The Summing Up of All Parts Postview: Press Coverage of Thomas W. Temple II as a Genealogist and Historian, 1930-1972

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Along with the siblings [Andrew] Boyle and Mary Julia Workman, Thomas Workman Temple II was the other family member who was covered in some depth during last Sunday’s “The Summing Up of All Parts” when it came time to tracing the stories of some of the extended Temple and Workman clan after our interpretive era of 1830-1930.

Thomas, who excelled in scholarship, completed the rigorous curriculum at the prestigious Harvard Law School in June 1929 and was reunited at the Homestead with his sister Agnes (who finished her education at the Dominican College for women near San Francisco), his brothers Walter, Jr. and Edgar (graduates of Dummer Academy in Massachusetts) and father, Walter, Sr.

Their time together, while greatly prized as the children were away from home for much of the prior dozen years since the fantastic oil discovery that Thomas made at age nine yielded a small fortune in oil royalties and led to the Temple children being sent to private schools, was short-lived. Agnes married Thomas’ former University of Santa Clara classmate, Luis P. Fatjo, on Thanksgiving Day 1929 and embarked on a several months’ long honeymoon in Europe.

Los Angeles Record, 3 May 1930.

Walter, Jr. and Edgar followed their older brother and enrolled at Santa Clara for the 1929-1930 school year. The family’s cratering finances, however, also meant that their brief residence at La Casa Nueva, which was finished in late 1927, came to an end in April 1930. Walter, Sr. signed a lease of the 92-acre Homestead to the Golden State Military Academy, which relocated to the ranch from Redondo Beach, and relocated to Ensenada in Baja California, México, to save money.

Thomas, who toyed with taking the state bar exam and then considered moving to San Francisco and taking up banking, instead decided to stay in this region and, having been “bitten by the genealogy bug,” as he often put it, moved in with his maternal aunt, Luz González de Vigare, in her historic adobe house just a short distance south of Mission San Gabriel. The mission and the city had long been important to the family for religious and business reasons, including Walter, Sr.’s development of a block of buildings, as well as the donation of the site for city hall, across the mission.

Just about the time the Homestead was vacated by the Temples, Thomas was invited to speak to the Friday Morning Club of Los Angeles, comprised of prominent women, and to whom he talked about the history of the Workman and Temple family. Later in the year, he participated in a parade of “pioneers” for the Angel City’s 149th birthday, following that with more active work in preparation for the sesquicentennial fiesta of 1931, including his finding proof of the city’s birthdate of 4 September 1781.

Los Angeles Times, 31 July 1932.

Thomas’ work extended into longer-form projects dealing with Spanish California history, including a pair of published collaborations with Douglas S. Watson in 1933 and 1934 regarding the early trips made to California by Junípero Serra and plans for a colonial government. In its 31 July 1932 edition, the Los Angeles Times ran a short article about Thomas’ translation of a letter from Father Juan Crespí, months before he embarked on the Portolá Expedition of 1769, the first Spanish land-based trip through California and it was noted that he was working on a book about José de Galvez, the inspector general of New Spain, as México was then called, and who oversaw the early colonization of California, but the project was never finished.

With his avid interest in the genealogy of California’s Spanish and Mexican eras population, Thomas received special permission from the bishops of the Golden State’s Catholic dioceses to transcribe and translate the brittle, fragile and archaically written (Spanish has, like all languages, evolved) mission records. He was the first person to systematically mine these documents for that purpose.

In 1934, he and his girlfriend, Gabriela Quiroz, inaugurated a new San Gabriel tradition by hosting a Pioneer Reception for descendants of pre-American era Californio families and they continued to run the event, held in conjunction with the Mission birthday fiesta in early September, for almost four decades. In November 1938, six days after his father died, Thomas and Gabriela were married at the mission and, while he pursued his history and genealogy profession, she eventually was hired by the city’s police department and became the first woman to be deputized and carry a badge.

Monrovia News, 23 February 1940.

The 23 February 1940 issue of the Monrovia News briefly discussed Thomas’ work by observing that he was embarked on a “10-year search for material on which to base a history of San Gabriel.” Temple was quoted as saying that because soldiers in the Spanish Army were frequently reassigned throughout Alta California, “it is necessary that all mission records be searched in order to compile an accurate history” while he added, “I wouldn’t have attempted the history unless I had the background of this ten years of research.” Though he’d been writing when the article appeared, the project went unrealized.

When he registered for the draft in 1940, Thomas was listed as working for Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach (his brothers had long careers in the aircraft and aerospace industry), but, crossed out was that he was in the employ of the well-known Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. In fact, a 28 September article in the Times discussed his research work, including a photo of Temple with his aunt Luz and it was stated,

Temple is checking genealogical histories for the Bancroft Library at the University of California, and as he delves into dusty records all the colorful, exciting past unrolls before him. When he is done the material will be incorporated in a book to be published in [by] the library.

It was in this piece that the dispensation from the bishops was obtained for his mission records investigations and it was added that “young Temple has consulted older residents of mission parishes, obtaining valuable data regarding major happenings not included in ordinary records.” Among these was his Tia Luz, whose recollections at age 76 “make colorful history.”

Times, 28 September 1940.

A little tangent was published in the paper just a few days later, in the 3 October edition, when it was reported that a chair owned by Thomas and Gabriela once belonged to Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican California and a compadre of Thomas’ ancestors in the Workman and Temple family. The article stated that, upon Pico’s death at age 93 in 1894, the chair was left in Don Pio’s will to Walter P. Temple—elsewhere it was said that, after being evicted from his adobe home, El Ranchito, in Whittier following a swindle, he spent a few nights at the Temple house a few miles to the north and the chair was then bestowed on Walter as thanks for his hospitality.

In November 1941, Thomas and his brother, Walter, Jr., as well as their cousin Boyle Workman, participated in the centennial celebration of the arrival of the Rowland and Workman Expedition in our region from New Mexico. A treasured heirloom from that 1841 migration was a glass plaque commissioned by William Workman and mounted on a door to the adobe house he and his wife Nicolasa Urioste built and which is still with us.

Identifying the arrival date as 5 November, which for Workman was memorable as it was Guy Fawkes Day, a British holiday, the plaque was being handed by one person to another on the Workman House front porch when it was dropped and broken into three pieces. It was repaired and often borrowed by the Museum for displays and events, but, after the recent death of Josette Temple, Walter, Jr.’s daughter, it could not be found in the house in which she and her parents resided in La Puente. Hopefully, it will emerge someday.

Times, 3 October 1940.

The 12 May 1948 edition of the Pasadena Independent included a feature on Thomas with the headline “What’s In a Name? Here’s a Man Who Can Tell You.” Noting that his moniker was “quite a distinguished title,” the paper observed that “tracing family trees and names penned in the records in the old Spanish missions of California has kept Tom Temple busy for the last 15 years.” A photo of the 43-year old, his trademark pipe planted in his mouth, showed Temple behind a stack of documents.

The piece continued that Thomas “has forsaken his chances to become a mighty capitalist like his father to compile a history of the names of those who settled early California” because “his heart [was] captured by the romance and hardships of those early days.” The decade-long work mentioned earlier was reiterated here as he plied the highways and byways of the Golden State conducting his mission searching and it was noted that “the script [in the records] was vastly different from the handwriting of today” but Temple trained himself to translate these.

It was noted that “the big job” was writing accounts of the people and events related to the pre-American period and that Thomas “has written an uncountable number of treatises for various historical societies.” Much of his work was deposited, the article noted, at the Bancroft, but he told the paper that “to complete the picture of those exciting days will take the rest of his life.” The Independent observed that,

Eminent historians consider Temple’s manuscripts a tremendous contribution to the archives of California’s seat of learning. Since the day his first reports were published he has been acclaimed as one of the country’s foremost historians.

Notably, in reviewing a bit of Temple’s background, it was reported that, after Thomas earned his bachelor’s degree at Santa Clara, he “was chosen to go to Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar.” This is new information, though it was known that there was talk of sending him to follow the footsteps of his uncle, William W. Temple, who, after completing his law degree at Harvard in 1874 went to the Inns of Court in London for post-graduate study. It was then stated that, “he turned down the Rhodes scholarship to go to Harvard” and complete his legal education there, though he forewent the practice of the law.

Pomona Bulletin, 23 October 1941.

The article noted that he was fluent in French, Latin and Spanish, the latter two especially useful in his work and that he and Gabriela were deeply involved at the Mission fiesta each year. While they lived modestly in a small apartment in Alhambra, the value of Thomas’ work was such that “Californians can look forward to an increasingly complete history of their state.”

Thomas’ work continued to include commissions from local families along with other historical pursuits, including the 1955 publication of his translation of the Memoirs of Jose Francisco Palomares from a document at the Bancroft and an unpublished history of Juan Matias Sánchez, the compadre and partner of F.P.F. Temple and William Workman in several San Gabriel Valley landholdings before the tragic collapse of the Temple and Workman bank.

A 1 July 1955 article in the Independent discussed Thomas’ translation of the diary of Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, a soldier on the Portolá Expedition and who was, it was reported, generally portrayed in a negative light in California history because of characterizations of those who had conflicts with him. Notably, in discussing this work, Temple talked about the fact that “I was able to transport my thoughts and feelings to his day,” and, in so doing, better understood his subject and the result was that “he was able to erase much of the abuse heaped on Rivera” as he dealt with “damaging inaccuracies.”

Pasadena Independent, 12 May 1948.

In the 1960s, with commissions from local families like the Yorbas of Orange County, Temple conducted lengthy research trip in México and Spain and his writings included columns about mission and San Gabriel history in the mission parish bulletin. The pioneer receptions and mission fiestas with Thomas and Gabriela as key figures also drew some notable names, including California Governor Goodwin Knight (1958) and Spain’s future king, Juan Carlos (1962).

A late career profile of Thomas appeared in the Times of 10 September 1970 with the interesting heading of “Genealogist Breaks Historical Balloons.” Staff writer Sharon Fay Koch began by stating “If Thomas W. Temple II of San Gabriel says he knows your ancestors better than he does you—he’s probably not kidding if you’re a descendant of the Yorba, Carrillo, Alvarez, Lugo, Reid, Dominguez, Sepulveda or any other early California family.”

After briefly noting his career of forty years, Koch added that “Temple makes a modest living from commissions from families, foundations and individual scholars for various genealogical tasks.” This included six years compiling information on the indigenous people of California for an unnamed University of California, Berkeley anthropologist, the trip to Spain for the Yorba family, and research for an inheritance lawsuit.

Independent, 1 July 1955.

Temple told the journalist that he embarked on his vocation by trying to track down the genealogy of his mother, Laura González, “but gradually I realized what a wealth of history there was in non-Indian families, in family interrelationships.” As he pursued his work with mission records in 1930, he was warned by Archbishop Edward J. Hanna of the Diocese of San Francisco that “you will find many natural children [born out of wedlock]” in those documents. Temple averred that this was “no one’s business, actually,” but learned to forewarn clients that there may be “something four generations back that you don’t know about.”

Expressing the view that the most important part of his work was “the human element,” not just the compiling of dates and names, Thomas added that, while there was general ignorance about the ancestry of people more than a half-century ago, “for some people it’s fashionable to care.” While seeking to be discreet, Temple continued, “I’ve broken a lot of balloons” because his research often “disproves claim to Spanish blood or ancestors in California during the mission period,” leading him to conclude, “I have to be a good historian.”

Temple broke new ground as a genealogist and was in very select company for his more than four decades in the field, but the surge in interest in genealogy and the increasing professionalization of the field has led to a reappraisal of his efforts, including errors, linkages that were not iron-clad with supporting evidence, and other issues. His cover letters to clients included the caveat “to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

Times, 10 September 1970.

Still, his role in tackling the investigation of mission records is worth remembering and he did a good deal of important research, almost until the end of his life, when he willed himself to stay alive for the Mission San Gabriel bicentennial of 1971 and then died just four months later. For his decades of service to the mission and the city, he was given buried with the clergy next to the old stone church and was the only layperson so honored until recently.

The eleventh and final presentation in the series on the Workman and Temple history also included that “summing up” embodied in the title and, it is hoped, those talks demonstrate persuasively why the family makes for an apt case study about life in greater Los Angeles from 1830-1930. We will, however, be launching a new series of family-related presentations connecting them to cities, towns and places in the region, starting in mid-September, so consider joining us for those.

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