There are two stories. The first is the story of our grandmother's family going back to their roots in Wales. The second is the story of the research itself. The combination is told here according to the cardinal rule of genealogical research, "start with what you know and work backwards".
All the books say to start with what you know.
Our grandmother had separated from our grandfather over 60 years earlier. Later they were divorced and both of them married other spouses. Our grandfather came to California while she lived in New York. We were descended from her only child. No one in the family had any contact with our grandmother in all those years. She passed away in 1983 and her second husband had passed away in 1996. Her only brother, Gomer, never married and had no children. There were no family bibles, letters, or mementos of any kind, only some vague memories.
This was not going to be easy.
Luckily we knew her married name, that she went by the name "Jean", and that she had been living in New York state at the time of her death. We checked the Social Security Death Index and found a listing for a woman from New York with the same name who was her age. We sent a request for a copy of the application and received it eight weeks later. The Social Security Application told us exactly what we wanted to know and more.
Janet Williams had been born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1909. At the time of the application, 1936, she was 27 years old and living in New York City. She worked at a cafeteria and lived a few blocks from Central Park.
Most importantly though, the document showed the names of both her parents.
Her father was Thomas Williams.
The Williams surname is very common in the Wilkes-Barre area. We had hoped that her mother's maiden name would be a little more unique. To our dismay, it was not.
Her mother was Anna Jones.
We were making progress. Armed with this new information, the next step was to check the US Census. The most recent census available is 1920. We checked the Soundex films for a Thomas Williams with a wife named Anna or any variation of Anna. There were quite a few Thomas and Ann Williams, but none with children named Janet/Jean or Gomer. We were disappointed but were determined not to give up. Since our grandmother was born in 1909, she should be listed in the 1910 census, so we moved on.
In the 1910 census for Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, recorded 15 April 1910, we found them. Thomas, Annie, Janet and Gomer were living in the household of Thomas's father John Williams. Youngest child Janet was just 11 months old and her brother Gomer was 5.
With all this new information we couldn't wait to get a look at the 1900 census. Once again, we discovered much more information than we expected.
There were two families living at dwelling number 154 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Family number 160 was Thomas J. Williams, age 22 and his wife Annie, age 18. They were newlyweds, married for just the past nine months. Thomas was a day laborer who'd been unemployed for 6 months in the past year. Annie indicated she had emigrated from Wales in 1895 and had been in America for five years.
Annie's emigration information differed from what was found in the 1910 census, but it's not uncommon to find errors and discrepancies in the census. Most often the information closest to the event is the correct one.
Family number 159 living at the same residence was that of William H. Jones, his wife Elizabeth and their three children: Morgan, Lizzie and Sarah. They had all emigrated from Wales in 1895. Having been in America only about five years, William and Morgan are described as aliens.
It appeared that this was Annie's family, and although she was married, the extended family living arrangement was a matter of survival.
William Jones was a laborer in the coal mines and had been unemployed for 6 months in the past year. Morgan, age 24 was a day laborer who'd been similarly unemployed. Sarah, age 15 was a grocery clerk.
In a way, their apparent poverty was fortunate from a researcher's point of view. Had the Jones and Williams families been more prosperous, we might not have found them so quickly.
We wanted to get a copy of Thomas and Annie Williams marriage license from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. If the exact date of the marriage is provided to the Marriage License clerk, the license can be gotten for a nominal fee. Without the exact date, they will research the record within a 2 year period and the fee is doubled. It was important that we were able to use the census to get the year of Thomas and Annie Williams' marriage.
The license itself, did not contain any genealogical information. But it did contain some information that told us a little more about them.
Thomas Williams and Annie Jones were married by the Reverend D. J. Roberts in Warrior Run, Pennsylvania. Thomas had been born in Sugar Notch, Pennsylvania. Annie's birthplace is listed as "South Wales".
Since William Jones had indicated he was an alien in 1900, we didn't know whether or not he had ever applied for citizenship. In the 1910 census, John Williams indicated he came to America in 1874 and he was a naturalized citizen. Our next move was to see if we could find his citizenship papers. Through the local Family History Center, we ordered the microfilm from Salt Lake City. When it arrived a few weeks later, it was with great excitement that we began searching for John Williams.
When we started looking at the names on the film, we realized we had the wrong film. Between searching for "John Williams" and "William Jones", it seems we had gotten a little confused, and instead of ordering the "W" film, we unintentionally ordered the "J" film. At that moment we recalled the motto of our high school art teacher, "Make good of your mistakes". So, although we had no evidence that our William Jones had ever applied for citizenship, since the film was already here it couldn't hurt to look.
There were about 40 "William Jones" on the film, so without something else to go by, there was no way to tell which one might be ours. Frustrated, we put the film back into its box and returned it to the file drawer. About 20 minutes later, it seemed as though someone had just switched on the light. We suddenly remembered that Annie Jones had a brother named Morgan who might also have applied for citizenship. Putting the film on the reader again, we turned quickly to the "M's" to search for him. There were two only listings for "Morgan Jones", and only one of them stated he arrived in this country in 1895, matching the census data.
We then went back to the "W's" to see if there was a William Jones who had arrived in the US the same day as Morgan. There was just one.
Both William and Morgan Jones applied for citizenship on 29 May 1903. They both stated in their declarations that they had arrived in the port of New York on 25 May 1895. Morgan had been born in Ystadyfodwg. A map of Wales showed that Ystadyfodwg is in Glamorgan, or the same "South Wales" where Annie Jones said she'd been born. William had been born in Tal-y-llyn, which we located in Merionethshire in northern Wales.
Although we had made an error in ordering the film, we truly had "made good of our mistake".
Information like this is really exciting and we couldn't wait to see if we could find the Jones family on a ship's passenger list. Passenger lists for other US ports are indexed, but not New York in 1895. Knowing the date of arrival, though, it's fairly easy to find out which ship they travelled on. The Morton-Allen directory of ships is available on-line. A search of the ships arriving in New York on 25 May 1895 showed there were only two possibilities: the Paris from Southampton and Campania from Liverpool. A little research on emigration from Wales led us to believe that it was likely that the Jones family had boarded the ship at Liverpool. At the Family History Center, we ordered the passenger list microfilm.
The Campania was a ship of the Cunard line. Even before we had a chance to look at the microfilmed passenger list, we began researching the history of the ship. On the Cunard website, we learned that the Campania had held the speed record for crossing the Atlantic, known as the Blue Ribband, for four straight years. We also found information on Ellis Island so we could understand what procedures an immigrant in 1895 would have had to endure.
When we finally got the microfilm it didn't take long to find what we were looking for.
The Jones family from Wales, travelling from Liverpool on the Campania to a destination of Warrior Run, Pennsylvania, consisted of William, his wife Elizabeth, and children Morgan 20, Elizabeth 17, Annie 11 and Sarah 8. Their location on the ship was "aft", and they travelled third class, commonly called "steerage". William carried two pieces of luggage, and all the others one each.
Warrior Run, Pennsylvania was where Thomas and Annie had been married in 1899. The ages of some of the children were off by a couple of years, but there was just too much similiarity for this to not be the family of Annie Jones.
What we wanted to know now was exactly where in Wales the Jones family came from and what their reasons might be for emigrating to America. Probably the greatest asset available to family researchers are other researchers. Mailing lists are a way to find others who have a similar interest in a locality, surname or other specialized area. We posted a message to the Wales list, regarding how we should go about getting census information for our Jones family. Within 24 hours, we received a message from a woman in Australia. She had looked up our Jones family in the 1881 British census and sent me the outline.
Parents William and Elizabeth Jones were listed. Annie and Sarah Jones were not listed, as they weren't born until after 1882, but there were the other children: Morgan, Elizabeth, and two older sisters, Jane and Mary.
Through the Family History Center, we were able to get a look at the actual records.
William, a miner, had been born in Talyllyn, Merionethshire, which matched the information on his Declaration of Intent. His wife Elizabeth was from Darowen, which is in Montgomeryshire, right next to Merionethshire. The first two children had been born in Talyllyn. Morgan and Elizabeth were born in Ystadyfodwg, Glamorgan.
The pieces of the puzzle were all fitting together nicely. The area they were living in was called Cwm Clydach. We posted another query to the Wales list asking if anyone new where this was. We received a message from a man living in Wales who knew the area. He attached an old map showing the coal mines surrounding the village and the street names. We were able to locate Marian Terrace, the street where the Jones' were living in 1881.
We went back to the census and began looking up the records of all the family members including all the siblings, their spouses and their children. Finding out as much information as possible about anyone connected with the family can lead to important discoveries. For example, we discovered that by 1910, William Jones' wife Elizabeth was a widow. Living in her household was her daughter Jane, also a widow. Jane had not been on the passenger list when the Jones family came to America, so she had arrived either earlier or later. Jane had been married to Gomer Williams, who had come to America in 1892. Could it be that Jane and Gomer Williams came to America and through letters home convinced the rest of Jane's family to come and join them? This would explain the Campania's passenger list shows their destination specifically as "Warrior Run, Pennsylvania", a small community outside Wilkes-Barre. Gomer Williams had died in 1904. Could this be why in 1905 our great-grandmother named her son Gomer?
One drawback to the census is that it was only taken every 10 years and 1890 is not available, leaving a 20 year gap. Census records more recent than 1920 are not available at all due to the 72 year rule. As an alternative, City directories can fill the void. Published annually or bi-annually for most major US cities, city directories go back in some cases to the 1820's. Similar to modern telephone directories, they list the heads of household as well as any family member who was employed. The information includes name, address, spouse's given name, occupation and place of employment. Finding an ancestor who is continually listed and then suddenly disappears, may indicate when they died. Often if a person passed away shortly before the directory was to go to print, rather than reset all the type, the date of their death would be added to the same line.
By using a combination of census and city directories we found out that Thomas Williams had probably died before 1920, explaining his absence from the census.
Annie Jones Williams had remarried to Herman Eicke, and in the 1920 census they were listed with her children Gomer Williams 15 and Janet Williams 10.
We use a computerized genealogy program to record and automatically organize the information. It's not necessary, but it sure makes it easy to add new material and make changes or corrections. Most commercial programs have a place to record data sources, notes, and even pictures. It's also a quick way to reference your data when you're doing research on-line and to print copies to send to family members or other researchers. Some programs, such as PAF (Personal Ancestral File) are free (check the LDS Family History Library website).
Are we related? Have comments? Drop us a line.
Updated Sunday, December 16, 2001
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