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.

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