As I was researching a project in 2017, I began to plan a genealogy research trip to the locations where my grandparents lived in 1900. I was stimulated to undertake this project by Ian Frazier’s book Family, which was a wonderful story of his family in the American Midwest at the turn of the 20th century. Here’s how he introduced his book:
“The twentieth century began on a Tuesday. On that day, all of my great-grandparents but one were living in Ohio or Indiana. Mr. and Mrs. Harry E. Frazier and their four children lived in Indianapolis, in a neighborhood of many vacant lots and telephone poles. Mr. and Mrs. Louis W. Wickham and their three children and hired girl lived at 237 Benedict Avenue, Norwalk, Ohio. The Reverend John Bachman and his wife and two daughters lived in New Knoxville, Ohio, where he was the pastor of the First German Reformed Church. Mrs. Elizabeth C. Hursh and her three grown daughters and one son lived at 86 Greenfield Street, Tiffin, Ohio; her husband, Professor O.A.S. Hursh, lay in a nearby cemetery, beneath a $200 monument inscribed with a Latin quotation and the years, months, and days of his life.”
I bet I can write this, I said to myself. So I did:
The twentieth century began on a Tuesday. On that day, all of my great-grandparents but one were living in Illinois, Oklahoma, or Texas. Mr. and Mrs. Warner Lismond Arnold and their eight children (including their youngest son, my grandfather John Cecil Arnold) lived in Montebello Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Mr. and Mrs. Howard P. Ellefritz and their two children (including their oldest daughter, my grandmother Orpha Lydia Ellefritz) (they would go on to have eight more children) lived just a few miles away, in Pilot Grove Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Mrs. Franklin Anthis (Mattie) lived with her ten children (including her two-year-old daughter, my grandmother Susan Vernon Anthis) in Justice Precinct 7, Lee County, Texas; her husband Frank, who had been dead for just a little over a year, lay in Forest Grove Cemetery in Milam County, Texas, a few miles from their home. Mattie would join him 32 years later. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Calvin Workman, Sr., and their 11 children (including their youngest son, my grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman, Jr.), lived on the homestead in Bear Creek Township, Logan County, Oklahoma, that Tom had claimed in the Oklahoma Land Run a decade earlier.
And so this project began. As I researched it, I began to feel the pull to visit these locations. My family had moved around a lot – not my immediate family, as I have lived my whole life in Virginia. But my ancestors never stayed put for every long. My parents met and married in Arizona; my mothers family had moved there from Texas in the 1931, and my fathers family had moved there from Illinois in 1936. World War II brought them to the east coast, where they lived the rest of their lives and where my siblings and I have lived and raised our families.
But because earlier generations had moved so much, I knew nothing about family members who stayed behind – in Illinois and Texas, but also in Oklahoma, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and points east. But I wasn’t necessarily thinking about this as I planned my trip. After much planning, I took a 12-day solo research trip in January of 2018. It was fabulous.
One of the things I did in preparation for my trip was to write up posts for Facebook pages for genealogy groups in the areas I was visiting. My posts generally said something along the lines of “I’m visiting your area in January 2018 and want to know the best sources for information, since my time there will be limited.” Then I put in the surnames I was researching, not expecting much in return but thinking that maybe the names would strike a chord with someone. My maternal surnames were Workman and Anthis, and my paternal surnames were Arnold and Ellefritz.
In October of 2017, probably a month or two after I put up these original posts, I got a comment from a woman in central Oklahoma. The surname I was researching there was my mother’s maiden name, Workman, and the woman’s comment was simply “I have Workmans in central Oklahoma.” Within a couple of hours we had identified that our grandparents were siblings, and that time and family migration had separated these parts of the family. I had discovered my second cousin Susan, and soon became acquainted with her sister and brothers as well.
Her grandmother Tina Workman was my grandfather Tom Workman’s older sister. The family had pulled up stakes in central Oklahoma and moved to Texas in 1915, at which point Tina was an adult and engaged to be married, so she stayed in Oklahoma. Tom was 16 years old, so he moved with the family. Tina never left central Oklahoma, and that’s where Susan and her extended family are still living. Tom moved to Texas and then on to Arizona, and my parents came to Virginia, as I mentioned earlier.
Susan and I had never known of each other’s existence. The family separation was almost total, although it does not appear to have been hostile.. Susan did have one anecdote that referenced my mother, although she didn’t realize it at the time. Her uncle (our parents’ generation) talked once about his cousin “whose name was a beautiful as her eyes.” That was a reference to my mother, Violet Workman. Susan and I both teared up when she told me that story.
Oh yes, and she did tell me that story in person – when we met for lunch in Oklahoma City in January of 2018, when I was on my research trip. We both brought photos, and concluded that her grandmother looked a lot like my grandfather – not surprising for siblings!
Susan and I are in touch on Facebook now, along with her sister Liz. Susan is creative and crafty – the pictures she posts of the quilts she sews and the clothing she makes for her grandchildren are wonderful. Liz is a writer. She write fantasy fiction, and is as dedicated to her craft as Susan is to hers. Liz and I talk about writing, a lot. My brother, who passed away in 2014, was a writer of plays and poetry, and he and Liz would have had a lot to talk about. My writing is not creative in the same way as Liz’s is, but our shared passion for the written words ties us together.
So my “gift of genealogy” was the revelation of new family members. When the pandemic ends, we have plans to meet in the middle somewhere – I’m in Williamsburg, Virginia, so we may meeting somewhere in Tennessee to get to know each other better. Without genealogy, I would never have known anything about this part of my family.