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18 Feb 2017

Twin of my Valley: Decisions in Iron, 1840s Wales

Women in my family were no strangers to long journeys. In the 1790s, my ancestress Ann Morgan left Cadoxton by Neath for the large town of Newport where her husband worked on the building of ships.

In around 1830-33, perhaps after she had died, her granddaughters made the same journey all the way back. They were the 20 year-old twins Blanche and Elizabeth Morton. They were coming, with their parents and siblings, to begin a connection with Abercanaid and more importantly, its canal.

It was only while having an Italian cappuccino with my mother yesterday that some extra pieces of the puzzle tumbled into place. And only the previous week that I'd realised the women were twins...

In 1834, the stronger twin, Blanche, probably in town no more than a year was courted by William Francis an ambitious puddler living with his parents in Picton Street, Caedraw. Somehow he petitioned the Lords of Cyfarthfa Castle and was successful, that he and Blanche should marry in their church, Vaynor, up in the hills. I have been there, in 1995, as I descended into the valley towns after a spring lambing the border country.

Four years later, the weaker twin, Elizabeth, married in Merthyr parish church to James Jenkins and settled near the Cyfarthfa lords's Iron Bridge, Ynysgau, central Merthyr. James was a nailer in the iron works.

In 1841 both women are in Merthyr, age given as 25, meaning 25-29.

As the 1840s rolled around, opportunity was springing up around south Wales. Blanche and William seized the moment and in 1848 arrived in the sulphurous fog of Briton Ferry, in the navigable lower reaches of the Neath, to work again as a puddler in the iron furnaces there. They were midway through the births of their seven children.

In 1851 both women give their age as 39 and as neither could have been any older, nor would they likely to be aggrandising their years, I suspect these are true and both are born therefore in December of 1811, by comparison with William's family bible entry for Blanche.  At this point Blanche is in Briton Ferry and Elizabeth still in Ynsygau.

Elizabeth and James made their decision to leave later, after they had finished having children, and watched 7 die. Merthyr had been horrendous for them and in the late 1850s they came to the ironworks of Aberdare where their family still have connections to this day.  No more children arrived, but equally, none died.

The twins' family would not remain in Briton Ferry, nor in Aberdare. After seven years, Blanche and William move to Morriston ironworks. Their only son was 17 and they probably wanted to get him apprenticed in the tinplate works there, rather than continue in the scorching hell of the ironworks. This would fit William's ambitious nature.

In 1875 we assess the roll of the twins' dice. Because in 1875 in Morriston, the Dyffryn tinplate and steel works would open providing lifelong employment to Blanche's only son and grandson (who didn't take it). We have the desk presented to us from that works 35 years later.

But in 1875 in Aberdare, that was the year the iron works shut, having been good for Elizabeth's husband and son for a 20-year period.

As for the twins, Elizabeth had survived her only daughter dying in childbirth and died age 55 in Aberdare, 1867 two years later, while Blanche lasted another year in Morriston. Her portrait is painted in Swansea (by Chenhall) and survived. She had refused a final move from her persuasive husband, to join family up in Bishop Auckland. William finds work as a "forge agent" within the year up there taking his only daughter with him. Perhaps he finally escapes the furnaces?

Elizabeth's husband James has the misfortune to survive beyond 1875 he is nearly seventy and unable to join the rush for the Rhondda coal mines. He has no choice but to return to the hated iron works of Merthyr and their tyrannical masters where he ends his days alone, still working at 75, lodging in the town.

A word on infant mortality. Elizabeth has 8 children over a dozen years against Blanche's six, and both have a final child after a gap, Blanche having the longer gap. So perhaps Elizabeth was the stronger twin after all? Neither was as strong as their mother (who attained 70 and bore live twins twice) nor grandmother (age 101).

Blanche lost 5 children out of 7 (all age 1 or over) while Elizabeth lost 7 children out of 9 (most known to be under 1). So perhaps Blanche's milk was stronger or just the air in Merthyr worse.  Both girls used the name Margaret for daughters but not each other's names.

My mother asks why the birth of twins in the family stopped? Perhaps the way the gene worked you had to be born a twin to have twins, and the industrial era killed off infant twins either in the womb or in early life. Not sure. Blanche and Elizabeth's mother was a twin.

Many more questions to be asked about these valleys seen through the prism of the two twins.

11 Feb 2017

Clues for those who know

Back in 2015 I wrote a posting about the 1939 Wife Swap couple which blew up the internet.

I had found that identity of Richard Bowman's second wife Louisa May, who had taken the name of his first wife, the real Louisa May.

Louisa May not have been who she said she was.  In fact she certainly wasn't.  The fact that she's described as somebody called Millie on her probate record was very helpful.

Millie's three full names meant there was only one birth that fitted, a Miss Millie Moucher born Kent 1901.  But what was her story and how did the years enable her to become Louisa Bowman by the 1930s?

We needed to press pause on that enquiry until the GRO indexes of November 2016 revealed her mother's maiden name, she was the only surviving child of Mrs Mildred Moucher by her husband.  And what should the census records reveal, that Millie senior had taken on a new man, Mr Stockton, by 1911 and was living with him without benefit of clergy.

Both women disappear entirely from the records, and who knows if Mr Stockton, with the relatively senior role of Chief Stoker in the Navy, stuck around.

Except he does.  Buried in the transcription of Millie (sorry 'Louisa') and her family in the 1939 register is her step-dad, Mr Stockton, still going strong and described as a widower.

I had birth records for all Millie's children except the eldest, presumably born before her liaison with Mr Bowman, namely Dorothy P Bowman.  I find her birth as Dorothy P Stockton in the late 1920s with mother's name Stockton.  Last piece of jigsaw fitted.

7 Feb 2017

You've Got No Chance

Want to pin down Mary Francis born 1848 in Briton Ferry.  Well, good luck.
She's at home in 1851 and again in 1861, but not so's you'd know as she's down as Margaret (the name of her deceased sister).
In 1871, she's with her father up in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, but they are both listed as born Glamorganshire, making her one of 11 born in about the right period.
After she marries (1875) her age is listed wrongly in all censuses up until the end.  I only found the marriage as we had a garbled version of her married name from the family bible.  And no mention in either record of the fact she'd been married before up in Durham.

Want to find this, another one of my Grandpa's fearsome great-aunties in the records.  Sorry: you've got no chance!

3 Jan 2017

I Aberdare you to find Eleanor Jenkins

Little did I know when gathering the marriage certificate for Eleanor to my relative James Jenkins that I would shortly be conducting a wholesale enquiry into her character and history.

A fairly boring marriage in a Welsh chapel in 1866, with no real feeling that this was my cousin James Jenkins.

Eleanor has been located, thanks to online troubadours, across five censuses in Aberdare. The last of these gives a clue that something has been tricky for her along the way. A widow, she is 73 (at last giving her real age) with 3 children living out of 12 born.

By the time she is 22 her first relationship has broken down and she is described as 'married' while living with her parents and taking their name. She still has five years to go before marrying my relative, J. Jenkins.

What's not clear is who is the father of her baby Gwenllian born some months before the wedding, at the infant's wedding twenty years later we're told her was John Thomas. John appears to witness the marriage.

Eleanor was describing herself as Mrs Thomas, widow, at the time she 'linked' with Jenkins. The answer or a clue to this conundrum must lie on Gwenllian's birth certificate.  (It won't as father's name not given.)

Odd that the child born out of wedlock survives while 9 others (likely legitimate) do not.

Gwenllian's marriage was not listed as Gwenllian or as Jenkins, my expected ideas. She was listed as Gwenilian (note this is a subtle mis-reading) Thomas (due to the illegitimacy). Further, her husband T. Howells was given the wrong reference number by the freeBMD transcriber when he got married.

Eleanor's daughter Mary's marriage was much easier to find despite the common name. She married Richard Williams and they are living round the corner from Eleanor in the 1911 census.

Eleanor's only son became a miner's choir conductor at the head of the valleys and thanks to a helpful 1926 newspaper cutting I'm in touch with his family, still musical, some of whom live in Italy.

The online chatters solved why I'd missed the family in 1881. They are recorded as Thomas and Elender Jenkins with even more mangled ages than usual.

It would be interesting to know more of those nine children who died. With the GRO index, I plan to see if I can figure some of them out, born around the town in the 1870s I suspect.

It seems Eleanor lived on until the 1920s and that her family stayed close.

A good coffee shop

Keep your voice down I was told in a cwtchy coffee shop somewhere in the Principality of Wales. My correspondent proceeded to tell me plenty of gossip they'd felt unable to do in the comfort of their own home. Ok, so the names of grandkids were a little hazy, but that was ok. Who cared about them!

Two scalding cuppas wobbled on the table as the underground train rumbled through. Thank goodness the family photos were still in their orange supermarket bag waiting to be shown. Here's uncle Harry, in southern [Zimbabwe] in 1913. Wow, I said, dodging the table's wet patches as the photo was carefully placed on a dry area.

My phone camera is at the ready as I capture the photo of Granny's grandpa's uncle Thomas at the EasiNet in Edgware Road with the cousin standing by. I cannot recall the coffee but boy do I remember running through in my head the things I wouldn't do to get a snap of this photo. I'm afraid there weren't very many.

Today my old friend Excel is chomping through a million addresses, getting fed a new line of code every few minutes while I pen this blog. I have clocked up ten pounds of cash spent here, but the view is good with plenty of daylight. On a note of safety, it would be impossible for a truck or lorry to accelerate into the property.

I usually choose a hot chocolate and a doughy sticky mixture guaranteed to press pause in my bowels. I'm confident my kidneys would struggle to squeeze even a drop of moisture from the cheese toastie lately consumed. This has held back a trip to the bathroom by a good while. Chocolate too seems to contain hardly any fluid.

This particular favoured place gets very busy indeed at the counter. One can occupy a prime position on the laptop without preventing others from dining. To top up with food (which is only polite), one must look out for gaps in the queue and seize the moment.

Judiciously dropping down a coat on the way in helps to ensure you get the right seat. Be warned these establishments are known for taking unscheduled badly-spelled days off.

Kitchen be closed I am on holiday from you, customer!

Enjoy the moment while you can, as it changes from 'no laptops at weekend', 'byo alcohol licence applied for', to trendy family friendly hipster tapas carvery retro bar.

You'll need a good coffee after all of that.



The Power of Handwriting for Family History

I justifiably had my wrist slapped for submitting a handwritten family tree to an online forum recently. "We just can't read a single thing!" "How much better would your enquiry be if all the inter-connections were shown through paragraphed text rather than your naughty diagram!" So wrote the helpful chatty folk.

(Not one of whom could solve the puzzle.)

Well the lovely picture above is just a purchase today consolidating my view that handwriting is best.

I've earlier shown how handwritten letters do better on the whole than the typewritten variety when contacting new cousins.

Last week I photographed the beautiful linked trees I'd drawn some years back, which had enabled me to reflect on recent discoveries and present the data in a clear way for a new audience.

The problem was the balance between completeness and a crowding of facts. How could the tree remain readable without editing out half the people? Also, how can I include enough of the story without overwhelming the reader?

There are clever circular charts which can reduce everything you know to half a page, stripping in my opinion lots of the mystique away and rendering your research worthy of just a casual glance.

The glance that Maggie Smith's character would have given in Downton Abbey as she viewed your seize-quartiers (genealogical credentials) before passing them to a junior nephew and declaring "he fits".

How much more valuable a scruffy pen-portrait laying out the real truths of the family, incorporating insights of wise family members.

Valuable, but unreadable, so I send you this blog instead. Utterly readable but lacking any human touch whatsoever.

24 Dec 2016

Child of Cornwall: Forget Me Not

Margaret Trewhella was born at Towednack on the Atlantic coast in 1784. At this time her great grandmother Catherine Baragwanath (born 1701) was still very much alive, which is far back into the Trewhella annals. Margaret had access through this channel to a wealth of old Cornish folklore, including uncle Matty whose love for a mermaid was doomed from the off.

Margaret married a dapper thin thinker, whose photograph and miner's tinder box I once saw. Lord knows where that is now. She was 30 at her marriage and doubtless a strong influence on her four daughters.

Before they spread over the world, the second daughter produced a sampler, photographed above. "Oh my child, forget me not!" A strange sampler for a child, unless firmly directed by a mother like Margaret.

This morning I attempted to date the doggerel. Couldn't be 1851 as Eliza, the embroideress, was married by then. That year, a book, Fields's Scrap-book, came out, and was sentimental and mushy enough to securely cross the Atlantic. A peek at Fields's biography suggests he penned a first edition much earlier, in 1833, Kentucky. Not only was Eliza a young girl then (12) but her uncle J. T. Hichins of Trannack in Sithney was then still living nearby, a woollen merchant. Did he provide the colourful skeins, I wonder?

Some university library in the States is sure to have Fields's first edition, and I for one would like to know if he remembered to include the rhyme "Forget Me Not" back in 1833, as I strongly suspect.

17 Dec 2016

Long Honeymoon in Norfolk: 25 years waiting for a child

In the course of finally investigating my maternal line, having failed to notice I even had one...

I came across the Long family of Spooner Row, Norfolk. Elizabeth Long married in 1879 at the parish church, age 19, and she comes from the same Norfolk uterus as I do, so is my uterine relative. (Thus Edmund ap Tudwr was a uterine brother of poor Henry VI.)

She has no children listed in the next THREE censuses until Alice Martha, her daughter, arrives in 1904. That's a 25 year wait. The GRO index confirms there were no other births from this couple.

Exhausted by his endeavours husband Walter Green dies and is pegged out five years later.

Around the same time, the ageing reproductive equipment of Elizabeth's father, 60+, grinds back into action, courtesy of a much younger second wife.

Alice was recorded as incapacitated in the 1939 register, which may indicate she was living with Down's, not sure.

I'm curious to know if anyone else has seen such a long gap from the wedding to the birth of a first child.

5 Dec 2016

The Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll: Westminster, UK

Trawling through my extensive archive, I was searching for something to interest (bore?) relatives and came across this.  I grabbed it from the fiche readers at Westminster Central Hall (Methodist HQ, UK), opposite Big Ben, one lunchtime ten years ago or more.  The whole clan of Martins are cousins, and I got a copy to Jimmy Martin on the south coast when he was still just a sprightly 85 year-old.  He was tickled to 'see' the actual signatures of his father, uncles and aunts.

As Richard Ratcliffe writes in the link below, the Methodist community were exhorted in the early 1900s to give a guinea for the building of the above Central Hall.  This was the era of the great Revival with huge things happening in Wales around 1910, according to my great-grandfather, a minister, who wrote about it.  I typed up some notes in the 1980s but these have gone walkies and danged if I fancy typing from his handwriting all over again.

Anyhow, here is the Historic Roll from the Castle Cary Circuit, Somerset.



http://www.thefamilyhistorypartnership.com/hints-tips/the-wesleyan-methodist-historic-roll.php

2 Dec 2016

The Unbelief of Total Clarity

Although Annie Gibson was born in 1836, I was able to stay the night once, with one of her granddaughters. I had invited myself there in the dying years of the century. I tried to peer back to another epoch behind the bright south coast sunshine. I failed.

I blogged about how we found her father's true identity as a wagoner in South Shields.

But although new cousins could share plenty about Annie's mother, we were still none the wiser about her father, John Gibson. We had his marriage at Allendale and his 1841 census entry in Westoe, age 25, but that was it.

He must have died by 1851 but back in 2008 it was prohibitively expensive to look at the GRO death indexes, as there are lots of Gibsons in South Shields.

I decided to look at all the John Gibsons born in Northumberland who had a baby brother Jonathan, the crucial witness at his marriage with very childish writing.

The boys were found, baptised along the Tyne at independent chapels by their noble father, Lancelot. Lance became farm steward to the powerful vicar Christopher Bird of Chollerton, not far from Allendale.  Cousin Linda went through the Chollerton registers and found that my John's death in South Shields was recorded in 1844. She even photographed his gravestone all covered in snow one February morning while up walking the dogs. It is still there, listed with his parents Lancelot and Ann.

Gingerly, I stepped back further in time, by going forwards. The 1861 census for Crawcrook seemed to reveal there was an older half-sister born at Whittonstall while John's mother was still unmarried. A search of the registers by Linda there took me back another two generations.

I had now arrived at Annie's great grandparents John and Ann Charlton born in the late 1750s in the Hexham area.

The new GRO indexes brought some surprises to the narrative.

Annie Gibson was not an only child. In October 1843 came along brother William who died at eight months and is buried at South Shields. Six months later dies John, 31, after an accident on the wagons. His widow becomes a housekeeper in fancy Newcastle while Annie goes to live with her aunt in The Lakes.

At this point her widowed grandfather, Lance Gibson is still alive, but guess who else is still alive? John's grandparents the Charltons, Annie's great grandparents! (Her mother's parents and a grandmother were also still living.)

The Charltons had thus survived their daughter grandson and baby great-grandson.

The GRO indexes reveal that Ann reached age 88 and died in Gunnerton Burn from drowning in June of 1847. Her husband of over 60 years went to stay in Hexham and died there two weeks later.

Interestingly, their other grandson John Gibson was then completing his family of illegitimate children by various local women. Avoiding marriage he used his power to his advantage. His children all lived with him at Colwell.