Guest post by Simon Holding
I was always aware that my paternal side Grandmother was Welsh, but with the exception of a few little bits she said when I was younger, I didn’t know too much. I was aware that she had 9 brothers and 4 sisters, and she didn’t view her father in the highest regard, and blamed him for her mother’s early death (due to too many children). My Grandmother passed away in 1987, when I was only 16, so I really hadn’t asked anything of note, and how I wish I had! Her birth surname was Williams…which was possibly going to make things oh so tricky!
My interest in Family History was a natural progression from my love of reading History, and I like solving puzzles, so in 2006, I got started properly. And when I say properly, I signed up to Ancestry.co.uk (which is one of the best sites for researchers) and started working backwards purchasing Birth / Marriage certificates (the Death certificates I got afterwards). In 2006, the latest Census available for viewing was the 1901 Census.
My father had met a few of his Welsh aunts and uncles and a few cousins, but didn’t know too much either. Sharing my findings with him, has been incredibly enjoyable, as he actually knew these people later in their lives….so adds colour to these names on pages.
We had a fair idea on some of my Grandmothers siblings names (born pre-1901) – and I knew that she was the youngest daughter, and was born in 1903. Once I had her Birth Certificate, this then gave me her parents names, and with all these family names, I was able to locate them all in the 1901 Census. The 1901 Census also gave the ages of the household, so from this I could order up my Grandmothers parents Marriage Certificate and also her Father’s birth certificate…Charles Adrian Williams (born 1860) – her Mother’s maiden name was also Williams, but no-where in 1861, could I locate a Fanny Williams. Actually, this Birth certificate has still proved to be elusive.
Looking back to the 1891 Census, this gave more of a snapshot of the Williams family. And then I went back another 10 years to 1881. They had married on 31st July 1880, so I was quite surprised to see that they had had their first child towards the end of 1880! But hey, they were young and in love!
Now the thing with looking at Census sheets, is that they give a snapshot of a family on one night every 10 years, so you can see the sad things and happy things that they experienced with regards to Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Certificates are obtained from the GRO (General Register Office) – they are obtainable for £9.25 each. Some Birth and Death certificates are available in PDF form for £6. So, yes it can be expensive, but you’ve got to try and do research properly.
https://www.freebmd.org.uk/ is a great site for tracking down the certificates you need – cross referenced with Census sheets and you are well on your way once you get to 1911. Yes 1911, as this is the most recent Census released. Once 100 years have elapsed, the Census gets released, so 1921 won’t be too long. Unfortunately 1931 Census was destroyed in WW2 bombing, and there was no 1941 Census. So the next one after that was 1951…bit of a wait for that one. There was a household registrar done at the start of WW2 in Sept 1939, this was for Rationing purposes, and is available to view.
But back to my Williams family, Charles Adrian Williams born on 28th Feb 1860 at Linton, Herefordshire – his father was a Farm Labourer. As he grew up, Charles became a Collier, and then by 1881, newly married and with a baby daughter, they set off on a journey to south Wales where there was a high demand for Coal Miners.
His wife Fanny Williams came from a family of Tin Miners, so she would have been well aware of the life she would face, and the risks of the job. She had been born in a tiny village of Lydbrook in Herefordshire in 1861.
So, now you are thinking, well none of them were really Welsh at all, but you’d be wrong, as Charles’s grandfather – a Richard Williams had been born about 1786 in Monmouthshire in Wales and he had moved his family across the border to Gloucestershire by the early 1830’s. So there was Welsh there.
Their journey of 1881 had settled them in Llanhilleth, Aberbeeg – this is where they stayed at least until 1917, and maybe beyond. Coal mining was incredibly dangerous and hard work. Many of the sons went down the pit, WW1 gave them the opportunity to seek adventure in France. There is a family story, that two of the brothers came back during the war and so hated it, they burnt their uniforms and went off to Canada for the duration. No concrete evidence of that as yet. Charles was known as ‘Old Charlie’ by the family, and apparently wasn’t the most pleasant chap.
But back to my family, the research I did and the knowledge I already know, resulted in 9 brothers, 5 sisters and at least another 2 children born, who died at a very young age. As to Fanny Williams death, this was in 1917 at the age of 57 on the 26th Aug 1917 of Biliary Colic, basically Gallstones. Charles Adrian Williams died in 1928 on 15th Sept in St Pancras, London.
In 2008, my father and I went to Llanhilleth and looked around, it probably had barely changed, we looked at a tiny chapel on a hill where they had buried a 2 year old son who had died on Meningitis in 1903. I didn’t know that at the time, that was a later ‘knowledge find’ – it was a de-consecrated chapel, amazingly enough we’d been allowed to go inside by a lady tidying up the graves. 2 Court Terrace was where they lived.
I’ve been fortunate in contacting quite a few descendants of the 13 siblings that my grandmother had, it’s really interesting putting together stories and knowledge. My father has been delighted in all we’ve been able to find. I’m going to take my young family there in the future to see where their ancestors trod.
I hope this has sparked a possibility that you might begin your family history research. Even if it’s just a series of names, you also get to know what they did and look into social and economic situations. As part of our journey to Llanhilleth, we stopped at Big Pit at Blaenafon – which gave us the amazing experience of actually going underground and into a coal mine – bringing the past right to the present day.