nancy Marcrom (or Markham), but I need to figure out with certainty which wife is associated with MY Wiley Roberts.
  3. Once I identify Wiley’s wife, what can I find about her parents. Who were they? Where did they come from?