Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dolgellau - Climbing the family tree

My main mission today is to get to see the registrar at the local Council chambers. As I have an hour or so to fill first, I browse in a book/gift store and pick up some odds 'n' ends. I pick up a history-oriented map of the town and look for "Union Square" which is the address given for my family on various census reports from the 19th century. I ask the proprietor for assistance too. As I'm asking, I realize that this is probably a transliteration of "Wnion Square" [pronounced oo-nion] after the local river Wnion. She cant recall the location and enlists several passing acquaintances to help out. One of the ladies knows and takes me a couple of blocks, down a street that I had mistakenly entered the night before (and being a narrow dead-end, had to back out a good way) and as we turned a corner, I saw the label 1-2 Wnion Square on a fence. Success! My new scout knows one of the residents Margaret, who comes out on a crutch to get my account of the family. Between the two of them, they recall that the Williamses were just around the corner and point to the end of another tiny cul-de-sac. That building was built in 1903 so must have replaced the family home.

Wnion "Square" is the where the street gets marginally wider.

I learn from my historical map that the term Square was often given to minute spaces where the buildings are slightly set back from others. Dolgellau's narrow winding streets are rather unique, having evolved haphazardly over many centuries. The town has the highest concentration of listed buildings in Wales. Dolgellau means water meadow (Dol-) of cells (gell) where the cells may refer to monkish quarters or more likely market booths. The cell/gell would seem to be the same as the kil prefix used for churches in Scotland e.g Kilmartin, Kilpatrick.

At the council offices, I leave Bondi in the hands of throngs of council workers and sit down with the registrar. I'm hoping to get the missing details of my great-grandfather's family: his parents' deaths and his 4 siblings' marriages/deaths. It's rather dispiriting as details fail to emerge for any of the siblings: all I know are their names and approx year of birth. His mother disappears off the census between 1891 and 1901 but even she fails to show.

Finally some details emerge, his father Ellis passed away in 1922 at age 76 and brother Ellis (now based in London) is listed as contact, so is at that point, aged 45. Those three new details help fill in some more pieces of the puzzle. I can take these to the National Library at Aberystwyth next week where they can be cross-checked against bishops' transcripts of parish records, and more national census reports. If I return to Dolgellau after September the full records section available in the library will give the possibility of checking school records and mission registers.
Before lunch I scout through the headstones at St Mary's church in the town centre, but it's very overgrown with bracken, weeds, Williamses and Joneses - but none that I recognize. There are more Williamses on memorial stones inside the churc itself, but none I could personally identify. An hour of browsing in a local second store (where the owners were very enamoured of you-know-who) is more productive, and I come away with an interesting gothic fantasy by Quentin Crisp about a large dog. I'm interested to see what his fiction is like, as the only other fictional work of his that I have is a rare wartime collaboration with Mervyn Peake titled All This and Bevin too, and that's really a glorified pamphlet. Lunch is a simple affair at a local cafe.

After this we head towards Barmouth on the coast - not far away at all. The scenery continues to amaze, including the first extremities of Barmouth clinging between sea and slabs of rocky coast. I follow the narrow stone-walled road along the coast - shuddering through brief Blackpoolish resort-town ugliness and under the shadow of high Harlech Castle. More scenery on each side - I really want to stop and take photos all the time - but it's a one-lane busy road and there's nowhere to pull off onto a verge.

Finally we end up in Porthmadog/Portmadoc and have a stroll and I do a bit of email checking and then food shopping at Tescos. When I get back to the car, I realize my mobile phone is missing. F***. I'm thinking it might be at the place I checked email ( closed now it's after 5:30) or else at the cafe in Dolgellau where I'd lunched. I race back along an inland road but the cafe's also closed. Deep breath: I'll deal with it in the morning. I distract myself by checking headstones at the town's main cemetery up the hill: more legions of Williams, Evans, Jones and Lewis folk stand at ragged attention on this sunny hillside, boxed in by the same slate that sheltered them in the town below. No obvious relatives here, but I take photos of most Williams headstones anyway in case one of them turns out to be a 2nd cousin I've yet to nail to the tree.

The B&B for tonight and the next night is a lovely country house off the road outside of town. My room is 4 times the size of last night's. I try to relax and not worry about the phone.

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