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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.

EmigrĂ©s.  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.