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:
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.