Family history because our lives are stories waiting to be told!

I am taking a break from the stories of Vikings and other medieval histories to do some work on my own family history. As Lagertha once mentioned in the Vikings series, our lives are stories waiting to be told.

Lagertha Our lives are stories: Fan art by Jul Sanchez at facebook group, Vikings the Aftermath

Lagertha Our lives are stories: Fan art by Jul Sanchez at facebook group, Vikings the Aftermath

In Bernard Cornwell’s stories of the Saxons, he mentioned in his author’s notes that the history interested him because of his family ancestors and their connection to Bebbanburg Castle.

bebbanberg castle

Bernard cornwell historical notes for Last kingdom

History becomes more interesting and important to us when we can make a connection to it in some way that relates to our current situation or our personal family stories.  I think that there is so much more interest in these historical tales because many of us are searching in some ways for the parts of our past that we have come disconnected from. We may be looking toward the more global future but we still want some way to hold on to our past, our heritage, our culture.  As we move further and further away from the extended family units and dynamics that once held us together, supported us, encouraged us and took care of each other, we still want that connection in our lives. As we move on to a much larger world view, we become disconnected with that smaller community, family history… we become disconnected from those people whose stories created the story that we each live out right now.  It is all of those stories of people in our past that make up who we are, what we do and why we do it.  Every step they took, every choice they made, every secret they shared or held close to their heart led to us in the here and now. Every one of those ancestors has a story that is important to who you have become. No, they may not all  be grand, epic adventures. Perhaps their stories were what you assume to be dull, boring and mundane of little or no consequence in how you have come to be who you are. But, look at it in this perspective… had any one of them made a different choice in what you consider their unimportant life, you may not be here living your current life!  It’s like the concept of time travel, or the idea of being able to go back in your history and change something… if any one thing changed at a particular time in your family history, you would be a different person than you are right now. Ohhh, I know, some of you are probably thinking that might be a good thing but in reality, take a close look at all of your life, all of your memories and the lessons you have learned. Which of those things would you give up, would you willingly give them all up to be a completely different person than you are now?  Life is about learning, about understanding, accepting and about using all of those experiences toward a better future either for yourself or for your next generations. 

I think part of the interest, fascination and fandom for such stories as the Vikings saga, The Last Kingdom, and yes- Outlander as well, is the fact that they are not just about one specific event or person. They are epic sagas that tell a family story, a family journey. These stories give us a vision, a connection to that past that we all may be a part of. They inspire us to look deeper into our own family histories, stories and roots. They tell us stories that may be forgotten about our own pasts. For that reason, they are important! Throughout history, those small societies and communities relied on each other to tell the stories of their lives, to share their experiences, their lessons and their wisdom and pass it down to the next generation. In those early groups without a detailed written language, some of the most important and revered members of the community were the story tellers, the Skalds, the Bards, and the elders.  These people held the memories and the lessons of life and survival, of fame and of glory, of honor and tradition. They told the history, the stories that held a group together, gave a group unity and reason to go on fighting for another day.

I think that in some ways, we all still crave that sense or feeling of community of family. We search for that part that we feel is missing. Much like searching for that one true love soul mate, we search for some feeling of identity, some feeling of reason for being or purpose in life. As the world begins to blend together in some common unity, I think we each in some way still search for and want that unique individual identity within us. That unique individual identity can be found in our family history, because while our family history connects us to that larger common world, it also is one that keeps us connected to the smaller familial group that is our own.


My Own Journey


Ward and Florence Workman wedding photo

For me, my family history is just as important as the more general and common history that everyone has some knowledge of.  I grew up surrounded by family history and mystery. I know, you are thinking, “Well didn’t we all grow up surrounded by family history?”  Let me explain it a bit more and you might understand better. My Mother was the oldest child in her family yet did not marry or have children until late in life.  My Father was one of the youngest children in his family and his older sisters had started their families long before he decided to settle down and have children. As a result of this pairing, most of my childhood was spent as the youngest grandchild on both sides of the family that consisted by then of much older relatives.  I spent a lot of my early childhood years trying to behave and be quiet among all of them… I was that quiet little one sitting amongst their adult conversations pretending not to listen. I found that if I remained quiet enough, they would forget I was there and go on with all of their stories, gossips and rumors about  relatives. In addition to this, I also found myself attending an awful lot of funerals for many of those relatives! Most of the time, I was the only child there and was viewed with some awe and at times great curiosity… as though they had long forgotten that small children existed! They would oooh and ahhh over me for a bit and then go back to their stories of unknown relatives.  At the time, I was curious but not all that overly interested in all those stories.  They remained in the back of my mind  though, those little snippets and bits… and years later when I began researching my family history, they would return.

A box of treasure-Rescued memories and untold stories

ernst pfieffer henrietta borchart pfeiffer family photo william pfeiffer jr.

One of my other entertainments during those childhood years was a big box of old family photos. I would spend countless hours looking at those pictures wanting to know more about these strangers that had come to reside with us. The box was a collection of various photos and lives mixed together from both sides of my family, jumbled together in a last resting place. My parents inherited the photos when the grandparents passed away… really, I should clarify here that my parents actually rescued many of these photos and souls because of their sense or feeling of respect, their profound feelings for family and their interest in history. When my Dad’s Mother died, his Father was about to toss it all in the trash. My Father stepped in, said no and hauled as much as he could save home to keep some memories of the past alive for us.  Unfortunately, my Dad had no idea who some of those people in the photos were! It would take many years before those people shared their names and their lives with us. On my Mother’s side, the photos were rescued when her Mother passed away and many of them suffered the same fate as my Dad’s relatives- of being unknown strangers tossed together in a box waiting for someone to search for their identities. While  my parents couldn’t identify the people in the photos, they still held my interest. I would ponder over them, wonder and then imagine who they were, what their stories were.  That box of old photos became my greatest treasure, those people became my friends and my inspiration for the future.  That box held the past and the future for me. Even after I grew up and left home, each time I returned, I would spend time with that box, those people and always wonder about them.  As an adult, I would spend time going through the pictures once again with my parents, trying to trigger their memories of who those people were. I tried to write the names down over the years but often it seemed that what was clear as day to my parents one time would change at another viewing. When other relatives came to visit, I would haul out the box and ask them for their memories.

Slowly over many years, we were able to put names to many of my Mother’s relatives but my Father’s relative remained much a mystery to me and some still are a mystery even after all of these years.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested or didn’t care, he just didn’t know them. My Mother was the oldest one in her family and for as long as she was alive, she was much like a family record keeper… and secret keeper as well. They were a close knit little group of siblings and families and she tried to keep track of all of them. My Father’s family on the other hand, was more distant both in miles and feelings. His parents had died long before, his sisters were living distant far away lives and although he would visit his remaining relatives in Minnesota, it was not such a close connection as my Mother’s family had. I think my Mom knew as much or more about his family than he did! He seemed more connected to my Mom’s family for the most part than his own. 

When my Mom was getting sick, she decided that she needed to share as much of the family history from both sides . We began the process of sorting through that box one last time together as she tried to recall as much of the past as she could remember. Our last year together was spent looking at those pictures, those faces attempting to put names and stories to them. Along with those picture memories came other shared memories and secrets from her as well. She told me her life, the one before she was Mom or Auntie. She made me drive her down long forgotten country roads to old homesteads, farms and schools… there were times when I would get frustrated, worry that she was confused about places and I admit there were often times I prayed that my car would not get stuck on some of the treacherous overgrown logging roads she insisted I follow! But, I went along with it because I would see after a while what she was seeing so vividly in her mind… the past, the way it was when she was growing up. She took me to visit relatives I never knew I had, but they all knew her, remembered her and their reunions still bring tears to my eyes when I remember it. I sat there quiet much as I had in my childhood and listened to their stories, their memories all come back as though it had just been yesterday. And, as I sat there listening, the stories I’d heard bits and pieces of as a child all came back again, and began to make sense. Sometimes on those visits we would bring some of those pictures… and someone would casually say “Ohh I remember them!” 

For more of my Mother’s family history and secrets, you can read this previous post about why love is not enough.

The treasure box of photos took on even more meaning and value as the people came to life. Their seemingly mundane boring lives became a tapestry woven with complex and often painful stories of trying to survive, of building a life despite great difficulties that the images in the pictures seldom share with us. I was fortunate enough to have that last year with my Mom, and will be forever grateful that she chose so wisely to share all of those long held secrets with me. I am honored too that she chose to trust me with the keeping of that box of memories, that she chose to pass on to me the role of record keeper, story teller, memory sharer… I am at a point now in my life where I am realizing that I have been remiss in some of my duty, my purpose and I need to take it much more seriously.  I have spent a number of years researching our family history off and on going in spurts…. it is a never ending process, this search and this story gathering. There are times when it becomes overwhelming and so frustrating that one needs to step away from the past and breathe fresh air. Then there are times when it feels like someone from that past is calling softly- or loudly in some case, to be heard. It is like someone has sat patiently waiting in line for their story to be told, then finally jumps up waving their arms and saying, “I’m so tired of waiting, we all are tired of waiting… We want our stories told, we do not want to be forgotten!”

Calls from the past

Every so often, I get that call, that message and am reminded that I need to do something.  It’s one of those feelings that I can only explain in terms of having an ongoing niggling thought that you are forgetting something important. You could label it as intuition, premonition- it’s an inner thought that I should be doing something more, that I am side tracking myself from some purpose… unless you have also experienced the same sort of feeling, it’s difficult to describe or put into words.

I have spent the past year here sharing stories, sharing history with you, hopefully inspiring you in your own exploration of history, either in general terms or in more specific terms such as your own family history.  Recently, in the past few months, I’ve shared some of the earliest Saxon and British  history and legends with you that include ancient tales of King Arthur and the ancient Britons. As I delved into that early history, for some reason I became more and more fascinated with the area of Wales. Truthfully, I have never really had any great interest in that area before. It’s not a an area that I’ve ever really had some intense calling or feeling of connection to… until now.  Alright, I think to self, we have just read far too much about the ancient origins of this country and it’s peaked our overall interest. I let it go at that for a bit and try to get back to our normal history here but then I find myself wondering about my family history, which I have put off working on for quite a long time. I conveniently blame the most recent episodes of  TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are… one of my other favorite shows because of course, it deals with family and history! Anyway, the most recent episode with JK Rowling grabbed my attention and got me thinking of my own unknown history in Germany. I debated with self over trudging back over to and forking over cash to chase leaves which continue to pile up and ultimately lead me nowhere. I’ve been that route before and still hold a great deal of angst/frustration about much of but I do on occasion give in and hand over money in hopes of having some of my questions resolved.  Anyway, that is a completely different topic for some other time. Suffice to say, I gave into internal nagging from unknown voice or branch of my family badgering me to continue the quest. I returned to the quest assuming that I would go with specific intent of searching that elusive and mysterious German branch of my Mother’s family that simply refuses to share any more history with us. It turned out that they are still not ready to talk and if that was my sole purpose or intent, then once again, my money was wasted.  Not being one to feel as though I’ve totally wasted my money, I decided that since I’ve already paid my monthly subscription, I should at least make some attempt at visiting other branches of the family even though most of them are fairly well documented already.

I went back to some of those previously searched branches thinking just to update them with what ever few leaves might still be floating around them. For some reason, I was drawn to one ancestor whom I had never paid too close attention to before. I do apologize for that now, Mary… This particular ancestor has been sitting right there in that branch of our tree from the earliest beginnings of my research. She and her family have been there since my aunt gave me a hand written copy of our Workman family tree before I was really interested in any of it. I was always so focused on other branches that I just took her for granted, copied what vital information there was and never bothered to look beyond the surface.  I guess Mary Polly Owen was tired of waiting so patiently and for whatever reason, decided it was her turn to be heard!

Mary Polly Owen wants to be heard

Now that I look back on this, I have to wonder whether Mary Polly Owen has been calling for a while? Let me tell you a little about Mary Polly Owen and about some basics of my Workman family history  and then you might understand why I wonder this.  When I was growing up, my Dad would occasionally share what little bits he knew about the Workman family history or genealogy… and it was just that- minor little bits passed down over the years in fragments. He cared about family and about history, but realistically not so much about the two of them together.  He would share stories about his youth and some scattered random memories of his parents but other than that, he wasn’t a family history type of guy! One time when we looked at all of those old photos, there was a comment shared about some people in his family being Quakers but he wasn’t sure who or even when as in how far back.  The conversation quickly changed as we moved on to another photo and we all promptly forgot about the Quakers.  Years later when I was researching his family, I did remember that comment but didn’t give much credence or thought to it because I was finding no Quakers in the family. Nor was I finding the Irish or Scottish that he  insisted were part of his family.  He always kept insisting that his family was Irish, Scottish and English. Well, after many years of searching, I never found Irish or Scottish. What I originally found was English, then some more English and then finally some Dutch… the Dutch came because at one point in their early history the family went to Holland, changed their name from Workman to Wertman or Wiertman then moved on to America with the Dutch colonists.  During my initial research, I found a couple of family stories written down and a few distant relatives who recalled similar versions of those stories, that shed some light on this transition. One of the stories was that they claimed to be Dutch for a long time to avoid some religious persecution or some other type of retribution in England. A comment some recalled hearing often was to remember they were really English! At some point, once they were established in the states family members changed the name back to Workman and happily went on from there. Nowhere in any of this history was Mary Polly Owen’s background ever mentioned. Owens is a fairly common name and I always assumed she was English along with the rest of the various ancestors.

Mary Polly Owen has apparently decided that she has remained quiet about her own heritage long enough.  I browsed through all of those ancestors and began that ever tedious process of clearing the few remaining leaves for my direct ancestor,  Isaac Workman and his wife, Mary Jane (Polly) Owen. Just to be clear, in my personal records for her, she was always written as Mary Polly Owen, and in my own defense- most of  my previous searches had not turned up all that much additional information on her other than some basics such as vital statistics and general listings of family members. This time however, I discovered there was a lot  more detailed information on Mary and her lineage. There were a lot of those little leaves, and there are still a lot of them left to go!  So, what did Mary Polly want me to know, what was so important that she chose now to step up and insist that her story, her past be shared?

It seems that perhaps Mary Polly Owen just wanted to let me know that there is more to my interest in Wales than just having read too much history lately? Why is that, you might ask? Well, because for  one thing, Mary Polly Owen was half  Welsh as well as most likely being the Quaker that the family descendants would eventually recall. Mary Polly Owen was the daughter of one Nathan Clinton Owen whose ancestry and lineage is stretching far back into Welsh history and some very well documented firm Quaker roots. When I look at her family and their history, I can not see her easily giving up that history, lineage or belief system when she married into my ancestor Isaac’s English Protestant family. 

On the surface, Mary Polly’s (She will always be Mary Polly to me) life would seem to just be one of those mundane ordinary lives with no real details to flesh it out or make more of a story worth reading or sharing.  All we really have about her are the basic vital statistics of one family living in the early 1800s. Her story is probably similar to any number of other women during that time. There no unique or epic details to her life, no all of those details passed into obscurity along with her. She is long gone, long forgotten… she is not even one of those faces in the treasure box of photos left to me. The only thing that remains of her life are lists of names, dates and places- and some of those are probably not accurate. Take for instance the tombstone bearing her name. Obviously, at some point in time, someone has taken great care to provide this newer grave stone for Mary and Isaac but I have to wonder if her death year is actually accurate?  I do know that she was still alive in 1870. The federal census lists her as living in Sefton Illinois in 1870 and being 70 years old at that time. If she lived to be 100 back then, what a remarkable achievement for her considering how difficult times were and the fact that she was a widow for such a long time. After Isaac’s death in 1845, there is no account of her ever re-marrying so I would assume that she continued on her own, with help from her many children.

Mary Polly Owen

This is the original gravestone marker for Isaac Workman. I do not know what happened to this one or why it was replaced with the much newer one that includes Mary Polly on it but I am appreciative to which ever descendant provided the new one!

Isaac Workman gravestone

The basics of Mary’s life are that she was born on May 28th 1800 to Nathan Clinton Owen and wife Leah Margaret Hartzell in Ohio, probably somewhere in Fairfield County.  She was the second child in a family of 10 or 11 children. Her Father, Nathan died in 1811 when she would have been just 11 years old. At the time of his death, it would seem that he left his wife Leah with 10 young children to care for. Nathan’s cause of death is unknown, but he did leave a last will and testament.  It was that will that touched me, gave me some insight and thought as to the family that young Mary Polly was raised in. He spoke of  his great love and concern for his wife and children, and their future. There was one other mention in his will that provided some added clue as to this family’s Quaker beliefs. In his will, he made provision for land to be set aside for a school house, a public cemetery and public meeting house for all to use whether they be Friends, Manists, Baptist, Lutherans or Presbyterians.

In the name of God, Amen. I Nathan Owen of the county of Fairfield and state of Ohio, yeoman being very sick and weak in

body, but of perfect mind and memory, thanks be given to God; calling into mind the mortality of my body and knowing that

it is appointed for all men once to die; do make and ordain this my last will and testament – that is to say principally,

and first of all I give and recommend my soul into the hand of almighty God that gave it, and my body I commend to the

earth, to be buried in decent Christian burial at the discretion of my executors, nothing doubting but at the general

resurrection, I shall receive the same – again by the mighty power of God, and as touching such worldly estate wherewith

it hath pleased God to bless me in this life, I give devise and dispose of the same in the following manner and form:

First, that all my last debts be paid, my dearly beloved Leah to have the privilege profits and income of all my real and

personal estate for the term of ten years after my decease; together with the privilege of buying and selling any personal

property for the schooling and maintenance of the children and at the expiration of ten years after my decease it is my

will that all my real and personal estate shall be sold, except what shall be excepted hereafter. I give and bequeath unto

my beloved wife Leah such a part of my real estate as contained within the following boundaries at the expiration of ten

years after my decease, viz; Beginning at William Young’s corner on Clear Creek and running South to Robert Young’s

corner, thence east with said Robert Young’s land till the N. E. corner of the same, thence North to Clear Creek, thence

up said creek to the place of beginning, be the same, more or less, with all the profits arrising from the same during her

natural life; I likewise give and bequeath to my beloved wife Leah at the expiration of ten years after my decease, the

following property viz, one horse and saddle not under the value of sixty five dollars, two cows, two beds and beding

together with the kitchen furniture, all the remainder of my real and personal estate to be praised and sold, giving any

of the heirs jointly or singly the privilege of holding the same at the appraisment by paying the other heirs their proper

shares; and after the decease of my beloved wife Leah, all the real and personal estate devised to her, by this my last

will and testament, the same to be praised and sold for the benefit of the heirs, giving them the privilege of holding the

same at the appraisement, as above, reserving out of my whole tract of land, one acre on the north east corner of the same

for the benefit of a school, where a school house may be built and a grave yard for the benefit of the public – in

general, such religious denominations as is hereafter mentioned to have the privilege of building a house for public

worship on said reserve (vis) Old sort of Quakers, otherwise called Friends. Old sort of Manists, Babtists, Lutherans and

Presbyterians, and no person or persons whatsoever to dwell or reside thereon. The said reserve to be appropriated to no

other use than the purposes herein mentioned. I give and bequeath to my oldest son David by my first wife, eight dollars

it being my will that my son James, my son William, my daughter Mary, my son Joseph, my son Charles, my son Nathan, my son

Jesse, my son Reuben and the one unborn to have an equal share without distinction of all the monies interest profits and

income. It is likewise my will that no sale shall be made of any part of my real estate before the expiration of ten years

after my decease any of the heirs that should be of age before that time shall wait till such sale shall take place and

money raised, and then to receive interest for the same from the time they become of age till the time they receive

payment and the others to receive their shares as the respectively become of age. I likewise constitute make and ordain

Martin Sanders Esq. Executor and my beloved wife Leah executrix of this my last will and testament likewise leaving the

reserve above mentioned in their care and charge giving them power to transfer their charge of it to my heirs and then

their heirs and so on successively hoping that all things herein mentioned and contained be faithfully and truly performed

ratifying and confirming this (with they interlining and erasement as above) and no other to be my last will and

testament. In Witness whereof I have herewith set my hand and seal this nineteenth day of January in the year of our Lord

One Thousand eight hundred and eleven. Signed, sealed, published and declared in the presence of us and we in his presence

have hereunto set our hand this day and date herein written. Nathan Owen

Nathan’s wife Leah married again in December of 1812 and had one more child. It is unknown whether he was a Quaker, but my initial thought is that he probably was or that he would have been mindful and accepting of what ever faith Leah was.


The family remained in Fairfield county where Mary Polly married Isaac Workman in 1818 when she was 18 years old. Mary and Isaac resided in Knox county Ohio until 1838 when they joined other members of Isaac’s family in what was originally a plan to settle in Texas. They did not get any further than Illinois! The recorded story is that sixteen families started out in a wagon train on their way to settle in Texas. They camped over night at Howard’s Point near St. Elmo. While there a horse belonging to Isaac Workman broke it’s tether and escaped. Horses were very valuable and the whole next day was spent searching for the lost horse. They found it just about where the old liberty Cemetary was later located. In looking for the horse, they had explored that part of the county and liked what they saw. How many in the wagon train besides the Workman families remained in the county is not known. Mary and Isaac settled in Fayette county, Illinois with their 10 children. In August of 1845, Isaac passed away. He and Mary Polly were married for 27 years and as I’ve mentioned previously, there is no record of her ever marrying again.  I know this seems like very little to base any thoughts about her life on or for that matter, much reason to be so interested in this one woman’s seemingly unremarkable life. Perhaps that is part of the reason I am so interested in her?  For many of  her descendants like my family, she  became just another name on a piece of paper.  She disappeared into the fabric, the tapestry of our history and left little trace of herself, her heritage, her history and her culture other than that vague recollection on someone in our past possibly being a Quaker. Her Welsh heritage completely disappeared in our history!

As I read more about Mary’s Father Nathan and his family, I began to see more of  Mary Polly Owen as well.  Mary Polly Owen was born into a strong Welsh Quaker family and heritage that is well worth remembering. It was not quite so apparent  when reading Nathan’s short history but became much clearer when going back a generation to Nathan’s Father, David Owen. I found this short biography mentioning David Owen and the family’s heritage which they took great pride in.

SAMUEL BACHMAN AND HIS WIFE RACHEL OWEN By Cornelia Ellen Bachman Phlegar -1970 Page 9 & 10

“…The Owen family were of Welsh origin. They were among the first immigrants to the state and some of them became prominent in Colonial days. Griffith was a member

of the Colonial Council from 1685 to 1707. John was Sheriff of Chester County in 1730. Owen was Sheriff of Philadelphia County in 1728 and Coroner in 1730. After this

he went to Saucon. His wife was Margaret. They had at least three childen: Thomas, David and Margaret. David, with his wife, Sarah, had eleven children, among them

Rachel, the wife of Samuel Bachman.

David Owen operated a sawmill and hat factory on the site of the Mast’s Mill at Standard about the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1748, he applied for and was

granted a license to open a tavern. He opened this tavern in 1748 on the farm later owned by Frank B. Heller. On February 10, 1749, warrants were issued to David Owen,

in pursuance of which there was patented to him on December 13, 1769, one tract (No. 5) of 64 1/2 acres designated as “Perplexity” and another (No. 19) of 49 acres.

David Owen served as a private of the 5th class in the 5th Company, 1st Battalion, Northampton County Militia in June 1777. A question has been raised as to whether

Samuel Bachman of Saucon was the Samuel Bachman who married Rachel Owen, also of Saucon, and settled in Philadelphia or whether one Christopher Samuel Bachman who

arrived at Philadelphia in 1750 aboard the ship Edinburgh from Rotterdam might not be this man. … It is my opinion, based on the records, that the Samuel Bachman of

Saucon courted and won his neighbor, Rachel Owen, and travelled to Philadelphia where they were married and lived until they made their trip to the southern territory

and that Christopher Samuel Bachmann is in no way connected with this couple.

Page 22 The following record was taken from photostatic copy of a page from an old family Bible, said copy having been loaned to Nell Phlegar by Miss Reveley Owen, of

Bristol, Virginia, she being a direct descendant of David Owen.

“David Owen was born in the year of our Lord 1713, the 13 Day of March — And dyed the 15 Day of June in the year of Our Lord 1790 being about Seventy Seven years of

age — Sarah Owen his wife was born in the year of Our Lord 1724 and Died the 13 Day of Aprill 1792 being about 68 years of Age — They were blessed with eleven

children six sons and five daughters the names as follows: Thomas Jessee David Jonathan Nathan Joseph Rachel Mary Sarah Abigail Lydia –“


Nathan Owen eventually settled in Ohio while much of his family remained in Pennsylvania or moved on to Tennessee but I believe that his pride in his heritage and his religious beliefs probably remained strong. I have not done much added research into the area he settled in Ohio, but my personal thought is that he most likely settled with some family members or church members. I think he and his wife would have made attempts to pass that heritage and faith on to their children. So growing up, Mary Polly would probably have been well versed and aware of her own heritage, and she would have also been well grounded in her own faith even if she chose to eventually marry one who was not a Quaker. My thought is that when she married into Isaac’s large family, she and her heritage got swallowed up and began to disappear over the years. This would have been easy to occur, especially when she made the move with Isaac and his family from her home in Ohio to Illinois. If she moved with his family and left most of hers and any Quaker Friends in Ohio, she would have blended more into the larger group of predominantly English descendants. Her own culture and history would have been easily overshadowed and forgotten as time went by.


workman family 1885

From left to right – John Scott, Matilda Workman Scott, William Workman and Harriet Earnst Workman (Matilda’s Parents), Barbara and Arthur Clark (Sister), Harriet Workman Smith, Aunt Michele Shear holding Hattie in her arms and little Walter Smith standing holding on to post, Charlie Workman with wife Etta Workman, and the Minister and wife (who married Charlie and Etta).

Charles Workman

Charles Workman

Another interesting thought about Mary Polly and what trace she may have left us as to her history is a comment made by my Great Grandfather, Charles Workman. He made comments about  family history in Pennsylvania and recalled some reference to Pennsylvania Dutch.  Not all of his memory or recollections were accurate as I later discovered, but I take into consideration that by the time he shared his memories he was quite elderly and he may easily have mixed up some of the information. The main point is that his hazy and vague recollections do have some merit and some possible grains of truth.  He remembered family being in Pennsylvania, as well as the stories about his Father’s side having Dutch ancestry. What interests me now is the possibility that perhaps he was recalling something of Mary Polly’s past as well with his thoughts of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Dutch?

Mary Polly’s Father, Nathan Owen was a descendant of  a well traced, documented and regarded Welsh Quaker family that began life in America when early ancestor Griffith Owen left Wales to settle in Pennsylvania.

Griffith Owen was born in Marionethshire, Wales and died January 1717/1718 in Philadelphia. PA.  His will was probated Spetember 29, 1717.  He married Sarah Barns, daughter of William Barns.  She died October 22, 1702.  He married again to sarah Songhurst in 1704.  she died June 4, 1733.  All children are from his 1st. wife.

             Dr. Griffith Owen, son of Robert Owen and Jane Vaughn Owen was a Leader among the Quakers.  He had a liberal education and practiced Medicine in England, becoming a Surgeon of high repute.  When William Penn received his charter, Dr. Owen Persuaded him to set aside 40,000 acres in Chester Co., to be known as the Welsh tract.  This was to be reserved for those of the Welsh race, the Welsh Language, manners and laws should prevail there.  He reached Philadelphia in September 1684 and soon acquired a large practice in his profession.  He is accredited with performing the first surgical operation in Pennsylvania.  He served for many years in public life, holding position as a member of assembly almost continuously, a member of the Governor’s Council, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, a Coroner, Justice of the Peace and a Judge of the Common Pleas.  He was a minister among the Friends.  In the performance of these Duties, he made several trips to England and Wales.  “There was no more respected or influencential Friend in all the Province.”  He settle first in Merion, but afterwards removed to Philadelphia.

If we look at Mary Polly’s Mother, Leah Hartzell, we can find the possible connections or reference to Pennsylvania Dutch. Leah’s originated in Germany, which is where the term Pennsylvania Dutch originally referred to.  Pennsylvania Dutch (Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch)   are a cultural group formed by early German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania and their descendants. This early wave of settlers, which would eventually coalesce to form the Pennsylvania Dutch, began in the late 17th century and concluded in the late 18th century. The majority of these immigrants originated in what is today southwestern Germany, i.e., Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg; other prominent groups were Alsatians, Swiss, and Huguenots (French Protestants). Historically they have spoken the dialect of German known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch. In this context, the word “Dutch” does not refer to the Dutch people or their descendants, but to Deutsch (German).

The first major emigration of Germans to America resulted in the founding of the Borough of Germantown in northwest Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania on October 6, 1683.  Mass emigration of Palatines began out of Germany in the early 18th century from areas along the Rhine River.  The Pennsylvania Dutch maintained numerous religious affiliations, with the greatest number being Lutheran or Reformed, but many Anabaptists as well. The Anabaptist religions promoted a simple lifestyle and their adherents were known as Plain people or Plain Dutch. This was in contrast to the Fancy Dutch, who tended to assimilate more easily into the American mainstream.

If you  go back and  read Nathan Owen’s will,  he makes references to the other religious affiliations that may have made up his settlement in Ohio and formed some close relationships. For him to leave land specifically designated for public use by all of these groups suggests there was a close relationship and connection between them all.  Given Leah’s family lineage, it’s highly possible or probable that Leah Hartzell was a part of this Pennsylvania Deitsch group. The Quakers would have blended somewhat smoothly with these others given the fact that they were sometimes regarded as  Plain and Simple people as well. 

Through Leafs and Time

After all of this research and discussion, what am I left as and ending for this look at Mary Polly Owen? I still don’t know her very well, I may never know her as well as I would like to. But, I do know her better than I did before I started so just for that fact alone, the trip through leafs and time at has been well worth the money spent for such a journey. My visit with Mary Polly Owen has introduced me to a part of my family history that I never knew about and for that I am much appreciative. She has left me with even more interest in her Owen heritage and legacy that goes so much further back to Wales and to England. Perhaps that was her intent.  Her spirit stepped forward from the pages and  looked over my shoulder. I could almost feel her point and whisper, “Look, there’s my name, there I am…click on that leaf!”  Maybe she just wanted that recognition as we all do that she was here in my life, my history, and that her story is just as important as some of those other more memorable and interesting ones. Perhaps she wanted to remind me that her story, her life was and is part of a much bigger and longer one. Her life may seem rather mundane, ordinary…. plain and simple, but she connects me to a much richer picture of the past.  We all need those simple rather plain threads in order to weave the stories together and create that brilliant tapestry of life that is made up of so many different paths in history.  Mary Polly has reminded me of a purpose in my life. She has inspired me to spend more time focusing on my family’s history, sharing it and passing it down to future generations to learn from.

As I work on this project, I will share the journey here with all of you because all of it is a part of history.  All of  our stories matter, whether big or small, epic or ordinary, it is all a journey through time.  Every one of us has a story worth telling and sharing hidden within our past. My last thought for today is to challenge and encourage you to explore your own history and see where it takes you. You may be surprised at where the journey leads you to, much as I was by finding a path that takes me to Welsh Quakers in Dolgelly, Merionethshire, Wales! There is far more to tell about the Owen Family history and I will share some of it in future posts!


Merionethshire Wales

This 19th century hall sits on the land that was originally owned by ancestor Robert Owen before his family emigrated in the 1600s. It is Dolserau Hall in Dolgelly Wales and is now an Inn.

Dolserau Hall in Wales

Dolserau Hall in Wales

Owen Welsh tartan

Owen Welsh tartan

Now, go off on your own journey through time and history. Hopefully you will find unexpected treasures, reunite with unknown faces from the past and be inspired by someone’s long forgotten story.