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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 our a clue to this conundrum must lie on Gwenllian's birth certificate.

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 after 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.

I also shall be getting the death certificate for granddaughter Maggie who survives until 1996 in Swansea.

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 below. "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

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.

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.