Bringing the past into the present!

“The Land of My Fathers”

There has been talk for a while that my paternal line has a link to two important men in Welsh history.  The dates all tie in and it seems likely that this link is correct.  However, I have not personally verified the information but would like to share it anyway.

On 29th August 1773, my 5x great grandfather, Evan James was born in Pencader, Carmarthenshire, however there is some uncertainty about the place of birth.  He was the son of a Woollen Manufacturer.

Evan and his wife, Elizabeth had at least 12 children, Edward (my 4x great grandfather), David, Lewis, Daniel, Daniel, Richard, Mary, Evan, Margaret, James, James, Thomas.

Evan and Elizabeth’s 8th known child, Evan, was born on 11th February 1809 in Castle Street, Caerphilly.  In 1831 Evan married Elizabeth Jones in Bedwellty, Monmouthshire.  In 1841 Evan Jnr and Elizabeth were living at Ancient Druid, Bedwellty with their 2 children, James, 7 and Charles, 3.

Evan James

In 1847 Evan and his family had moved to Pontypridd to run a woollen factory and in 1851 they were living on Mill Street, Pontypridd.  Evan’s occupation was stated as “Woollen Manufactory employing 14 men”.  They were living with their children, James, 18, Charles, 12, Edwin, 8, William, 5 and Evan’s nephew, Daniel aged 18.

In January 1856 Evan’s son James, another Woollen manufacturer, composed the tune of ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ or ‘Land of my Fathers’ or more commonly known as The Welsh National Anthem.
This being said there are a number of stories regarding the anthem’s origins.  Whether Evan wrote the lyrics as a response to his brother’s invitation to America or James composed the music while walking along the Rhondda River, father and son named the piece ‘Glan Rhondda’.

James James

The Welsh National Anthem gained acceptance by the Welsh as a whole and was considered as such before the end of the 19th Century despite not being officially or legally recognised before then.

Evan James died in Pontypridd on 30th September 1878.  James James lived on until 1902 when he died in Aberdare.

Whether this link to my Welsh heritage is fanciful or not, I don’t know.  (I’m too involved in wishful thinking to be unbiased) Unless some evidence declaring Evan and James are not my relatives to claim, then I will keep them as such and be proud of them.

I wouldn’t change a thing…

The nature of family history research means that collaborating with others is almost a necessity.  I have used Google in the past and discovered new information about my ancestors as well as vital information about the areas they lived in and their social lives.  I love ‘meeting’ distant cousins just as much as I love finding out about my ancestors.  By finding cousins I feel I am also finding and reinforcing links to the past.  My links to the areas my ancestors grew up in.  Sharing my information is a way for my cousins to find me.

The possible implications of sharing family history information could be numerous.  However, to prevent this I made the decision to share as little information about living people as possible.  The names and stories here will only ever be about deceased members of my family tree.  The past cannot be changed and it’s something that we either cover up for fear of what others think, or we stand up and be proud of the events in the past that led to our own births and that of our descendants.

I, for one, am very proud of my ancestor’s lives and stories.  I have a several times great grandmother who appears to have been a bigamist, several possibly illegitimate children, and the great grandparents who outlived 3 of their 4 children.  Each of these stories could strike a chord with many people but they are part of the past, the decisions they made, and the events that made them who they were led to my birth.  For that, I will be grateful to them.

Brick Walls -> William Lewis & Ann Williams

I’ve been attempting to trace this family for a few months but I don’t seem to be getting very far.

Ann Williams was born around 1828 in Preston, Herefordshire.  With such a common name I’ve been unable to locate her in 1841 and 1851.  There is a chance that she would have been a domestic servant prior to her marriage to William Lewis.  Ann died in 1890 in Bedwellty, Monmouthshire (probably Ebbw Vale).

William Lewis was born around 1829 in Trevethin, Pontypool.  I suspect his father was Thomas Lewis but haven’t confirmed this.  William died in 1880 in Bedwellty, Monmouthshire (probably Ebbw Vale).

It is my guess that William and Ann married early in 1862 in Crickhowell, Brecknockshire, although, this is speculation.  I am not altogether convinced I’ve got the right details.

On 27th December 1862, Ann gave birth to their daughter, Hannah Lewis.  Hannah is the only child of William and Ann’s that I have found and, frustratingly, as they both died before 1911, I have no idea if there were more children.

In 1871, William, Ann and Hannah were living in Newton, Ebbw Vale.  William was a miner.  Ann stayed in Newtown after William’s death and in 1881, Hannah and her husband, Jacob Boulter (who she married in 1879) are living with Ann, along with Hannah and William’s 1 month old son William Thomas Boulter.

The lack of information plus common surnames builds a brick wall.  What would I like to discover about William and Ann?

  1. Who were William and Ann’s parents?
  2. What happened in their lives before their marriage?
  3. Were they previously married?
  4. Did William and Ann have any other children?

#Surnames Saturday 1 – Boulter

Boulter is believed to be an occupational surname that originated in England.  In 1881 there were 241 Boulter’s in London; however, the surname was most prominent in Leicestershire.  Currently there are around 2000 Boulter’s in the UK.

Today, we are visiting the Boulter’s who lived in Ebbw Vale, Monmouthshire during the later 1800’s.

Thomas Boulter was born about 1829 in Newbridge-on-Wye, Radnorshire, until the first quarter of 1851, nothing is known about his life.  He married Mary Daniel before 30th March 1851 and the newly married couple lived with Thomas’ brother, William at the time of the census at 98 Hall Street, Bedwellty, Monmouthshire.

They had at least 9 children:

  • William (1854-1931) He married Emily Evans in 1876
  • Emma (1856-1909) She married Patrick Crowley in 1878
  • Jacob (1860-1926) He married Hannah Lewis in 1879  (My Ancestor)
  • Thomas (1862-1930) He married Sarah Ann Weaver in 1887
  • Hannah (1864-1886)
  • Sarah (1866-1938) She married Richard Davies in 1885
  • Mary Ann (1868-1918) She married Albert Robins in 1885
  • Joseph (1870-1934) He married Hannah Maria Francis in 1891
  • Sophia (b. 1873)

By 1861 Thomas and Mary were living at 22 Wains Row, Victoria, Ebbw Vale and they were on New Wains Row by 1871.  In 1881, they were back in Hall Street.

Thomas died in 1884 aged 59 in Bedwellty and Mary died in 1905 aged 74.

Strength on Sunday – The Hodges

The one thing about researching the family tree that fascinates me most is that you never know what you are going to find.  Some hidden stories could be scandalous, others could be intriguing and then there are the ones that are sad and poignant.

March 1970 - Edward James Hodges and Norah Hughes

My paternal great-grandparents are Edward James Hodges and Norah Hughes.
Edward was born 24th May 1898 in Fleur-de-Lis in the county of what was then Monmouthshire.  Norah was born 13th May 1901 in Lye, Worcestershire.
Norah moved to Monmouthshire sometime between 1906 and 1910 with her parents and 2 siblings.  From her father’s occupation in 1911, I can safely say they moved to South Wales to work in the mines.
Edward and Norah married on 22nd March 1920 in Holy Trinity Church, Ystrad Mynach in the presence of witnesses, Lily May Davies and James Hodge and family members.

I’ve always been told that Edward and Norah had 3 children; Oliver, Mary (my grandmother) and a living Auntie.  I have always been saddened by the fact that they outlived both Oliver, a Sergeant in the RAF who died on 4th September 1943 on active service, and Mary, who died on 11thJune 1970 from

C. 1940 - Oliver Hughes Hodges

breast cancer.

A few months ago, I came across another Hodges birth registered in 1922 (Oliver was born 1920 and Mary in 1924).  Asking around the family, no-one knew anything about the fourth possible child, Ralph Hodges.  Hitting a brick wall, I ordered the birth certificate and yesterday discovered a Great Uncle we didn’t know existed.

c. 1965 - Mary Hodges

This post is dedicated to the Hodges.  Edward, Norah, Oliver, Ralph and Mary. To Edward and Norah, who experienced the pain of losing 3 of their children!  To Oliver, for fighting for our country.  To Mary, my grandmother, a strong and inspirational woman who died before her time.  And, finally, to Ralph, the Uncle we never knew who died in his infancy.

Now, we can remember them all!

How common is your surname?

How common is your surname?

The fact is everybody will have a ‘common’ surname somewhere in their family tree.  I’m currently researching for those Welsh ancestors.  This branch is made very difficult by them having ‘common’ surnames.

The top 20 surnames in Wales are:

  1. Jones (5.75)
  2. Williams (3.72)
  3. Davies (3.72)
  4. Evans (2.47)
  5. Thomas (2.43)
  6. Roberts (1.53)
  7. Lewis (1.53)
  8. Hughes (1.23)
  9. Morgan (1.16)
  10. Griffiths (0.96)
  11. Edwards (0.93)
  12. Smith (0.85)
  13. James (0.82)
  14. Rees (0.81)
  15. Jenkins (0.69)
  16. Owen (0.67)
  17. Price (0.67)
  18. Phillips (0.65)
  19. Moss (0.63)
  20. Richards (0.55)

(Source: Wikipedia) The numbers in brackets indicate percentages.

Of the top 20 surnames in Wales, I have 9 of them in my Welsh direct ancestors.  Frustratingly, my Welsh ancestors didn’t seem to like middle names and originality with forenames wasn’t one of their strong points either.

I am currently trawling the Glamorgan Census returns for my great great grandfather, William Williams.  William was born around 1883 in Porth, Glamorganshire.  He married Harriett Ann Weeks in 1903 in Monmouthshire.
Before 1903, William Williams is extremely difficult to locate.  His father was also William Williams.  Looking for a William Williams born around 1883 whose father was also a William Williams is difficult to say the least.

I may never trace this side of the family back any further but I want to know which of these common surnames did your Welsh ancestors have?

Chepstow Municipal Cemetery

When a feeling of sadness descends, I find a trip to a cemetery calming and today was no different.

I visited Chepstow Municipal Cemetery with the intention of finding 3 graves.  The first burial in the Old Cemetery was on 1st October 1857 of Henry Langley.  The graves that were of interest to me are much younger than this first burial.  The New Cemetery, on the opposite side of the road, contains burials from 1857.

Wandering around, rather aimlessly at first, I encountered an elderly gentleman visiting the grave of his wife and daughter.  We chatted for close to 30 minutes, providing company for each other.  He led an interesting life and I was astounded when he told me he is 85.  I didn’t ask his name, something I now regret.  When he headed for home, I continued my search.
Tilly (the toddler) appeared to know where to be going and led me to the first of the three graves I intended to find.  Introducing her to her grandfather, Bampy Davidson, we stood and I reflected for a while.  Somewhat comforted by the silence and solitude the cemetery offered.

The other graves should have been in the Old Cemetery.  The Old Cemetery isn’t laid out chronologically as the New Cemetery which made our search much more difficult.  The Sexton gave me a plan of the Cemetery and the records of burials to help me locate my missing graves.  Tilly got bored, I got frustrated, the clouds covered the sun.  I located the records of the burials and rough areas to search and checked the time.  No wonder Tilly was miserable; it was way past lunchtime (and naptime).  We had been wandering for 2 hours.

So, while I didn’t locate the graves I wanted, I did confirm that they are there so I’m taking the Mr with me on Saturday to help search the cemetery.

Searching the BMD Indexes

Searching for your ancestor’s records in the birth, marriage and death indexes is, in the most part, straightforward.  However, occasionally the entry can prove elusive.  The elusive entry could be down to something as simple as a misspelled surname.  Other explanations could be, when searching further back, errors on census records, whether they are deliberate or accidental.  After 4.5 years of searching for my ancestors within the indexes, I’ve learned a few things that make searching so much easier.

  1. Remain open minded regarding forenames and their variations.
    These days we leave a paper trail behind us no matter what we do.  When Civil Registration first began, it wasn’t taken quite as seriously.  When we register our children’s births, we understand that will be their name forever… it wasn’t though of so final in the 19th Century.  I’ve had ancestors recorded on census’ as Elizabeth, Ellen, Margaret, Thomas but their registered names were “nicknames”,  Bessie, Nellie, Maggie and Tom.
  2. Check for alternative spellings of surnames.
    I have found Boulter’s registered as Bolter’s and Bolder’s.  These weren’t transcription errors, the births really were recorded under variations of the surname (although Bolder was a new one on me).  Often, the parents of the child/spouse of the deceased/bride and groom were illiterate (although not always) and the registrar spelled the name as they said it.  This could explain the transformation of Boulter into Bolter and Bolder.
  3. Don’t take a given age as gospel. 
    Reiterating point 1, paper trails were not common; there were no National Insurance Numbers or driving licenses, credit cards or telephones.  Ages could be fabricated.  I have one particular relative whose birth certificate had him born in April 1886 and his death certificate registered in February 1954 stated he was 63 years old when he died.  He was actually 67 (almost 68).  I generally say start with one year either side of the suspected year of birth.
  4. Be prepared to find no records.
    Despite Civil Registration starting on 1st July 1837, it wasn’t rigorously enforced until 1875.  Even after 1875 a few births, marriages and deaths may have got through the net, so if at first you don’t succeed, prepare for the worst and try again.  However, that being said, I’ve discovered well over 1000 relatives and have found 99% of their records.

1841 Census Transcript – Chepstow Union Workhouse

Workhouses and Poor Law fascinates me, so I couldn’t help but take a look at the census returns for various workhouses.  Here is my transcription of the 1841 Census for Chepstow Union Workhouse.

Name Sex Age Occ. Place of birth
LEWIS, Joseph M 40 Master
LEWIS, Elizabeth F 40 Matron Monmouthshire
LEWIS, Winefred F 15 School Mistress
HODGE, Richard M 85 Pauper Monmouthshire
MARTINS, Edward M 75 Butcher Monmouthshire
MORGAN, Thomas M 70 Labourer Monmouthshire
PRITCHARD, Henry M 20 Labourer Monmouthshire
TOVEY, George M 65 Labourer
JONES, Thomas M 50 Labourer Monmouthshire
EVANS, Ann F 45 None Monmouthshire
YOUNG, Sarah F 60 Charwoman
YOUNG, Ann F 20 Charwoman
PYE, Martha F 60 None
COLLINS, Mary Ann F 25 None
BODY, Hannah F 35 None
WALKER, Lydia F 85 Shoebinder
ATTEWELL, Mary F 30 Servant Monmouthshire
PRICE, Ellen F 20 Servant Monmouthshire
HANND, Jane F 75 None Monmouthshire
CASHEN, Edwin M 8 None Monmouthshire
JONES, John M 9 None Monmouthshire
STIDDER, Thomas M 4 None Monmouthshire
BAKER, Charlotte F 10 None Monmouthshire
HAYDEN, Cordelia F 6 None
JAMES, Sarah F 10 None Monmouthshire
VAUGHN, Ann F 14 None
PERRY, Harriet F 13 None
COLLONY, Mary Ann F 6 None Monmouthshire
JACKSON, Ann F 14 Servant Monmouthshire
MORETON, Alfred M 12 None
PURTON, Elizabeth F 35 Servant
JACKSON, James M 65 Gardener
FAWLE, Charles M 20 Painter
JOHNSON, Benjamin M 15 Labourer Monmouthshire
PEAT, Henry M 20 Seaman
JELFEN, Joseph M 20 Hawker
JELFEN, Frances F 20 None
JELFEN, David M 1 None
REEVES, Daniel M 30 Labourer
GUTHRIE, Robert M 75 Gardener
JONES, Margaret F 3 None Monmouthshire
JONES, Maria F 25 Servant
JONES, Ellen F 5w None Monmouthshire
WARD, Hannah F 15 Servant
TAYLOR, George M 9 None
WARD, Mary F 50 Charwoman
WARD, Joseph M 11 None
HAWKINS, Mary Ann F 25 Servant
MARTIN, Amelia F 20 Servant
PRICHARD, Ann F 4w None Monmouthshire
MARTIN, Jane F 3 None Monmouthshire
MADDOX, John M 11 None
MORSE, Ann F 30 None
BENNETT, Emma F 35 Servant
BENNETT, Samuel M 1 None
DIBDEN, Maria F 35 None
DAVIS, Theophilius M 10 None
DAVIS, Cornelius M 8 None
DAVIS, Edward M 5 None
ELLIS, Catherine F 85 None Monmouthshire
LEWIS, John M 85 Labourer Monmouthshire
EDWARDS, Ann F 15 None Monmouthshire
FLEETWOOD, Maria F 25 Servant Monmouthshire
SHEDWICK, Robert M 6 None Monmouthshire
MOULTON, Ann F 75 None
JONES, Elias M 15 Labourer
MOULTON, Mary F 35 None
LEWIS, Thomas M 75 Labourer
WHEELER, James M 11 None Monmouthshire
ELY, Ann F 30 Charwoman
ELY, Sarah F 7 None
ELY, William M 5 None
ELY, Edward M 3 None
JONES, Eliza F 12 None Monmouthshire
FISHER, Francis M 50 Labourer Monmouthshire
WILLIAMS, Hannah F 35 None
WASSELL, Elizabeth F 11 None
HIGGS, John M 11 None
HIGGS, Richard M 9 None
VAUGHN, Mary F 30 Charwoman
VAUGHN, Ann F 11 None
VAUGHN, Mary F 3 None
VAUGHN, James Parker M 1 None Monmouthshire
VAUGHN, Ellen F 7 None
BENNETT, Hannah F 20 Servant
BENNETT, James M 1 None Monmouthshire
HOPKIN, Edward M 70 Labourer
PRICE, Elizabeth F 30 Mainserver
HOPKIN, Ellen F 15 Servant
ELY, Esther F 20 Servant
ELY, William M 1 None
HOPKIN, James M 30 Labourer
HOPKIN, Martha F 35 Servant
HOPKIN, Caraline F 1 None
POWELL, Mary F 50 None Monmouthshire
WILLIAMS, Isaac M 6 None
STEPHENS, William M 80 Mason
JONES, William M 35 Labourer Monmouthshire
BELL, Ellias M 20 Labourer Monmouthshire
MOXLEY, Mary F 20 Servant Monmouthshire
JOHN, Esther F 50 None Monmouthshire
HUGHES, Ann F 35 None
HARRIS, Maria F 12 None Monmouthshire
HARRIS, Ellen F 20 Servant Monmouthshire
PARRY, Mary Ann F 25 None Monmouthshire
BROWN, Elizabeth F 25 Servant Monmouthshire
PRICE, Richard M 8 None Monmouthshire
HEAR, Thomas M 75 Labourer
JENKINS, Elizabeth F 45 Charwoman
JENKINS, Mary Ann F 8 None
JENKINS, Sarah F 6 None
JENKINS, Henry M 4 None
BANNS, Patrick M 65 Labourer
HESSER, Jane F 80 Charwoman Monmouthshire
PRICHARD, Ann F 25 Charwoman Monmouthshire
PRICHARD, John M 6 None Monmouthshire
PRICHARD, William M 2 None Monmouthshire

BMD’s (Births, Marriages & Deaths)

Researching your Family History is rewarding and exciting, discovering where your family originate from provides a feeling like nothing else.
Civil Registration in England and Wales for births, marriages and deaths began on 1st July 1837, although this was not rigorously enforced until 1875 and it has been estimated that up to 10% of births between 1837 and 1875 were not registered.

The birth of Civil Registration meant that almost everyone left a basic paper trail from birth.  However, the BMD Indexes have changed considerably since 1837.


From 1st July 1837 registration of a birth of a child only around 90% of all births were registered.  The information contained in the Births Index from the 3rd quarter of 1837 until the 2nd quarter of 1911 was surname (rather obviously), first two full forenames (plus any subsequent initials), district of registration and reference number.  This changed in 3rd quarter of 1911 to the surname (again rather obvious), first forename (plus any subsequent initials), district of registration, reference number AND mother’s maiden surname.


From the 1st July 1837, it was illegal to not register a marriage, however some marriage records did not make it to the General Record Office.  From the 3rd quarter of 1837 to 4th quarter of 1911 the marriage index contained surname, first two full forenames (plus any subsequent initials), district of registration and reference number.  From the 1st quarter of 1912 two changes occurred; the first was the addition of the spouses surname and the other showed the bride’s married name (if previously married) and maiden name.  This however was stopped in the 3rd quarter of 1962.


Although Civil Registration started in 1837, compulsory registration of deaths was not enforced until 1875.  Since 1837 the Death index has been updated on numerous occasions.
From 3rd quarter of 1837, the index contained the surname of the deceased including the first two full names (plus any subsequent initials), district of registration and reference number.  In the 1st quarter of 1866, the age at death was added.  The information within the index changed in the 3rd quarter of 1911 to surname, first full forename (plus any subsequent initials), age at death, district of registration and reference number.
The final change to date happened in the 2nd quarter of 1969 when the age at death was replaced with the full date of birth of the deceased.


Image Source – Vintage Kin