by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Tonight was a beautiful night in the foothill city of Glendora and it was a privilege to share the history of the Workman and Temple families with the Glendora Genealogical Society, a group which counts my colleague Steve Dugan as an active member.
Genealogists, of course, are fundamentally concerned with documenting family trees and, in most cases, using these to understand family history. The talk tonight began with the observation that genealogical research along with other forms of study have allowed the Homestead to better put the story of the Workman and Temple families in contexts that provide more depth of meaning.
This is especially true when we look at the multiple generations of the families, from Jonathan Temple and Rafaela Cota to William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste down to Walter Temple and Laura Gonzalez. The great variety in the stories of these multiple lines, particularly the dramatic ups-and-downs is not only compelling and interesting, but instructive.
Much the same, the point went on, can be said for the families of many in the audience at tonight’s talk, so the marriage of searching for names, dates and places coupled with the attempt to understand the stories behind that information is what makes the best genealogy impactful and significant.
My first efforts at genealogical research go back nearly thirty years to trips to places like regional center of the National Archives, which was then in Laguna Niguel (and more recently relocated to Riverside). I well remember the challenge of locating census material on microfilm and then figuring out the readers, on which you could only literally read the film, but, for copies, you had to take the rolls over to a separate machine.
Then, there was the immense fun of having to from one form of searching names in most censuses to the soundex system of, say, the 1910 census. This only added to the complexity of doing the work. Obviously, with online sources like Ancestry.com, so much of the work is done for the searcher, though errors can be found in the database, too, so some diligence is often needed to find a workaround for those.
Tonight’s talk wasn’t a genealogical history of the families, though. What I tried to do, though, was present a narrative of various branches of the family tree so that a form of genealogical discussion was presented in the context of the history of greater Los Angeles from 1830-1930.
So, the line from Jonathan Temple to his half-brother F.P.F. Temple to the latter’s son Walter P. Temple was examined along with one that ran from the brothers William and David Workman to the former’s daughter Antonia Margarita and the latter’s sons Elijah and William Henry and grandchildren Boyle and Mary Julia.
The stories of the Temple line running from Massachusetts and then by sea to Hawaii and Mexican Alta California form an interesting point of comparison to the Workman brothers and their migration from the far north of England to ocean travel to the East Coast of the United States and then overland to Missouri and, from there, to New Mexico and California.
With the first generation (Jonathan Temple and the Workman brothers—all born within three years of each other at the end of the 18th century) are long journeys to new homes in four nations (England, the Hawaiian Kingdom, the United States, and Mexico.) For the second generation, California became the ultimate destination and transitions from the Mexican to American periods, from, for example, the 1840s through the 1870s involved some remarkable transformations in greater Los Angeles. The third generation then were part of a region that became significantly urbanized and then suburbanized (if that’s a word) by the 1920s.
In each case, there were prominent parts played by members of the Workman and Temple families, whether as merchants, ranchers and farmers, political figures, social workers and more. Unfortunately, financial problems and even failure were part of the story, while, at other times, there were some significant and far-reaching successes. These are a part of the broader family story of how peaks and valleys of experiences reflect a broader regional history.
Again, this can be true for plenty of other families, albeit most don’t have a museum that can provide public interpretation of those histories and stories. But, the connective tissue linking genealogy to historical interpretation remains of great interest to those of us working at the Homestead.
In fact, as Steve embarks on a project to update and improve our Workman and Temple genealogical database, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to reassess what that interpretation embraces. Particularly promising are the ways we can use metadata (information used to describe the genealogical data compiled) to not only better document what is in the genealogical material, but to assist in further developing our interpretation.
Photos, letters, maps, vital records and other items can be added to the database beyond the listing of names, dates and places and give more detail to the lives of the family members included in it. This has great potential as we continue to emphasize people and stories in our programming and we can share the genealogical material on such sites as Ancestry.com, while also pointing viewers of that material to the museum and its interpretive products.
It’ll be pretty exciting to see what we’ll be able to do as Steve constructs this new and improved Workman and Temple genealogical database, especially as, just to give one example, the bicentennial of William Workman’s arrival in the United States comes in a few years. What that means in terms of examining immigration, the place of ethnic minorities (in Workman’s case as an Anglo in Mexican territory from 1825 onward), and other topics will be interesting to see as we work with the database to help plan that programming.
Family history is at the core of our interpretive strategy and genealogy has a big part to play in that–this being true of our programmatic objectives, too, especially as the “It’s All Relative” program, which involves Steve and volunteer Sherri Salmans giving instruction in how to conduct genealogy, is reviewed and evaluated.
So, tonight was fun and meaningful in terms of sharing the history of the Workman and Temple families, but it was also thought-provoking in terms of how we look at the role genealogy plays and will play in our future.