Putting all the Levis in order Another tale of Welsh miners in America

The idea of one, or more, Watkins ancestors being born in America was tackled a while back, in ‘Cracking a family myth‘. Now another possible source of the tale has emerged, through a family tree on Ancestry.

The original story as recounted by cousin Islwyn was about the father of John Watkins, namely my 2x great grandfather Levy. Or Levi – I use the alternative spelling as a way to reduce confusion with my grandfather of the same name. This origin for Levy was easily dismissed as not credible, seeing as all the census records give his place of birth as Breconshire. And the 1830s was hardly a time when coal miners would go back and forth across the Atlantic (not that Levy’s dad was likely to have been a coal miner).

On the other hand, John Watkins clearly did travel to Pennsylvania, as a ‘anthracite miner’ certificate from there still exists.

Another Watkins researcher (and a third cousin, once removed) has added a note to her tree on Ancestry about her ancestor David, an older brother to John, also going to Pennsylvania for work as a coal miner in the 1880s/90. This time the definitive evidence is in the shape of a photo of his young son taken in a studio in Wilkes-Barre {2}. Name of said son, age about 1? Levi. This Levi can be found in the passenger lists with his mother, travelling to Boston at the tender age of 10 months, in autumn 1887. They returned in time for the 1891 census. But the toddler’s photo may well have circulated more widely in the Watkins clan and led to assumptions somewhere along the line that he was born abroad. And that it was a different Levi/Levy involved ….

So a very young relation by the name of Levi Watkins certainly was in Pennsylvania, but hopefully was never down the mines over there!

More welsh miners in Pennsylvania, briefly

In the few days this article existed as just a line or two of notes waiting for a clear period to be written up, another tale of a connected Welsh coal mining family travelling to Pennsylvania in 1887 has popped up.

Pictons to Philadelphia

The 4 children, parents are on previous sheet.

A Facebook query around the Pictons {1} led on a trail to another Ancestry family tree (in need of some tidying up, but with some nice clear source info), which showed that one of them married in Summit Hill, Pa in 1888. Six members of the family are together on the ship Indiana, arriving July 1887 in Philadelphia, a couple of months before Levi Watkins touched those shores. Again, they are all back in Wales for the 1891 census, just long enough away for the eldest daughter on the trip to get hitched and have two children!

The attraction of the USA

This begs the question of why it was attractive for Welsh coal miners to travel to Pennsylvania in 1887, and what stopped them from staying.

Both these families passed through Merthyr Tydfil before going to Clydach Vale/Tonypandy. So moving to the (apparent) best source of work is a clear driving force for them.

Supposedly John Watkins found work, but his wife refused to join him. Both he and Levi Watkin’s father David appear to have gone out about 1887, returned to Wales by 1891, but were (briefly?) back in the States for the mid-1890s. Was the late ’80s a particularly bad time in Welsh valleys or a particularly good one in the Pennsylvania coal belt? Or was there some form of incentive or promotion for experienced miners, perhaps?

At around the same time, the electrical engineer and inventor Theophilus Farrall also went Stateside for several years, and came back with a number of young children who were born there. The USA must have had a magnetic appeal!


1. The Picton connection is via Sophia, who married Albert Gregory, a first cousin twice removed on the Osborne side. Her father Matthew was one of the children on the July 1887 trip.

2. Wilkes-Barre was the Pennsylvanian town that the three Griffiths sisters, aunts of John Watkins, emigrated to in the early 1880s. See Cracking a family myth.

Not taking a hint on Griffith Watkins Highs and lows in a Rhondda life

Taken separately, none of the information in this piece is exceptionally noteworthy, but together perhaps there is enough for passing interest.

This little session kicked off with one of Ancestry’s “new hints” email notifications – usually highlighting irrelevant items or ones I’d checked out a day or two before. This time, it included a 1911 Wales census hint for Griffith Watkins, a great great uncle {1}. While this did indeed prove to be a hint to ignore, it prompted me to see if the missing record could now be found in the Ancestry system. After a little digging, the correct one appeared, with the surname transcribed as Walkins (and place of birth as ‘Norttyr’ rather than Merthyr). I can see why I didn’t find it first time round.

A coincidental marriage?

The 1911 census includes a space for length of current marriage, which can turn out to be something of an approximation but allows the discovery of the registration details.

Ancestry has adopted the helpful practice of listing all the names against a particular reference (up to 1911, or is it 1915?). Most registration references at this period cover 2 weddings, as the standard marriage register had space for two per page. So, in third quarter 1895, Pontypridd district (ref 11a/911), as well as finding Griffith’s spouse Margaret Ann Davies, a further two very familiar names popped out – the other ‘Welsh’ great grandparents Charles Scott and Amelia Osborne.

Just a weird coincidence? Or could the Watkins and Scott families have known each other, some twenty years before Mary Ann Scott and Levi Watkins took the plunge? It would take sight of the original register entry to know if they might have met on the day.

Going under

Back to the 1911 census {2}, there are several indicators of a struggle to survive. The couple have had 6 children since 1895, but only 2 are still here. Checking the Trealaw cemetery record {3}, the other four are all buried in the plot which would become their parents’ resting place many years later.

  • Levi Griffith died age 6 months late 1899.
  • Twins Jacob and Phoebe both died aged 4 months, mid-1901.
  • Mary Ellen died aged 2 years mid-1904.

All listed in plot M207. Sadly not a unique state of affairs, or even the worst, but perhaps the highest ratio of child death in the closer family circles.

That perhaps explains why in the 1901 census, taken 31st March, Griffith is by himself but listed as married (and a lodger). Margaret could be with relatives or in (workhouse) hospital and the children dispersed to relatives. They may take some finding.

1911 Wales Census - Griffith WatkinsAnother indicator of poverty is that they are living at 163 Under House Ynyscynon Road – not a separate part of the road, but an ‘under’ section of the terraced house. Plus they have just 2 rooms (excluding any probably non-existent scullery or bathroom). On Google Street View there is clearly a large drop down from street level on one side of the road which would make an ‘under’ house possible {4}. Some houses are more semi-detached, but all in the standard Valleys terrace style.

It is easy for us to get fixated on the harsh picture painted by such raw data, but surely there were good times too in this strong Welsh community.


1. Griffith was the younger brother to great grandfather John Watkins. John was born 1868 Merthyr, died 1939 Tonypandy. Griffith was born 1875 Merthyr, died 1937 Trealaw. Margaret died 1942.

2. Other 1911 census information

  • Griffith Watkins, age 36, born Merthyr, underground haulier at colliery.
  • Margaret Ann Watkins, age 32, born Treherbert.

Surviving children of Griffith and Margaret Ann Watkins:

  • Elizabeth Ann age 14 born Trealaw.
  • Thomas John age 13 born Trealaw.

All could speak English and Welsh.

Unfortunately the names of the two children are rather too common to be able to find out anything more, without a large stroke of luck, or an even larger amount of work.

3. Glamorgan Family History Society’s Trealaw Cemetery Burial Index, 1881 to 1990.

There are 150 people now recorded in the family tree database as being buried in the cemetery – see A quick look at family gravestones at Trealaw and connected articles. The count largely excludes infants which don’t appear on any census, and are only included in the database via notes attached to their parents – they would take it closer to 200.

4. The first in a new BBC Wales series ‘Laurence’s Extraordinary Ordinary Homes’ (shown March 2015) features a Bute Town terraced house makeover, and its history. This building also has a separate ‘under’ space, which the programme calls a cellar but would have been let out separately – plus the attic space would have housed a lodger. They explain it as housing the maximum number of people in a minimum space and saving on building costs too – clearly a common Valleys approach. See Merthyr, more than a temporary abode for another example (Plymouth Street) – the cuttings photo made a brief screen appearance.

Cycling in, and out of, the family story Changing transport, and work, options

As a cyclist, and sometime cycle campaigner and rides organiser,  I was delighted to be contacted out of the blue (via this site) about family bike shop connections. Second cousin (once removed) Ronnie Myhill used to have such a shop in Carlisle, before switching to grocery – I’d already spotted his dad Sidney was a cycle agent at one point.

Ronnie was definitely involved with bicycles in 1953, and the grocery store existed by 1969, per phone directories on Ancestry.

Our correspondent relayed an extract from a postcard, mentioning fitting a Cyclemaster Power Unit in 1953. A number of web pages on such contraptions – complete powered rear wheels – appear on a quick Google, including a UK based “online museum” https://cyclemaster.wordpress.com/. Plenty of images too. We had an old bicycle in the garage when I was growing up, fitted with a different type of  small add-on petrol engine, before mopeds came in to use I guess.

It would be interesting to know at what point Ronnie gave up on cogs and brakes for coffee and biscuits.


Connected articles: Making a Case for the Myhills shows that Ronnie is unlikely to have any living descendants. I’d be very happy to be proved wrong.

Bush Houses viewpoints Cwm Clydach Cottages in colour and b&w

Cutlock & Co is extremely grateful to a new contact who has forwarded some photos of Bush Houses. One view was familiar, from the painting which appears at the bottom of Feeling Bushed and also a poor quality version received via another source, but the older black and white image was certainly from a fresh perspective.

Looking down the valley towards Tonypandy, with the main part of Clydach Vale /Blaen Clydach to the left (north), St Albans church can be seen on the bottom left. But what is the building pretty much in the centre of shot, a little beyond the shorter row of houses (you’ll need to click on the image for the larger version)? The railway up the valley is visible too – on two levels. Perhaps someone could tell me when this closed, which would help date the shot. No later than the 1940s I imagine, from the lack of telegraph poles for example.

Bush Houses and Clydach Vale old b&w

Here’s the colour photo, the “familiar view” from the 1960s, looking from the opposite direction. I’d be happy to hear if anyone has copyright claims on this.

Bush Houses in 1960s


Sourced from the ‘Rhondda – Our Valley’ page on Facebook, a grainy photo which would have been taken a little further back from the colour one above. Assuming this is the correct location, Blaenclydach Colliery with Bush Houses rather obscured behind:

Blaenclydach colliery, Bush Houses behind


1. This is the fifth Cutlock & Co article on Bush Houses, Clydach Vale, Rhondda. The others, in chronological order:

Word-Smithing from Smyrna or Lyrical lines from Lydia {2}.

A year ago, ‘Hanging by a thread‘ traced the delicate strands which led to establishing the family of John Harper Smith junior, master mariner {1}. I speculated that the reasons he and his spouse couldn’t be found in 1871 and 1881 England census was that they could be on voyages out of British waters.

Now there is some indication of this, in the shape of a poem of his penned from port:

(Read by clicking on any image and navigating – increase browser size for larger view or use the ‘full image’ link.)

Jennie/Jane is the oldest daughter, age 7 in 1865. Also mentioned are Nellie, otherwise Ellen, age 6, Kate age 3 and Jack/John a tender one year old (and no doubt classed a rogue in verse 15 due to typical baby antics). Presumably wife Hannah was ‘at home’, wherever that was, at this time.

The reference in verse 16 to “dear aunts” .. ” all living there” (implying being looked after by them) while mother was away is intriguing. The girls are with an unknown and unmarried Elizabeth Hannible/Hannibell at census time – in Yarmouth indeed just a few entries away from aunt Matilda B Isaac in 1871 (and 1861 for Jane too). In 1861, while Jane is in Yarmouth the parents are both in Liverpool. Hannah comes from that port, so their stay could be for family or nautical reasons. Still no sign of Ellen in 1861 or Jack in 1871. Another aunt or two hiding somewhere with them?

Thanks to Vivien for supplying the above scans.


1. Also see: Entirely to the Water from Birth – bit of a poetical turn of phrase in John Harper Smith senior’s mariner certificate entry!

2. Smyrna is now known as Izmir, Turkey. It was once part of the Lydian empire. ( I did Classical Civilisation at A level!)

3. Perhaps some new Cutlock & Co categories are needed for this article – file under Records/Poetry, Places/At Sea.