Neal relations at Cuckoos Cup, The Wrekin

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 Watkins 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 David and John Watkins, emigrated to in the early 1880s. See Cracking a family myth.


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