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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 tinner, 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.

2 Dec 2016

I Can't Believe I Know it All - But I Do

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.

29 Nov 2016

The Luck of The Draw: New Welsh Kin I get Acquainted With

Truly the luck of the draw. My 3x great-grandmother Blanche had a cousin, it turns out, one Susan Evans born 1811 in Bassaleg, near Newport Monmouthshire.

Simple stuff, perhaps, except Susan's baptism is not in the parish records, she never lived with any family members beyond her own marital one, and she isn't mentioned in her father's will.

I think we'll agree that Evans is a fairly frequently-held surname. I don't just grab all people of a name and insist they must be my relatives. I am thinking though of strategies for turning up more of her siblings, now we know they exist.

Susan we're lucky to get; her husband acts as the witness to the death of Susan's old grandmother, Mary Evans, age 101, in 1845, and the census lets slip that Susan is born in Bassaleg. Even more chancefully, the couple delay their marriage until after 1837 thereby giving us confirmation that Mary's son Thomas was her father.

Despite having about eight children, one of whom manages three husbands in Whitehaven but no issue, there are only issue from, we think, two, Ruth (Newport) and Henry (NZ).

Old Mary's daughter also had an interesting informant on her own death certificate 20 years later, which I'm off to investigate.

23 Nov 2016

FamilySearch strikes again: new Welsh line emerges

If you press the keys enough times, you get what you're looking for.  My 4xgreat-grandfather's half-aunt Gwenllian is born in 1751 in Cadoxton-juxta-Neath.  I traced one of her descendants down to 1992 in Penzance, Cornwall and then the entire line died out, shut down.

She marries Richard William and her eldest likely child is Jennet William born 1772 in Cadoxton-juxta-Neath about whom we knew nothing.  Five other children can be deduced from naming patterns in the family, including Anthony, born 1774.

This evening I decided to look for all children of baby Anthonys born to mother named Jennet, and I rapidly found one!  Anthony Phillip born 1807 in Merthyr Tydfil, who dies the following year.  A marriage is found for his parents Jennet WILLIAMS and Thomas Phillip, and the register even says the bride was from NEATH.

I now realise I could have got this by purely searching through all Jennet marriages in Glamorgan (again), as the 'Neath' part has now been transcribed.  But it was more pleasant to go through the route above described.  Jennet in addition has children named Richard and Gwenllian who would be her parents, plus Catherine which was another family name.

Once again the line glimmers to a halt in places with her eldest son (a mine overlooker), having a granddaughter who is unmarried and living at The Bungalow, Gold Hill, Chalfont St Peter as a journalist on the eve of World War One, Miss Jessie Phillips.

Great to have a new lead to follow on this line.

20 Nov 2016

Scribbles of some importance: primary records and why you need them

With my fading eyes and slightly unclean screen I can just make out words in brackets at the foot of the page. Can you see them? They're not easy to read, particularly as they're squirrelled away in a big bound volume in a box with string round in temperature controlled storage behind a counter beyond a security gate at the end of the District Line.

Let me tell you folks, those words are golden. Eight years on and I have a runaway elopement, a port hugging sloop belonging to my Cap'n Rees Rees, a happy-go-lucky works manager giving babies to everyone except his wife, a Cornish fisherman who calls in falls in love and dies with the mermaids, a series of stoic pattern moulders who knew a good trade and stuck with it, a Methodist works manager's wife who sewed and knitted for the poorer folk, a lively public house which helped even the ugly daughters get married, and fourteen Jennets.

I can honestly, hand on computer, say that I'd still be totally stuck at ancestress Ann Morgan born about 1761 in Cadoxton, without this will. If I did wriggle my way through to the happy-go-lucky works manager and his will, I'd have such a fried noggin I'd need to lie down for eight years to recover.

Even with the scribbled note, can *you* figure out whose will they're referring to. It look five hours of solid googling before as my mother says, I 'struck bingo'.

And another three years before I found Ann's baptism, and an extra two more before happy-go-lucky spotted in (thanks to a very informative gravestone in the floor of Neath church). Then another wild punt to unearth the Swansea pothole.

The scribbled hints exist *nowhere* else.

So folks, shake those family records. Shake 'em good, and consider checking the primary sources just to see what secrets are hid. Maybe an extra witness on a marriage entry missed off or mispelt. It's worth the vending machine coffee, I promise.

The series used was the IR26 series of Estate Duty Records 1858-1903, available in hard copy within an hour, just 3 miles from Heathrow Airport.

19 Nov 2016

In which I look for Mary Evans as Ann Evans, 1700s Monmouthshire

Trying to make sense of these Welsh registers is not proving easy. Charles Evans's wife Mary should have been born around 1757 in Monmouthshire (when Charles was born) and their marriage should appear 21 years later. Instead of which Mary appears as still alive, 1841, living with her son, age 96 years old.

This puts her date of birth at late 1743 or early 1744, twelve years ahead of her husband, and suggests the possible twins arrived (including my forebear) when she was nearly 50. But it does explain why they were the last kids despite hubby only being 35.

Having got over that shock I had to be ready for another. Mary reaches the age of 101 and the family paid for two weeks of death notices, which went out for 'Mrs Ann Evans', right age I guess but now wrong name! Mary (Ann)'s age is given as 101 years and 3 months with a helpful note that she hardly ever been ill except very recently.

So now I'm looking for the birth not only of a Mary but also an Ann, in the above 1743/4 timeframe.

I was pretty excited as you can imagine to find an Ann Lewis baptised Dec 1743 in the right parish (Bassaleg) with parents John and Ann. Living with Ann (Mary) in 1841 had been a John Lewis.... Also this Ann had a sister with the strong family name of Blanch. And even more also, a theory forms which hangs it all together! For about ten minutes...

It's quite common for parish clerks to fudge around the names of mothers and daughters, giving them both the same name. How about if young Mary got baptised or recorded under her mother's name, Ann. That would explain how the name lingered into the newspaper records 96 years later. But it wouldn't entirely explain her burial as Mary not perhaps her children's baptisms (mother's name always given as Mary). And most damning of all is the birth of a sister to Ann 9 years later, called Mary. No, no, no!

So whilst it was lovely finding a baptism of the wrong name in the ' wrong' decade with no surname at all to go on, I'm now far from convinced about anything at all.

Mary's grandson John Evans appears in two possible places in 1851, and imagine my gladness at killing off the rogue John with a confirmed sighting at Tredegar Lodge, Bassaleg (he was a groom not born in county). However the right John has a mysterious wedding witness, Henry, whose possible path  takes us to the door of... Tredegar Cottage, Bassaleg in the very same census year - he too was a groom.  Vexating. Too many connections of no apparent value.

But I'm pretty sure about John now, at least, just not his very long lived and never ill grandmother.

16 Nov 2016

Five greats come a-knocking

I've gone plain crazy.  Glimmers of three certificates today have sent me into a spiral of certificate-buying.  I seem to have decided to purchase certificates for every single one of my ancestors.  Surely there can't be that many, I hear you argue.

Well... of the list below, where the button has been depressed, we include some 5xgreat-grandparents, of whom I have, ahem, 128.

Deaths ordered:
Ann Harris 1860 Redruth age 78
Francis Harris 1855 Redruth age 74
Margaret Rapson 1846 Penzance age 83
Henry Lowry 1852 Truro age 85?
Elizabeth Rodda 1840 Penzance age 64
William Francis 1874 Swansea age 74
Mary Evans 1845 Newport age 100
Martha Creed 1868 Shepton Mallet age 82
Joseph Barnett 1856 Ulverston age 88?
John Charlton 1840 Hexham age 78? - his x-chromosome is disproportionally inherited by my sisters
Ann Charlton 1846 Hexham age 85+
Margaret Moses 1850 East Ward age 90

Ann Charlton is interesting, her daughter Ann had died long ago, as had Ann's son John, leaving John's daughter Ann (my 2xgreat-grandmother), who also descends from both John and Margaret.  Margaret Moses was Scottish, so I have my ears open for anything on the certificate which gives away her birthplace.

My Cornish/Welsh grandfather takes the biscuit with the number of certificates I'm ordering for him (6).  Altogether I'm getting the death certificates for six 5xgreats, five 4xgreats, and a common-or-garden 3xgreat.  Fingers crossed for interesting results.

13 Nov 2016

Timeline of deaths in South Wales, mid-Victorian era

Family of William Francis and and his wife of South Wales

As a beginner family historian, armed with the family bible entries, I couldn't understand why these nice great-uncles of my grandfather, born in the 1840s, weren't in the 1881 census.  They should be!  In the words of Private Eye: 'there must be shome mishtake'.

Ironically, it wasn't smelly old Merthyr Tydfil which killed off these kids, it was new-fangled Briton Ferry - at the mouth of the Tawe it was right in the centre of fumes from every direction, ships, coal-burning, metal-wroughting.

In 1855, the family take their depleted tribe up the valley to Swansea.

1838 Thomas born Merthyr - SURVIVES
1841 David born Merthyr- sorry folks
1843 Rebecca born Merthyr- sorry folks
1846 William born Merthyr - sorry folks
1848 Mary born Briton Ferry - SURVIVES
1849 (d) William dies Briton Ferry age 3
1853 Margaret born Briton Ferry - sorry folks
1853 and (d) David dies Briton Ferry age 12 (same quarter)
1855 (d) Rebecca dies Swansea age 11
1855 (d) Margaret dies Briton Ferry age 2 (same year)

1855 - family move to Swansea
1858/9 (m) Thomas marries Swansea
1861 only Mary left at home but written as 'Margaret'
1868 (d) mother Blanche dies Swansea age 57
1870 (m) Mary marries Bishop Auckland area
1872 (d) Mary's son dies in Sunderland
1872 (m) father William remarries Bishop Auckland area (same year)
1873 (d) Mary's husband dies at Marksbury
1874 (d) father William dies Swansea

1875 (m) Mary remarries Swansea (as 'spinster')
  (recorded wrongly in the family bible as Mr Hubbard)
1876 Mary's daughter born Swansea
1877 Mary's son born Sunderland (survives)
1878 (d) cousin Jane Raine dies at Sunderland age 28
1880 Mary moves with her family to Clapham, London for 10 years.  She will later return to Wales.

Thomas has 6 children of whom 3 have issue
Mary has 4 surviving children from the second marriage, all of whom have a lot of issue

101 year old Mary. Bit of a surprise.

Rooting around the Evans siblings in Rogerstone, there wasn't much to go on.  My 4xgreat-grandma had 'married out' way back at the time of Trafalgar.  Her brother was living underneath the railway bridge and had a grandson born in Bristol.  Doggedly following this clue led me to the following census return for 1841, which I'd very definitely missed.
It explains why I couldn't find Thomas Evans in this year, as he's recorded the Welsh way as Thomas Charles (patronymic for his father).  It took me quite some time to work out what I was seeing.  Ann Jenkins is his daughter, whose son was born in Bristol back in January.  And Mary Evans age 95 (is it?) would be his mother.  As for John Lewis, well he could be an older half-brother.  And John Lewis, the tinplate manufacturer (who had a riot at his door two years before) could even be Mary's grandson!

There is a corresponding burial for Mary Evans age 101, four years later (1845) with the address given of Pye Corner, Rogerstone.  Looking at the burials, all the other family members slot in, including Thomas at Railway Cottage, Pie Corner.  Phew - so not exactly sleeping under the railway bridge after all.

Curiously, dad Charles Evans's burial matches a likely baptism in the town of Newport (3.5 miles away).  The family are utterly determined that Mary was 101, recording her death at age 100, and census 95 or 96.  If this is true, then when the couple married, around 1777, Charles would be barely 21 and Mary would be 32 - possibly the widow of this Mr Lewis.

The Evans tree has sat on my website for quite some time with no real news, so this boon is quite something.  I hope an element of it has made its way into the newspapers.  Mary would be 46 when she had the twins Blanche and Margaret (1792).  But then, anything's possible.

7 Nov 2016

The lady Doris was on about, or, The Constantinople Connection

My grandfather, some years deceased, had an old schoolmistress who was born in 1902 in Morriston, Swansea.  Due to a strange chink in time's portal and a thorough polish of the time machine, I was able to meet this lady and chat to her about the family history.

It feels like only yesterday I was asking about her grandfather John Harris (born 1841) and she told me... Well, I mustn't bore you with all that old sort of stuff.

She told me that her grandfather bought some land just outside the area and transferred it to her parents, which meant that clever Doris was able to qualify for attending a much better school.  And so she began her own journey up life's ladder like a sturdy pit pony climbing out of the mine.  (Ed: Did ponies really climb ladders?)

The name Reynolds first surfaced in 1992 with a letter in the post from Doris's daughter, Sue.  She enclosed a transcript of the family bible including the death of Jane Reynolds in 1870 age 35, from, I subsequently discovered, phthisis (TB).  I gaily dashed off to the census rooms and located the family at Brynnewydd a nice house in Sketty, Swansea where Mr Reynolds was the gardener.  I located their only son William who had oddly gone back to Cornwall and made his life there, with no living descendants.  Case closed?

Er, no.  Something Doris had said never really added up.  I put it to the back of my mind for another 25 years.

Until today.  The GRO indexes are released, November 2016, and are hereunto described as the Index.  I idly plugged in Reynolds maiden name Rodda into its facility, and out shot three tasty morsels:
* Richard Stephens Reynolds born 1861 Swansea
* William Reynolds born 1863 Swansea
* Eliza Jane Reynolds born 1865 Swansea

Of course, I expected to find deaths in infancy for all these three, with the exception of William, of whom we knew his next steps.

No!!  They do not appear with their widowed father in 1871 at Brynewydd, who is still grieving and in fact has no kids at home at all.  They are similarly not there in 1881, with the exception of 'only child' William - how wrong was I about that.

All three kids were sent pretty much straight away after their mother's death (1870) back down to their paternal grandparents Mr and Mr Thomas Reynolds in Penzance.  The boys settled in there, listed as 'Richard S Hall', and (barely visible) 'Willie Reynolds' born 'Wales', while the girl goes to Thomas's married daughter Mrs Truscott a few yards away with her husband and grown daughters.

Richard S. Reynolds is bound to the Kate Helena, a Merchant vessel, and its master John Bowen at the age of 15, in Swansea.  He passes his second-mate certificate at 21 and is travelling from Odessa to Constantinople across the Black Sea in 1882 when he is taken ill.  Dying of a heart condition, his last moments are in the pristine white-washed walls of a hospital in Constantinople.

(The heart condition passes down the line and attacks at random some other times in succeeding generations.  None so badly affecting a young man in his prime at the height of Victorian super-powers.)

Eliza Jane Reynolds, the unheard-of daughter, drops dead at 20, in Penzance, quite possibly from the same toxic heart condition.  The year is 1886.

Casting my mind back to my chat with Doris, born just 16 years after this time, and it all makes sense.  She was telling me about a young female member of the Reynolds family (who would be a second cousin of her mother), who died young, and for whom a photograph existed.  It didn't fit the script as I knew it back then, so she was parked in some spare brain cells while a quarter of a century rolled by.

Eliza - I have not seen your photograph but I know that one existed.

Index - I thank you for unveiling these important characters in the tree.

Review of the new GRO index, November 2016

The all spangly new GRO index is hiding some gems.  Whilst the index page is reminiscent of the Dark Ages, even the Venerable Bede would be pleased at the motherlode this shy database is hiding.  Hereinafter this database shall be called the Index.  You do need a login to proceed there.

Something weird was afoot in Bakewell Registration District, where my ancestors enjoyed many an 'early bath' courtesy of the haphazard hygiene and filthy water available there.  A stonking 8.25% of births were registered without names, compared with just 2% in neighbouring Belper in the period being examined (1840s).  I had thought that my Aunt Esther Fox was struggling with her particulars when she registered Nathan as Male, Ellen as Female, Sarah Ann as Female and then Caroline as Female.  All these children survived so I am now blaming an overzealous parish council pushing people to get registering, even when names hadn't yet fallen fully into place.

I have confirmation now from the Index that the Fox children WERE registered, with mother's maiden name showing, but without a name, rather than not registered at all.

Emigrés.  Several relatives begin families in England before heading off overseas.  If they fail to 'clock in' at a census before they leave, we can easily miss folk.  The Index captures them before they go.

Fact-checking.  As a researcher I am full of reasons why things might have happened, and explanations which may or may not be correct.  The Index has told me sadly, that uncle Arthur Smith began his child-siring career age 20, and it was this urgency, rather than doting affection for his 28 year-old bride, that caused the wedding bells to ring.  He notched up 15 in the end according to the Index, and only wrapped it up as he needed to emigrate - by himself.  The hard work in establishing who were Rachel's kids (blog), is all confirmed, too.

More fact-checking.  I could see that the Whitehaven newspapers of 1869 were, as I predicted, wrong about the marital status of my Bridget Moon.  Various Davies births in Merthyr Tydfil were similarly accepted.  The crazy marital career of Eliza Creighton in Wellingborough is proven too - with many partners, varying locations and sons with the same name and vastly different futures, all needing untangling.  One of these became a Barnardo's boy in Canada.

Sort it out!  How embarrassing that I missed the death of my Ann Welch in Kent, 1862, out of the 92 available.  It's easier to home in on her given that the Index specifies her age (51), which is new information, and significantly narrows the field.  Ann's son-in-law survived until the 1940s when he was photographed with his great-granddaughter, who I yesterday informed of Ann's death.  Clearly Ann had gone from Somerset to Kent to help her niece with young babies.  The precise registration district and time-frames match.

Sort it out again!  Blundering through the Young births of north Newcastle, I thought that Cecilia Young would be our relative, as she's called that in the 1911 census.  Wrong!  Her name was Celia and the Cecilia was somebody else.  No wonder her great-niece put down the correspondence when I made this clanger.  Thank you Index for illuminating me.

Ha-ha, what 1837 cut-off?  I have no idea where my ancestral Barnett siblings married.  James (1799) is very much married by 1837, BUT has plenty of children after this time with the mother's maiden name usefully revealed (it was Taylor).  Agnes (1806) marries at about age twenty, and can we find where?  Luckily her youngest child arrives after 1837 so we confirm her maiden name of Barnett, and lock down the relationship.

That don't help me much!  My most puzzling Yorkshire rellie, Ann, born at Bedale in 1875 is confirmed with the mother's maiden name of Bagshaw.  Can someone tell me how this helps me find her (it don't)?  My great-grandmother's only cousin, Walter Gregory is born at Belper in the same year.  Apparently *no* mother's maiden name is given, which is certainly ringing my alarm bells.  Was he really who he said he was?

I see, sort of.  Eleanor Jenkins from Aberdare's three daughters are all born with different surnames:  Mary Monk in 1858, Gwenllian Thomas in 1865 and Elizabeth Jenkins in 1869.  Thank you, Index.  Mary Gwenllian Davies was definitely born in 1898 nearby.  Martha Reeve was the name of the lady who left the policeman (Roberts) in Manchester, danced around Northamptonshire before choosing my violent relative Hugh to shackle down with on the Derbyshire/Cheshire border.  She reverts to Mrs Roberts after his passing, but finally we spy her marriage - in Leeds - impossible without the Index.

I still see, sort of.  Ahhh, naughty cousin Charlotte is pinned down to sexy Fleet, Hampshire for the birth of her illegitimate daughter in 1910.  She fronted it out by deciding she was married.  The entire family dodge the 1911 census.  Arthur Sims born 1887 at Devonport is revealed as really being born at Shorncliffe Barracks.

Kiddies aren't us.  Lots of couples are proved as having no children whatsoever, at any point.

How are you spelling that?  Putting aside how the surnames were spelt, we seem to struggle with mother's maiden names.  Mary Charlotte had the excuse of being 17 when she got married which isn't very many years to learn how to spell Carline.  But this maiden name needed to be dusted down every year or so as the house filled with children (1880s Birkenhead).  Carlyle, Carlisle, Cartyre and occasionally... Carline.

Please turn over your page for the biggest bombshell of all, the Constantinople Connection.

Check out this potentially useful helper here at Greasy Fork.  Postscript: ordered six certificates with Greasy Fork's help.

15 Oct 2016

Who Exactly are Rachel's Kids? A 1911 Mystery.

Take a look at this pair of census entries lovingly curated for you.
The couple concerned marry in 1908 in Builth, and the 1939 register for Bristol, lately released, reveals a daughter Heddus Rachel born 1919 in Bristol (deceased), who suffered a family tragedy.  We'd prefer not to contact this branch.  Looking at the census we see that two children are listed, but where are they!  They will be gone from the family home by 1939 and we do not have any family wills to help us.  Also - the various obituaries for the Roberts family members in Bristol steadfastedly omit our missing two.

Combing through all the births in Builth Wells from 1908 to 1911 we home in on apparent 'twins' Eira and Melfyn Powell born early in 1911.  Sure enough, neither one appears in the census with alternative parents, and Melfyn goes on to become a baptist minister with a connection to the Bath/Bristol area.  This sounds highly likely as Rachel's brother and nephew were both baptist ministers in Bristol.  Eira is a mystery until we find her marriage under 'Powel' which reveals her date of birth to be different from Melfyn's.  So, not a twin after all.  Coupled with the fact she stayed in Builth, she is eliminated.

So who is the missing (elder) sibling to Melfyn?  We have just two likely years to search, births in 1909 and births in 1910, and this time we home in on BRISTOL.

I count up 27 possible Powell births in Bristol. I can eliminate Maurice Vyvyan Powell (1909) as he is an illegitimate relative on a completely different branch whose son used to live ten doors away from me.  That just leaves 26.  It's time to harness a splash of intuition to speed up the process.

Although many of these Powells in Bristol are likely to be of Welsh origin, mine had so recently left, their hair likely still smelt of Welsh rain. .... My main candidate slid rather than jumped off the page, being Gwenyth Joyce (1910), who it turned out was a full 16 months older than Melfyn despite her birth being registered just a year prior to his.

My weak theory that Gwenyth was the missing Powell gained traction when, like Melfyn, there was no trace of her in 1911.  Finding her marriage in Bristol gave no extra bite as unlike the brother she was already born in Bristol, so the marriage was hardly proof.

Worriting away at Gwenyth and keeping her on the Searchlist eventually paid off.  Whilst Gwenyth's address in 1939 appears to bear no relation to her 'mother''s address at the same time (in Baptist Mills), persistence was about to be rewarded.  By the way, whoever said patience is a virtue was not a family historian - that sounds awfully too much like sitting around on your B-hind, while another's persistence and impatience is about to win through.

I had already gone deep with Gwenyth - finding her marriage, her 1939 entry, her husband's death (not easy given the name of Smith) and now I checked out her husband's probate entry.

Picture my surprise when we get a match.

In both cases, 1939 entry for Gwenyth's mother and 1963 entry for Gwenyth's husband - the same precise address is given: Seymour Road, Bishopston.  Despite the married name of Smith, I have just found family members on Facebook, and there are both Scandinavian and Baptist connections (again) to bolster up the family tree.

All thanks to a couple of squiggles in 1911 indicating Rachel Powell, formerly Roberts, had unknown children born 'somewhere in the world' within a vague timespan.

Now to send a second letter to the Roberts family researcher who lives 5 miles away as I'd like to make contact there, and can only imagine my previous letter got eaten by a hungry hound.

2 Oct 2016

Certificated: the Weapons of a Family Historian

You know when you just need to press 'play' on a project and get things moving.  Seven certificates rolled their way up the drive last week and the intention was that they would lay to rest a couple of family mysteries.

I'm pretty happy with the results.  There are one or two corners of the family tree where I have literally had to step from one certificate to another to make any progress, and the Jenkinses is one of them.  It all started with Elizabeth Morton born 1814 in Newport, Monmouthshire who came to Abercanaid as a young girl with her dad, who built boats for the canal which ran down to Cardiff and the Bristol Channel.  She quickly disappeared into the folds of the smoky town as Mrs Jenkins and we just catch a wisp of a cloak here and a deathbed scene, there.  A bit of bloody-mindedness and charm helped us find her daughter, who died in childbirth age 28 and whose descendants have reshaped parts of Melbourne's familiar skyline, Australia.  But what of the Jenkins boy?  Four certificates later and I'm not exactly sure.  What I do know is the grandson James Thomas Jenkins was a bit of a phoenix from the ashes.  Losing his parents at an early age, he was adopted by a family in the Rhondda, and he worked his way up the ladder moving to the head of the valleys at Abercrave overlooking a lot of the smoke and organising musical evenings for the village folk.

Confusingly, his mother does actually turn up later on, but essentially J. T. had broken away.  I'd never have found his only son except that a bit of helpful transcribed news gives his son's occupation as 'schoolmaster'.  This has now given me an address for a grandson in London, thanks to the fourth certificate I ordered on this line.

In Manchester, Emma Davies born October 1873 was looking likely to marry in Pennington Methodist Church to a baker, Mr Fearn, but I needed proof that Emma was my relative.  Sure enough, with the help of LancashireBMD to confirm the precise Emma and her location, I found only one lady who fitted.  Her birthday matched the one she gave as Mrs Fearn 66 years later at the eve-of-war, 1939.

Also in Manchester, we lay to rest a cousin whose journeys have required much pondering.  And down in southern England, it looks as if a lady we suspected as being 'very guilty' of some pieces of wartime shenanigans has at last been let off the hook.

I cannot justify any more certificate purchases currently, as the rest of the school of fishes are swimming along nicely and don't need any special coaxing to return to the fold.

18 Sep 2016

Illegitimacy and the Will of man

The most talked about will in our family conceals a multitude of factlets. It's the will of Mr Taylor of Morriston, Swansea penned 1913-1919. Cousin Alison and I triumphantly pose in the street where his house would have been (we thought), having no Money, but enjoying the free experience. "Where did it all go?", definitely got asked as a shower splashes through our chirpy photo.

The way some Welsh pronounce Money is very funny as if it was a town or a seasonal crop. We might get in to Money later....

The will is written in three stages with so many amends it reads like a diary entry. What the writer gives with one hand he takes away with the other. He changes chapel, changes executors and gives war mementos to all his grown up grandsons except the one who was discharged for wetting himself.

All the kids had moved away except the faithful Tom, by now a widower like his dad. He knocked on my great grandpa's door in 1919. "It's Dad", he began. "He wants you to be his executor as he doesn't trust any of us." In fact Tom was the only one nearby.

I only found the document as my side of the family had the testator's name and date of death scribbled on a family tree. I chose to investigate this way back in 1992: stumbling on the record after school in the local probate registry situated above Next.

We only ever had two illegitimacies and they both happened in Mr Taylor's family across the years he was writing his will. Maggie's son Tommy Fach was given great status in the family treated as a much-loved youngest child with a beautiful stone in the Church in Wales graveyard of his birthplace. Maggie married after a pause and no-one was much the wiser. Tommy Fach actually had a better life than his brother Tommy Mawr, it would seem. Note that there was no pressure to marry, probably the man concerned was judged a poor investment. The community closed ranks around Maggie and mother and child were protected.

The second illegitimacy stemmed from spite, as far as I can see. Taylor had possibly recovered from his youngest child eloping aged 18 with a total stranger 20 years earlier (she preferred this fate to becoming her father's eternal housekeeper). When this child died and hubbie remarried, the Taylor response was "no money for the Walkers as they are well provided for". This is clear code that he didn't want his daughter's 20% to go to her widower and his new family.

But as he was penning these lines his granddaughter, Eva Walker, 18, was already taking a horrendous job of formic acid dipper, helping dunk sheets of tin into 'pickle' and getting rid of the hugely toxic waste. She fell pregnant at 23, and unlike the common practice of the time, no-one compelled the father to do the right thing and marry, with no available alternatives such as familial adoption.

Eva would be completely alone, without either parent, and about as far from well-provisioned as it was possible to be. She sent her wild daughter away and slowly recovered from the experience, dying poor but happy in the Midlands. The child fared badly and the last repercussions are hitting family members right now in 2016.

It irks me the way this document rendered the women as third-class citizens who were meant to evaporate into the ether. Martha, three youngest child, looks like she's had a very unpleasant interview with Satan informing her of her family's future in her only known photograph age 16. This emerged in Mold, 2011 at the home of a great niece. Her daughter Eva's photo was kept at her tiny home in the Midlands surviving decades of money shortage, and reaching me in 2016 - no cousins had ever heard of her. Eva's daughter's photo was dug out via a circuitous route in the Forest of Dean a matter of days ago.

I'd like to think my great grandpa challenged the will of this man, or at least was aware of Eva's fate. This was and is a tight family and for vulnerable women to be ignored because of spite goes completely against the accepted togetherness of life in south Wales towns. If this is the will of man, I'm not impressed.

17 Sep 2016

Missing: 40-year wait for next of kin

A piece of paper in an envelope is due to shake the family tree. May Wilson disappeared from her first family in 1943, from her second in 1958 and her brother was only dimly aware of her existence. Still a toddler in 1943, we think his sister called by late one rainy night on a lonely journey, leaving by the morning.

So where is she?

As the decades rolled round, the three families had only faint memories of each other and more unanswered questions about the woman, May, who'd gone missing so successfully from their lives.

We held a triumphant reunion in Spring for the three families, now absolutely and determinedly one. Going home, I heard that one of the group still couldn't sleep at night, waking up wondering what happened to May. At the gathering, some of us darkly joked that she would arrive unannounced in her nineties like the bad fairy of Sleeping Beauty's baptism.

In the end I feel anger that the family has had to wait forty years for their three separate stories of loss and missing to be resolved.

It seems May had been dead since 1976. I found that out this week. She was in her fifties and moving around a large urban city. Nobody knew her age or full name, and the funeral took place with her family absent and unaware. They still don't know she's dead.

This week the official death certificate will be posted to me and I'll be able to break the news, 40 years after the funeral. Daughters are lined up to tell their parents that their mother or sister has been gone since 1976.

In the middle of this storm of brutal news comes a dove, a bird with good tidings in its mouth and a glow of light around. Photo! From a loft in the Welsh borders an aunt has something rescued from May's chaotic tragic life. Her photograph.

At what human cost this photo came: every day a struggle, screaming out for medication which won't arrive for years, for anything to take away the pain.

For me the photo doesn't show pain but love. Her family cared enough to exhume this photo and dwell on the features of a lady who is both missed and missing. Some day her family hope to find her grave and maybe too, to let her picture show from a wall.

I've never had anyone missing. The closest is old schoolfriends, who arrived long before Facebook could log and chart our giggles. And when my delicate childhood brain didn't know how to log people's identifying labels for future easy retrieval. I'll get on to that at some point, I miss them, I'll admit.

30 Aug 2016

Speculative Search in Australia: The Tale of Rosa Jones

From the helpful will of Jane Elizabeth Jones, I could piece together that her sister, Charlotte Jones had sailed for Adelaide in the 1860s and had married at the Mount Barker Inn (or very near) to Mr Tydeman, the innkeeper.  Great!  That certainly beat trying to second guess where Charlotte might have gone, and to then find her in that mystery location.

That meant I'd ticked off the following Jones children: Jane, Charlotte, Mary (a spinster), Amelia (in an asylum), Elizabeth (a grocer's wife), William (went to Tasmania), Edward (deceased).  Hold on, this was not a complete list. 

There was still REBECCA Jones unaccounted for.  Uh oh - she could have gone anywhere in the whole world, or stayed behind in St Peter Port.

Actually she couldn't have stayed behind in St Peter Port as I had combed through all the BMDs for that town and for Guernsey as a whole and there are no spare Joneses hanging around AT ALL.

What if Rebecca had made a similar journey out to Australia that her sister Charlotte had?  Time for another speculative search.

Rebecca Jones marrying South Australia some time around 1865 (give or take)

With this thought, all the hard work had been done.  As Iris Murdoch would say, the story has already been written - now it just needs to arrive on paper.

Her full name was given as Rebecca Rosa Jones, not her birth name, but indicating she preferred to be known as Rosa.  In fact it is as 'Rebecca Jones' that she crossed the oceans but as 'Rosa' that she appears in her last British census entry, at Redhill Surrey.

This might not seem much to go on, but the revelations didn't end there. Her first son was given the middle name of 'Welford', which when I found this (at around 1am) meant that the chances of sleep were going out-of-the-window. 

Welford was the cousin who took on the remote west Queensland valley lands and gave his name to Welford Downs out there, around the time Rosa was reaching Adelaide.  Unfortunately he'd been a little bit too trusting or lacking an understanding of the indigenous migration patterns and been killed.  The book Early Days in North Queensland gives a bit more background to the time.

We also learnt that Rosa's passage had been paid because she was from a family with lots of women in, and (this may be a non sequitur) Adelaide needed an awful lot of women to dilute the flagrant amount of testosterone out there in 1860.  The Archbishop of Adelaide was losing his hair over the problems with his wild flock and wrote asking for 'shiploads of women' to come out 'as soon as possible'.

She arrived on the Emigrant in Spring 1854 with 42 others from her native land (Guernsey) including a multitude of the promised single women of good character.  The Archbishop was delighted.

More about the period with some actual quotes are here:

Rosa has plenty of descendants from her marriage to a Devon shoemaker and unlike Charlotte's, a chunk of these are still in Adelaide.

29 Aug 2016

Paris Match: The Italian, Welsh marriage turns up in Ancestry Overseas records

Yippee, a mystery solved. I knew Jane Elizabeth Jones had married Giovanni Leone because she is described as his 'veuve' (widow) in the Guernsey death indexes. But I had no idea where or when the marriage had occurred. It could have been Italy, the States or elsewhere. It was actually in Autumn 1853 at or near the Paris Embassy, France. Giovanni is started as being from Palermo, island of Sicily - bearing in mind this was 30 years or more before Italy was unified as one country.

Jane herself was born in about 1820, unluckily it was in Wales (somewhere) and Wales (Hay-on-Wye) was also where she was living on her marriage. Considering she spent most of her childhood and widowhood in Guernsey, this is a bit unfortunate. It's going to make it a bit harder to find her in the 1851 census. Her occupation will be nursery nurse like her cousin down the road in Little Hereford and sister Rosa over in Reigate, Surrey.

Pieces of the puzzling Dibben clan are coming together with Jane's marriage showing up. Her parents Mary Dibben and William Jones's wedding is nowhere to be found. Nor the marriages of Mary's two sisters.

24 Aug 2016

Finally found my Danish cousin, born 1900 Nyborg, living Copenhagen 1921

After years of Googling, I hit the right combination of key strokes and have found a reference to my cousin May Park Sørensen under her full name May Augusta Park Sørensen, born 21 May 1900 presumably at Nyborg, Svendborg, Denmark, living in Copenhagen 1921 and 1922.

This information is from the website which seems to have attracted some rather puzzled forum posts in the last year or so.  I was pretty glad to get the following sniplet out of it before it shut me down completely.

If anyone can help track this lady onward I'd be most appreciative.  At least I know now the country in which she resided.

UPDATE: now found her brother in the same resource and May's entry in the 1921 census in the main shopping street of Copenhage: Østerbrogade, see the image below.


1) daughter of Holger Johannes Sørensen 1871 ('corn merchant') who married in Edinburgh, Ida Augusta Park 1872- before 1922; and sister of Carl Frederik Sørensen.  Nothing known about these individuals onward from the above dates.  These slim details already published on my website's family pages.

2) named with her brother in the will of grandmother Augusta Park which was dated about 1922

I think this was her brother, who is listed here as musician in Odense, Carl Frederik Sørensen born 13 Dec 1897 at Nyborg, just about ten months after his parents married in Edinburgh!
 The 1921 census
And for the brother (both in Copenhagen)
 The dad is in hospital in Middelfart, the other side of Odense, a widower and seemingly a former grocer.  For some reason he is in the index but Copenhagen does not yet seem to be.

Genealogy Potluck Picnic: Creating Speculative Searches to Find Missing Records Online

or Inspiration in Family History
In this day and age we live with a multitude of resources at our finger-tips, some would say too many.  There are 55 million records for William Jones on Ancestry, and 100 million entries for Elizabeth Smith, for example.
With all this content, I never want to leave holes in the middle of my family tree. I'm always on the look-out for something to move the story forward and today I'm making the case for good old-fashioned guesswork - supposition, if you will.  I'll show how using your intuition, and posing 'what if?' questions is a valuable dish to bring to your internet meal.

Our first two cases come from Wales.  Nowhere is 'just supposing' more needed, with a distinct shortage of names, few middles and a lack of other identifying criteria make progress a big challenge - until now!

What if.... family rumour was right after all?
When my mother's third cousin Sue let me see the family bible in Wales, 1997, I was pretty happy.  At last we'd get some clues about older members of the family, who were lost in the midst of time.
  She married a Hubbard in Swansea.
  She was born in Marloes, and her daughter Mary will be missing from the family home age 22..

These rumours from the family were just not helping.  There was no trace of Mary or Ann with the information provided from the bible, in the census and in death records.  Was it plain wrong?

Frustrated at the poor quality information about Mrs Hubbard I parked these notes.  One day, after coming back from my Aunt's house and seeing a copy of the rumours, I gave in and clicked on the nine possible marriages in Wales, and there in front of my eyes, was the groom, Mr Hebbard! (Mary had lopped five years off her age and faked her spinsterhood to make sure the marriage to this teenager went ahead.  Facts that were missing from the family bible!)
Ann Francis (born 1815) was still a puzzle.  In desperation, I looked at a map of Merthyr Tydfil, where she must have gotten married, hoping it would somehow help.  I noticed a community called Morlais.  What if Ann's birthplace had been misrecorded as Morlais, not Marloes?  Sure enough in 1871, the enumerator makes that exact error, and she is solved:
Mrs Ann Jenkins, age 55, born Morlais Pembrokeshire
But now there was the problem of Ann's missing daughter Mary Jenkins, who was not at home in the census aged 22.  What a common name!  How on earth was I going to find her?  I used my knowledge of the community to help me.  Nobody was going to afford servants or have an unmarried woman laying around the house.  If she wasn't at home, there were two options: dead or married.  So, let's see if she was married.  There were 40 married Marys in Merthyr of the right age in 1861 on FindMyPast - step away from the census, that's too many!  Yet, a simple click showed the first Mary had a baby boy Thomas Francis Bromham, bearing the family name of Francis.  Logic had paid off, but with the downside that I needed to fork out £9.25 in the form of a certified marriage document as proof.
Family rumour had been correct, and with some intuition about a tired census-taker muddling the place names, and the unlikelihood of a young unmarried woman floating around a town of ironworkers, our three mysteries had been solved.

Just suppose... there was a way in?
Still thinking about Wales, I was visiting a cloudy Black Sea coast town in the summer of 2012.  Hillary Clinton, who herself has ancestry from Merthyr Tydfil, had recently honoured an American study area in the town.  Around its black formica tables were gathered a number of Brits and Americans, soaking up the free WiFi and congenial company.  But my attention was elsewhere.
I was deep in nineteenth-century Wales.  I had fought tooth and nail to establish some kin of my ancestress Ann Morgan, born 1761, and I wasn't about to let them slip away.  I needed answers about Ann's five nieces, the Rees girls.  The way I saw it there was just one way forward.  Just suppose a Rees girl had decided to honour their father, Morgan Rees, and give his names to one of her sons?  I thought it was definitely worth a speculative try, on FamilySearch.
As if by magic, an entry appeared, Morgan Rees Price born in the Vale of Neath, 1810, son of Jenkin Price and his wife Jennet, formerly Rees.  This couple have quite a story to tell, running away to Bristol to marry and then becoming proprietors of Rutland Arms in the heart of Swansea.  I would never have found them without this imaginative work-around.  They will at some point get their own article.

I later repeated this strategy (2016) to find what became of her cousin, another Jennet - this time I thought she might have a son called Anthony.  She did.  So after eight years, I had a workable line taking me from Gwenllian Rees born 1751 to the Mid Wales Hotel in Knighton, Radnorshire 1930s and from this to relatives in the town this very day.

What if... I've been looking in the wrong country
Francis Harris, born Cornwall 1818, had been on my tree for years, but I wasn't convinced I had his story straight.  Living an ordinary life in a Cornish town?  I felt that my Harrises would work up a bit more wanderlust than that.  When I spotted another Francis born in the same year, I was even more suspicious I had mistaken identity.  I got my first wind of a missing uncle, and I was determined to hunt him down!

He flourished in the 1840s and at this time, America was definitely calling.  Not to mention Oz, Mexico and anywhere with ground worth mining.  So what if Francis had come to the States and had a family out there – after all I realised, his sister wouldn't be far away.  How come he had slipped through the records!  And here was the little entry I needed, the 1850 census from FamilySearch for Grant county, Wisconsin, a well known Cornish hang-out:
Even though there's nothing to trace this man to Cornwall, his wife Phillippi Rowe can be directly linked to Crowan, Cornwall, about 2 miles from where Francis was born.  Hmm!  I think this speculative search was successful.  But that wasn't all, dunking his name back into Google's watery index and there is plenty more on our uncle...
His 3x great-grandson Jonah Harris and myself exchanged emails over Christmas last year with snaps of our respective family gatherings and the food we were having (Brits on the left).
"What if?" had worked out for us.

What if... a puzzling initial could lead me to a missing cousin
Percy Creed Bell was born in 1874 at Abersychan, South Wales and disappears from every record available aged 16.  It is very odd to realise that his closest living relative is now my grandmother (and a chap called Alec in Glastonbury).  I found a trace of a plausible fellow out in the western States, name of Percy H. Bell, real estate agent, who sometimes gave Wales as his birthplace.  Could this be him?  I could find nothing at all to link the two men, except that no other record matched either one of them.

I got to thinking about the 'H'.  No offence, but Creed is a terrible middle name and maybe Percy had thrown it overboard along with his British identity. Percibly.

So, what if, he was really the Percy H. Bell all along?  And what then, might the H be?  By the way, this story hasn't even begun.  With Google's search bar waiting, I realised his grandma's maiden name, Hammond, would fit the gap.  And so I entered his name into Google...

Poor Percy Hammond Bell existed alright.  As a dapper young Brit, with soft pale skin (if he was anything like my Great-grandpa), he was learning Cantonese in rough parts of Los Angeles when he witnessed the slaying of Chinese gangland boss Wong Wee Chee, 1896.  The name of the murderer was whispered in his young ear, which sealed his fate.  LA was not going to be a nice place for Percy.  No sir.


The trial papers gave his parents' location as Ipswich, England, which fitted the facts.  Percy never again lived in LA.  His elder son was swept away in the Columbia river, 1920, and he himself was convicted of fraud ten years later in Oregon.  The whole family died out, leaving as mentioned, my grandmother as theoretical next-of-kin.

Just suppose.... the shipping list had a sister on it?
When Doug Jones sailed to Toronto in 1952, his parents came too.  I noted down all the details and very quickly had an email address for his son in Ontario, but nothing more came of that, and the email address no longer works.  Back to the drawing-board, then.

I got to thinking, as Doug's parents had come out with him, what about sister Peggy, just suppose she had come out as well.  She had definitely gone to Canada, according to the nosey-parker relatives back in Wales.

I had no easy way of finding Margaret Jones born 1919 and known as Peggy, but what if she was on that same boat, the Empress of Canada, the same day, with her parents and brother?  That could reveal plenty.  It was worth a search, on Ancestry, surely?

From this:
To this:

So, we were correct.  Margaret Jones became Margaret Roberts.  From the most common name in Wales to the sixth most common – progress!  This slender thread was enough to find her grandchildren in the Rocky Mountains, see Riddle of the Timeshare for more.  Without the helpful search of migration records, I'd still be scratching my head at Liverpool Docks.

For more successful speculation (after all, searching is free!) look out for the next article: What if the impossible is possible?

For more blog entries on this theme see: Genealogy Blog Potluck Picnic hosted by Elizabeth O'Neal.

And why not tarry awhile here on my blog: there are some great articles here and some terrible ones too.  Try the Popular Posts as a starting point.