To coincide with Local and Community History month, Elliot MacMillan from Pembrokeshire Archives & Local Studies highlights some of the collections they hold and how useful they are for researching family history.
Whether it has been after unearthing an old family photograph album, listening to an elderly relative’s anecdote, or finishing another episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, at some point we have probably all been inspired to trace our own family history. As well as fulfilling personal curiosity and being a whole lot of fun, gaining an insight into the lives of our ancestors can inspire and educate. In the light of great upheaval and fluctuations caused by social, demographic, and technological change, discovering our roots can also offer a source of stability for ourselves, families, and communities.
But where to begin? At first, family history research can seem daunting. The initial positivity and desire to launch into it can give way to a feeling of being overwhelmed.
But fear not, as Pembrokeshire Archives & Local Studies (PALS) can help! For as well as being a repository for historical documents that date from 1292 to last week’s local newspaper, we also specialise in family history research. If you happen to have family from or other links to Pembrokeshire, then you are just in luck! Pembrokeshire Archives is home to the Pembrokeshire Local Studies Collection, which consists of material relating to the people, places, and events of the area. It includes parish records, visual collections, journals, rare books, newspapers, and countless items of ephemera. Of particular importance is the Francis Green genealogical collection, which amounts to thirty three volumes of early twentieth century research on the most prominent families in Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire, and Carmarthenshire. Within, there are over eight hundred pedigree sheets. In addition, there are some eight thousand books in the Local Studies Library that cover the rich history of the county of Pembrokeshire, on subjects ranging from archaeological discoveries to UFO sightings.
As such, PALS provides people with the chance to delve into and explore their family, house, and local history. But of course, not everyone is (un)fortunate enough to have connections to Pembrokeshire. So, here are a few case studies from my own experience working at PALS over the last six months that highlight some of the most helpful sources for family history research, regardless of location.
The Teacup Poisoner *Content Warning*
Believe it or not, it was the very first enquiry that I was given as a practice run to work on, that has been one of the most memorable. The researcher wished to know more about an ‘unsavoury character’ called John Berridge from Pembroke Dock, whose parents, Irene and Leonard, died in 1959. At PALS, most of our parish baptism, marriage, and burial records (or, as we like to call them, hatch, match, and dispatch records) have been digitised and are viewable on the computers in our library. I turned to these to begin with, and I found their marriage and burial records. From the latter (right), it immediately struck me as odd that they were both buried on 29th April 1959. Assuming that this was the result of a car crash or some other accident, I decided to consult local newspapers in the chance that their deaths were reported.
To my horror, the next day the cause of their death was reported in the Western Telegraph. The ‘unsavoury character’ John Berridge, had murdered his parents on the morning of Saturday 25th April 1959. Aged nineteen, he was a bomb disposal member of the RAF, who was on leave from service in Germany. He was remanded in custody until 25th May, before his trial between the 5th and the 21st June at the Pembrokeshire Assizes. I thought that the court records we hold would be the next logical source to consult. However, there was little further information that they yielded than what was already in front of me in the newspaper reports. Indeed, The Pembroke County and West Wales Guardian reported on the whole trial. This proved pivotal in understanding the motive behind the murders, as the newspaper shared a crucial piece of evidence in the form of John’s diary. This revealed that he believed there would be atomic warfare and that he was actually sparing his parents from future misery. Disturbingly, he had originally planned to carry out shootings from the roof of a primary school, only to be thwarted by the fact that it was a Saturday, so the school was closed. On Monday 21st June, John Berridge was found ‘guilty but insane’ and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Subsequently, he was sent to Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire.
John’s story took an even darker turn. In 1962, Graham Young, better known as the Teacup Poisoner, was admitted to Broadmoor for a minimum of fifteen years, at the age of 14. He had poisoned his friends and family in aid of twisted scientific experiments, which resulted in the death of his stepmother. Within weeks of admission to Broadmoor, Graham Young had claimed the life of John Berridge by cyanide poisoning. Despite confessing and explaining that he had extracted cyanide from laurel bush leaves, the prison authorities refused to believe him. Instead they recorded Berridge’s death as a suicide and even released Young after nine years. He went on to poison further people, which ultimately inspired the Aarvold Report, which enforced the monitoring of inmates upon their release. On a side note, the police officer who figured out that Young had killed his stepmother by thallium poisoning, recognised the symptoms due to having read Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse, which had been published the year before.
As grim as this example may be, it highlights that local newspapers are an essential source for family historians. The work of inquisitive and attentive journalists can result in information that would be difficult to access otherwise. Newspapers also contain opinion pieces which reveal attitudes to contemporary society, photographs, and adverts aplenty which show the change in trade and industry in different areas. Furthermore, obituaries in newspapers are vital sources for family history research. Sometimes, if you are lucky, they can be the first and only source you need to consult for information on a particular person, because a full breakdown of their life and career is given. In addition, family members and the key mourners are named, which provides a natural avenue for further research. We are constantly updating an obituary database for our newspapers, which saves our researchers a great deal of time.
At PALS, we hold Pembrokeshire newspapers that date from 1844. The most regularly consulted by researchers are hard bound copies of the Western Telegraph, which cover the whole of Pembrokeshire. Currently, a digitisation project is underway to provide researchers access to the interwar copies which are not fit for reproduction. The other newspapers in our collection include the Pembrokeshire Herald (1844-1924), County Echo (1903-1950), Pembrokeshire County Guardian & Cardigan Reporter (1866-1996), and the Tenby Observer (1853-1974). Some of these are available on microfilm. For other Welsh newspapers, check out Welsh Newspapers Online, which covers the period 1804-1919.
We also hold copies of national newspapers which reported events of national or worldwide significance, such as coronations and the sinking of RMS Titanic, as well as those from around the United Kingdom which reported on important news in Pembrokeshire. For example, we have a copy of the London Morning Chronicle (left), which was the first in the capital to relay news of the French invasion at Fishguard in February 1797; the last time a hostile force landed on British soil. Our Local Studies Collection also has a number of folders which contain cuttings from local newspapers that cover a range of different topics, such as sustainability, religion, and education. As such, it is difficult to disagree with John Tosh in The Pursuit of History (1993), that local newspapers are the ‘most important published primary source for the historian.’
‘Delfryn’ into the Past
As well as discovering the lives and activities of ancestors, at PALS we can also help unearth the history of your home. A recent example I worked on was a house previously named Delfryn (for non Welsh speakers, ‘f’ is pronounced like an English ‘v’), located between Olmarch and Treyscaw Farm in Treffynon. It is a great exemplar of conducting research on properties that date from the early twentieth century.
As the enquirer believed it was built in 1905, the logical place to start in order to confirm this, was a contemporary Ordnance Survey map of the area. At PALS, the earliest we hold date from 1860, with scales of six inch to one mile and twenty five inch to one mile. The latter provide a high level of detail, showing all significant man-made features, in addition to hedges, streams, and other natural boundaries. Ten different categories of non-agricultural land are distinguished and antiquities are also marked. You are able to view some of these online, as the National Library of Scotland have a fantastic resource which allows you to view these maps side-by-side with modern Google Maps. The most helpful maps that PALS hold for researching house history are the second edition maps, which were produced c.1908; perfect for discovering if Delfryn existed at the time.
As can be seen above, these maps are annotated with numbers and land boundaries are marked with different colours. This is because the maps were a working document. They were used as part of a nationwide land and property valuation survey which was carried out following the passing of the 1910 Finance Act, which has been dubbed ‘Lloyd George’s Domesday of Landownership.’ The numbers on the maps can be looked up in accompanying books. These show the landowner, tenant, and type of property (below). As such, you can identify anyone who lived or owned a property in Pembrokeshire around this time (for some of the more remote places it took until 1915 for a survey to be completed). Delfryn did not appear either on the map or in the returns book. However, it was not a complete loss, as from this I discovered that the land upon which it was later built was part of Treyscaw Farm, owned by George Harries and occupied by Margaret Thomas (below).
Although there was no property in the area by the name of Delfryn before 1910, it is possible to look further back in time to find out more about the owners of the land. This is courtesy of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, which realised the haphazard nature of paying a tithe or tenth of all produce to the parish clergy, and so replaced this with a new fixed money rent charge. This led to tithe maps being drawn for every parish in England and Wales between 1838 and 1854. These are the earliest surviving large-scale maps of a locality and show every field and building that existed at the time. Although we do hold originals of fifty nine Pembrokeshire parishes between 1837 and 1849, a great resource to use is the National Library of Wales’s online search engine. Similar to the Finance Act maps, there are accompanying books, known as apportionments, which provide the details of each numbered plot of land. In 1841, the land on which Delfryn would later be built was a meadow, and was part of Treyscaw Farm, owned by John Harding Harries and occupied by William Thomas, who were the respective relatives of the owners and occupiers in 1910.
Moving forward in time to find out when Delfryn was built, I searched electoral registers. Every person who has registered to vote appears alongside the property they resided in at the time. The earliest date from 1740 and currently the latest our repository holds are from 2016. Pembrokeshire electoral registers from 1740 to 1978 have been digitised and are available on Ancestry.
Delfryn first appears in the 1924 electoral register, with a Mabel and a John Llewelyn Davies living at the property (right). Out of all the research that I conducted, this was the first direct reference to the name of Delfryn. Mabel continued to live in the house until 1982.
Although a useful source, there are a couple of caveats to using electoral registers for family history research that must be noted. Firstly, parish boundaries and jurisdictions have been subject to change, even over the course of the twentieth century. In the case of Delfryn, for example, it has appeared in the registers for Llanreithan, Llandeloy, and Brawdy. So, be sure to check multiple parishes in an area if at first the property you are researching does not appear. Furthermore, the use of electoral registers are significantly limited before the passing of the 1928 Representation Act which gave all women over the age of twenty one, regardless of property and marriage status, the right to vote. As such, most women are absent before this year. In the case of Delfryn, however, this context proved helpful, as Mabel’s appearance on the electoral register in 1924 meant that she was likely married to John Llewelyn Davies. This was confirmed by a marriage record I found from July 1923. I also found their son’s birth record, which was dated the 2nd May 1924. Crucially, these extra records provided Mabel’s maiden name – Evans. This allowed me to turn to censuses to trace her even further back in time. Mabel appears on the 1901 Census, aged three, living at Treyscaw Farm with her mother, Elizabeth. The head of the household, and Mabel’s great aunt, was Margaret Thomas, the very same woman who appeared on the 1910 Finance Act returns!
Fast forwarding twenty years to the 1921 Census (which has recently been released on Findmypast), Mabel Evans is found living with one of her sisters and her husband elsewhere in the parish of Llanreithan. Meanwhile, John Llewelyn Davies is recorded in the same parish boarding at Chapel House. Therefore, it is very likely that Delfryn was built for the marriage of Mabel and John and given to them as a wedding present by her great aunt who owned the land as far back as 1910. At the very least, their marriage was when the property was given the name of Delfryn.
As seen in this example, the census is a vital source for tracing your family and house history because over a period of time it can reveal changes in where families lived and worked. Although they have been carried out every ten years (with the exception of 1941 due to WW2) since 1801, it is only those from 1841 onwards which hold genealogical value. Before this date they only contained statistics. However, it must be noted that in 1841, except for children under fifteen, all ages were rounded down to the nearest figure divisible by five. With each census, more information was gathered about families. The 1851 Census began recording everyone’s relationship to the head of the household, whilst in 1891 it was first asked which language was spoken by the family. A crucial change took place in 1911 when it became required for the householders to complete the census themselves. Previously, enumerators gave out questionnaires and returned later to collect them or to help fill them out. This change provided scope for comments and elaboration and so we can see additional thoughts, not to mention it allows us to see our ancestors’ handwriting. At PALS, you can view census records through our library subscription to Ancestry and Findmypast.
The 1939 Register, which was used to determine ration books and later, helped in the formation of the NHS, is the closest thing to a census for a twenty year period because the 1931 census was destroyed in a fire and none was completed in 1941 due to WW2. It proved to be the next significant marker in the story of Delfryn. As well as clarifying the dates of birth of the family members, it also reveals that John Llewelyn Davies, born 1st November 1879, was a ‘minister of religion’ (below).
Incidentally, the current resident who asked me to carry out this research, had remarked on what he considered religious architecture as part of the property and wondered if there was a link with a nearby Hendre House, which was once a training college for priests. With no relevant extant documents concerning Hendre House or Delfryn in our repository, you would be forgiven for thinking Davies’ story was at an end. However, it is possible to obtain information on even the most rural and inaccessible areas of Wales using printed directories. Generally, one of the most helpful is Kelly’s which lists trades and occupations of an area. In our Local Studies Library we also hold copies of Crockford’s Clerical Directory, which provides the qualifications, positions, and location of practicing ministers of the Anglican Church.
John Llewelyn Davies appears in the 1931 edition, as a diocese of Llandaff and as an exhibitioner of St David’s College, Lampeter, having gained his BA in 1912. The next copy we hold is from 1937, which he does not appear in and so he retired at some point in the course of those six years, before dying in 1941. Mabel and her son continued to live at Delfryn which is shown by them both appearing in the electoral registers for the rest of the decade. In 1951 she married Thomas I Lewis and they remained at the house until 1982. It changed hands twice more during the rest of the decade before disappearing from the electoral records in 1994 until its current owners.
In comparison to the extensive newspaper coverage relating to John Berridge, the research into the history of Delfryn yielded sources with a few lines of writing at most. Yet, these are of critical importance and have allowed a sketch of the full ninety eight year history of the property and of its residents. We are also able to help trace the history of properties that are even older. Pembrokeshire Archives holds land tax records for most parishes in Pembrokeshire dating between 1786 and 1831, which show the land occupier, owner, and rent in a similar fashion to the 1910 Finance Act returns (right). We even have some records that were kept as a result of the Hearth Tax, that was levied on each fireplace in a property between 1662 and 1689. Other helpful sources for tracing properties include estate auction catalogues, which we recently explained in an Instagram post.
Family history research is not just about tracing your lineage or properties as far back as evidence will allow, but also consists of recapturing the lived experiences of our ancestors. A brief final example that highlights the important sources PALS holds for achieving this, is one that concerns the family of Rosemary Roach, who is a fellow Archives and Local Studies Assistant. For Rosemary, researching her family history has been a twenty five year long search. Since taking up her position at Pembrokeshire Archives, she has not only been able to discover her ancestry but also gain an insight into the daily lives of past family members.
Ironically, the end was the best place to start! Through using our online catalogue, Rosemary was able to find her great grandfather’s will. This provided a breakdown of his estate, who his heirs and family were, and his profession. The last of which was revealed to be a coal miner and later and a farm labourer. This was important to bear in mind, as in South Wales they were often quite mobile occupations, especially for miners, who would find work at one of the many collieries before moving on to the next. In Rosemary’s great grandfather’s case, this was reflected in the census. William Roach moved around Pembrokeshire over a twenty year period in search of work, before settling on a farm in Rudbaxton.
The census is not just helpful for finding out information on adults and their employment, but also for tracing the lives of children and any education they received. In the eighteenth century, Griffith Jones from Llanddowror invented ‘Circulating Schools’, which would rotate, or circulate, around the rural parishes of Wales. This meant that a lot of children could learn to read and write for the first time. But it was not until after the 1870 Education Act, which identified areas where schools were needed, that permanent schools were established in Pembrokeshire. Therefore, censuses from this date show any children in a household who attended school. As seen below, Rosemary’s grandfather, John, was recorded in 1901 as ‘at school’ in Rudbaxton. Sometimes, the term ‘scholar’ was also used to describe school children.
The next step on Rosemary’s research journey was to consult school log books (which personally are one of my favourite type of sources in our repository). Kept by the head teacher, school log books record the daily life of the school. The information within can be as basic as the number of students who attended each day, or they can go into detail into what lessons were taught, why someone was ill, and the reports given by visiting inspectors.
Looking in the school log book for Rudbaxton National School, the attendance of John Roach and two of his siblings – Margaret and James – was reported on 5th July 1899 as being very poor (below). So terrible, in fact, that the head teacher recalled that the attendance officer recommended summoning the parents to answer for their absence.
Unfortunately, the outcome of this meeting, or even if it took place, is unknown. However, bearing in mind his family’s life on a farm as shown by the 1901 Census, John’s poor attendance over the summer months was probably due to the fact that he and his siblings assisted their father labouring on the farm. This was an aspect of rural life that the Circulating Schools had taken into account, as they had mainly taught children in the winter months when farm labour was relatively slack. As such, this school log book highlights that Pembrokeshire, or at least the parish of Rudbaxton, was in a period of transition in regard to education provision and its perceived value to rural families, at the close of the nineteenth century.
Despite his truancy, John Roach most likely became the first member of his family to develop reading and writing skills to a sufficient standard. Evidence for this is inferred by the mention of literacy classes in the school log book and the fact that the marriage banns of his parents had a mark next to their name, as opposed to them signing their name. School log books therefore offer fascinating windows into the changing levels of education between generations. At PALS, we have over two hundred school log books from primary and secondary schools. Although they don’t follow a set formula, school log books can be used to unearth the daily routines and experiences of children who are otherwise silent from most other types of documents.
On a final note, Rosemary had been told by her aunt that John was the first literate member of their family. This example perhaps also reminds us that the first source of information on family history that you should always consult and use as a foundation, if you can, is the information given by living family members themselves!
The sources discussed here are just a fraction of the different types at Pembrokeshire Archives & Local Studies that can be used to trace your family history and to find out more about your ancestors. Others include: shipping registers, society minutes, workhouse records, inmate admissions and discharge books, court records, business ledgers, diaries…the list goes on, and on. At first glance, you may be put off perhaps by the handwriting or the age of the document, but with our helpful team members and research guide books in our Local Studies Library, researching your family history is accessible and achievable even to those who have never set foot before in an archive. We are always excited to help someone start their family history adventure or unearth new avenues to research, and hope you will join us soon!
Feature on Spotlight