Cracking a family myth Wales to Wilkes-Barre USA


Great excitement at Cutlock Towers. Wednesday’s visit to cousin Islwyn in Knighton didn’t just fill in missing details on already known relations but, with just the briefest further research, has now revealed where the tales of Pennsylvania connections came from. These connections had become rather mythical to me, as the idea that a part of the Watkins family was born abroad just didn’t stack up.

I came back with old birth, marriage and death certificates, burial records from the 1860s to 1880s, scans of photos (unfortunately many old ones were unlabelled and unknown), memories from Islwyn and a very useful ‘bereavement list’. And a few press clippings, rent and ration books, ID cards and life assurance documents. And so on.

Receipt in connection with burial of Grace Griffiths (3x great grandmother).

This burial receipt, for Cefn Cemetery Merthyr Tydfil, was tantalising in several ways {2}. It is dated 8th February 1881, but the burial is 10th December – presumably 2 months previously. Other burial receipts are dated before the burial, as you would expect when cash was king. Just who is William Davies and how is he related to great great great grandmother Grace? And why a grave in ‘unconsecrated’ ground? Is this because they weren’t C of E (or rather C of W)? {6] Fortunately the 1868 burial receipt for Grace’s husband David also exists, so it is clear that the “re-opening grave number 2974” actually refers to the receipt number, and the plot must be D67.

But this document also made Grace’s death registration easy to find, giving her an age of 70 when she died. A rough birth year meant that the census records could be located, providing the siblings to 2x great grandmother Phoebe Griffiths. And the widowed Grace was living with Thomas and Mary Price (clearly her daughter) in 1871, 107 Brecon Road, Merthyr Tydfil. With this data, Ancestry immediately suggested a match for the Price couple appearing later in Pennsylvania. It didn’t take long to find further relevant Wales census records and a connecting family tree on Ancestry. Unfortunately I’d dropped down from a Worldwide level of Ancestry sub on renewal so had to rely on familysearch.org for further US census data, but the Pennsylvania town is Wilkes-Barre, near Scranton.

Thomas Price is also in the bundle of Cefn burial receipts, paying for Gwen Margaret Price, probably his mother, in 1873. (It isn’t his daughter of the same name, as she is clearly alive in 1881.)

At the 1881 census, Mary Price is with children Grace, Gwen and David, but no husband {1}. She is staying with a William Davies at 51 Brecon Road, the address you can see on the receipt above. And William’s wife is a perfect match for her sister Ruth. Definitely on our way now!

Put that lot in to the Family Tree Maker database, up pops William, Ruth and children also appearing later in Pennsylvania (and yes, Wilkes-Barre is the town). Another Ancestry family tree connects via son David Jenkin Davies.

A further Griffiths sister Anne has been tracked to Wilkes-Barre in 1900, married to Daniel Thomas and living next door to the Prices. She had been visiting the Davies family in Merthyr in 1891.

So it looks like the idea that a Watkins ancestor had moved to Pennsylvania was a Chinese whispers version developed out of this closely related Griffiths line {3}. Still no trace of an alleged connection to the Merthyr Tydfil family of Rolf Harris, though {5}.

As usual, it would be great to hear from any cousins (American or otherwise) who recognise the above – or note 4 below, which gives a little more detail on the individuals.

Notes

1. The 1900 US census shows that Thomas Price arrived in America in 1879, with the rest of the family following in 1881 (obviously, and fortunately for me, after that year’s census in Wales).

2. Transcription of the burial receipt:

MERTHYR TYDFIL BURIAL BOARD, Cefn Cemetery

No. 10823, 8th February 1881

Received of Mr William Davies 51 Brecon Road Merthyr Tydfil the sum of Ten shillings for charges and fees, for Interment of Grace Griffiths at the CEFN Cemetery, the particulars of which are shown below.

(Signed) Clerk to the Board.

The Interment is to take place on Thursday the 10th Dec instant precisely, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon

………………………………………..

For Interment in Grave space No. D 67 in Unconsecrated Common .. 10s 0d

For Re-opening grave No. 2974

3. Also see: A recognised anthracite miner of Pennsylvania, Watkins family. Levy Watkins (born about 1838 near Talgarth) married Phoebe Griffiths (born about 1837 Merthyr Tydfil) in Merthyr Tydfil in 1859 and lived in that town until at least 1871, working as a coal miner. The Watkins family page is now renamed Watkins and Griffiths to reflect the extended information.

4. The new Griffiths relations who went abroad, all children of David and Grace Griffiths of Castle Square, Merthyr:

  • Ann/Anne Griffiths b 1850 Merthyr Tydfil married Daniel Thomas, maybe 1876. Arrived USA 1883, family in Wilkes-Barre by 1900. Children Grace Thomas b 1885 Wilkes-Barre.
  • Mary Griffiths b 1852 Merthyr Tydfil married Thomas Price, probably 1869. Arrived USA 1881, family in Wilkes-Barre by 1900. Children Grace Mary Price b 1871, Gwen Margaret Price b 1874, David Price b 1876, Tracey Price b 1888 Pennsylvania, W Harold Price b 1893 Pennsylvania.
  • Ruth Griffiths born 1855 Merthyr Tydfil, married William Davies, probably 1872. Arrived USA 1882, family in Wilkes-Barre by 1900. Children David Jenkin Davies b 1877, Grace Davies b 1881, William Griffiths Davies b 1888 Wilkes-Barre.
  • Elizabeth Griffiths born 1842 Merthyr Tydfil, married Rees Hughes 1867. Child Phoebe b 1871 Morriston. Still in Wales at 1881, but in Vinegar Flat, NZ by 1885. Elizabeth died 1919 in Otago province New Zealand, Rees died 1930 Dunedin NZ.

Possible sighting of sibling William Griffiths in Cleveland, Ohio – check the Watkins and Griffiths page for updates.

5. UPDATE: A Thomas Harris is the subject of the earliest burial note in the collection, receipt issued to David Griffiths of Castle Square. On further scrutiny, this must be the Thomas Harris who is a lodger with the family in 1851 and 1861 (occupation puddler, born about 1803). No, he doesn’t connect to the Rolf Harris line.

6. On further reading, it does appear that those of other religions would be buried in unconsecrated ground.

7. See these further posts on Griffiths in Wilkes-Barre and Merthyr:

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