Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mind the big doggie

Another parcel-waiting day, as "delivery rescheduled to before 9am" became 1.30pm in DHL's timezone. During that time, I had a flurry of messages on a family-tree website from a fifth-cousin-twice-removed about our most recent common ancestor which enabled me to confirm and clean-up some ancestral names. I also added a couple of generations of Irish and Welsh ancestry along that line. In the last 200 years I therefore have two Welsh lines, two Scots and 4+ Irish lines with the remainder being English, German and Swedish.

Parcel in hand (mostly French grammar refs for my imminent Parisian sojourn), we retired to the most excellent Munson's cafe in Ealing.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

It's only a model

We checked out of Brighton, and headed westwards to Arundel first, taking a stride outside the gardens of the castle (closed until April), and then went on to Chichester, skipping the pleasures of Bognor Regis, Butlins' resort and Queen Anita's Pleasure Dome. Lovely drive through the South Downs back to the M25 asylum. Posted by Picasa

Beside the seaside

The sun was out, but it was a long chilly walk along the shore towards central Brighton.

Fortunately the capuccinos at Louis Beach Cafe were up to scratch, although the cod & chips from further down the esplanade were sadly lacking in flavour. Bondi wasn't welcome on the new Brighton Pier, so Chris entertained him for a few minutes while I did a quick circuit. There was really nothing distinctive about the dis/attractions, even with what appeared to be a gigantic party Dalek standing over the amusements at the far end, silently commanding that the wind-chilled visitors Cel-e-brate! or Per-am-bu-late!

We skipped the Brighton Sea Life show (Aquarium) which seemed really overpriced, and circled through the street markets in town. After dropping Bondi off for the evening, we had a really great Italian meal at Casalingo, a small family-run restaurant with a short but thoughtful wine list. Posted by Picasa


Drove down to Brighton - surprisingly through quite a bit of snowfall - checking into a pet-friendly hotel (in Hove) for a couple of nights. We walked around the Royal Pavilion, and then found a little bistro with an inexpensive set-menu, and an obsession for coating every other dish in cheese. Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 27, 2006

Scotland to Victoria

I took another bead at my Scottish ancestors last night. There were a couple of lines (KERR and WOOD) that made their way to Victoria, Australia sometime around the 1850s. There is increasing evidence that many of triple-great grandmother Alison Wood's family accompanied her down under:
* sister Elizabeth seems to have headed to Williamstown (like Alison)
* sister Isabella married a David CROAL of Cambridgeshire, and settled in Warnambool (discovered last night) - from which some considerable lineage seems to have issued.

I haven't found anything about brothers John and James, but after looking through Victorian BDM records, I just landed on the death record of their mother Elizabeth (nee HENDERSON), which is full of delicious detail. I'd assumed she and husband John WOOD had continued on in Scotland, but she died in Williamstown in 1870 after 18 years in the colonies and 17 years of chronic bronchitis.

I now have her approx birth and marriage years, place of birth (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, near the Scottish border), parents' names and the names+ages of all living children. An additional child was discovered in that list, and birth date found from other sources. Elizabeth seems to have had 6 surviving children, plus one (Mathewson) who may not have lasted long.

No more detail yet about father John WOOD, who passed away sometime between the birth of their last child in 1842 and the death of his widow in 1870. Victorian BDM records do not show any records of his passing - nor strangely enough the birth of any his grandchildren via daughter Isabella.

Now that I have 1852 as a target year for the emigration, I can try some marine records.

Waiting and Shaping Things - Extremely Late & Tantalisingly Close

I'm waiting for DHL to deliver some parcels. According to the tracking form on their website, they've stopped by twice and left a note in the last 24 hours, but I don't see evidence of either. So the brain has to go out for a walk by itself.

I've just put down Bruce Sterling's Shaping Things, a short non-fictional super-pamphlet on the evolution of created objects, including the post-product era of gizmos, spimes and biots. There's a nice little rant towards the end on why most companies know less about their own products than many of the consumers of same. In a "webtake" on the book, John Thackera writes:

I never worried until now about the reversal of the Earth's magnetic field. Should I? Are They covering something up? Will all electrical motors go into reverse? On all the elevators in the world, will down become up? Will MS Word become usable? I think we should be told.

Amusingly, even though spimes are "future manufactured objects with informational support so extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system." the construction of the associated MIT Mediaworks webpages is so awkward that they nearly stand as antithesis to the themes in these pamphlets.

More pleasurably, I've started Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a reaction to the events of 9/11 through the voice of a precocious boy who loses his father in the collapse of the Twin Towers.

For a nice lift, try this fab mashup of 10cc's I'm not in love with Marvin Gaye vocals layered over the top: Go Home Productions - Marvin's Not in Love (Parts 1.2)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Found an item in the 1851 census which shows my 1845 ancestral twins Ellis & Griffith as having surname Williams. They are "scholars/paupers" living with their grandparents. No one else is in the household, so I'm beginning to think that mother Sydney died in childbirth or soon after - no death record to be found though. Grandfather Griffith Ellis is noted as both as a tailor and "Chelsea Pensioner" (ie discharged from armed services). So I may chase those records next.

So I think that young Griffith either changed his name or was adopted by his grandfather, and they lived in the same household until his grandfather's death at age 90 just after the 1871 census. The last record I have found of him in written records is the 1901 census, where he has wife and an unmarried daughter living with him. At this point he is recorded as being "shoemaker / farmer".

In any case, the fact that both boys were on the record as Williamses for at least 6 years strengthens the case that the purported father was an Ellis Williams, and may even have been known to the boys.

I've just finished reading geneticist Steve Jones' book "Y: The Descent of Man", which has a chapter on his own Welsh heritage. Apparently Welsh Y Chromosomes are tied to men of Basque heritage, as well as being linked to some of the original colonizers of the Americas. So when the Welsh recolonized Patagonia late last century, they were reuniting with old genetic stock. This particular book is a bit of a rambling read. I prefer his earlier "The Language of the Blood".

Chip 'n' Pin

UK is driving towards a new Chip & PIN system for credit-card verification. Come Feb 14, you'll be expected to have a credit card with a chip, and use a PIN rather than signature for your purchase. According to the website that explains the new system, international customers (ie from all those countries without chip-enabled credit cards) will still be able to go on using our signatures.

Today (3 weeks before that day) I've already been challenged by Amex Travel and the Post Office to supply a chip-enabled card or not get access to a product or service. My feeling is that this problem will be widespread.

Just booked a weekend in Brighton. I hope the chips are better there.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Virginia Water

Chris and I took Bondi to Virginia Water, part of the Windsor Great Park, for several hours of leafy, lavendery, lolling and strolling.

I also did some follow-up work on my Dolgellau genealogical discoveries, checking for further evidence of the Ellis/William(s) twins of 1845. The Bishop's parish transcripts seem to confuse further, with Ellis William & Griffith Williams becoming Ellis Ellis & Griffith Ellis at time of baptism. I'm also wondering if birth and baptism dates have been confused or conflated. Anyway I'm fairly sure that Griffith Williams became Griffith Ellis, shoemaker, whose family at the 1881 census is visible. Ellis William->Ellis->Williams (my gg-grandfather) was probably too busy sorting out whether Ellis was his first or last name or both for a good period of his life. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Taking a trip to Abergavenny, hoping the weather is fine

Friday 21st January

Drove back into Hay-on-Wye. I had lost cell phone signal over night and needed to check messages from London, and with local hermit & blog-addict Ross from the Bad-y-Ffort caverns.

Half of the town was shut up for a winter break, so we drove out of town looking for a signal. Near Talgarth, my endeavours were rewarded and I reached Ross, eager to get a break from his esoteric unravelling of the German plastic industry. We took our dogs for a walk through the lovely nature reserve Pwll-y-Wrach (Witches Pool) and then drove into Abergavenny to do some shopping. Posted by Picasa

Last tango in the archives

Thursday 19th January

Last day in Dolgellau, and I’m back at the archives office to make my final foray into records covering Ellis’ parents and grandparents.

I first requested the parish baptism records from 1813-1837, hoping to find a record of his mother Sydney Ellis and maybe some siblings, and some candidates for the father of the twins. So I traced through 160-odd pages looking for any children of a Griffith+Anne Ellis, and any baptisms of an Ellis Williams.

Working backwards (as I thought Sydney was likely to be under 20) I quickly located 3 siblings:

October 30 1831, Richard Ellis, son of Griffith & Anne Ellis (Tailor)
July 8 1821, Elizabeth Ellis, daur of Griffith & Anne Ellis (Tailor)
August 8 1819, William Ellis, son of Griffith & Anne Ellis (Tailor)
August 3 1817, Gwen Ellis, daur of Griffith & Anne Ellis (Pensioner [war?])

I also found

September 25 1813 Ellis Williams, son of Richard & Susanah Williams (skinner)

- the only Ellis Williams baptised in this parish in the period 1813-1837. So for now he is lead candidate, but there is no firm evidence that an Ellis Williams was the father, or even if he was: perhaps he was unbaptised or came from another parish. If a paper trail doesn’t yield up more clues, I might have to wait for any evidence from the DNA record.

Still I hadn’t found mother Sydney. Looking at the sequence of siblings I saw the 10 year gap between Elizabeth and Richard, and realised that I had probably missed her. When I started exploring that time period, I found her:

June 11, 1826 Sydney Ellis, daur of Griffith & Anne Ellis (Tailor)

So that really tied up some things nicely: the only Sydney Ellis of Dolgellau being born to the same couple shown in the later census report, and continuity of profession (tailor) from grandfather to grandson.

I took the time to look for more records of the grandparents Griffith and Anne Ellis, from the marriage records of 1786-18--. I found only one set that matched: Griffith Ellis and Anne Lewis tying the knot* on October 25 1816, 11 months before the birth of daughter Gwen. I wondered if Griffith (born in nearby Barmouth) had returned from (Napoleonic?) war or active service elsewhere on an invalid pension and married Anne before taking up or resuming work as a tailor. And where did the name Sydney come from? It’s tantalising to imagine him visiting the new settlement of Sydney as a member of the Royal Navy ahead of his great-grandson moving there 100 years later.

*not to be confused with Griffith Lewis & Anne Ellis tying the knot in 1824.

The final to-be-confirmed item was a listing for a Griffith Lewis and Ann Jones marrying on May 14 1786 – a possibility for Anne Ellis (nee Lewis) parents.

The remaining records that I could search were microfilmed parish registers from various churches , that would take hours of eye-straining attention that I was not ready to give at this time. One hopes for transcriptions to appear in online records over time, or that I will
accumulate other evidence that will give me a date-range in those records to focus on.

On the road again, bound for Hay-on-Wye. I stopped in Llanidlloes for lunch, as various brochures had indicated it was a centre for arts and crafts. We made a circuit around the heart of town without finding much evidence for this, and no food options aside from Welsh heartland stodge.

In booktown Hay-on-Wye, I had a few immediate stops to check out for reading material. The town was unusually quiet and I was able to sail directly into a kerbside parking spot. The few few bookshops I visited didn’t seem to have had much turnover since I’d visited 4 months earlier, even the remainder stores. In Richard Booth’s main store I did have a curious moment of intuition. Having decided that I was a little too tired to focus properly, I started leaving the store. Passing the children’s bookshelves, I looked up and spied 3 copies of C.H.Abravanall’s 1947 title Prelude, a fantasy-laden rendering of pianist Eileen Joyce’s early childhood in Tasmania. I already had a copy of the book, but I whimsically thought “What if one of them were signed?”. I reached up for one book, turned to the title page and read an ink dedication “with love from Eileen & Twink xxx” OMG! I nearly flung the £2.50 on the counter to get it out of the store. In another bookshop that Bondi had insisted on entering (I think he liked the owner) I recounted this story. As I did so, I turned to the title page, and then noticed for the first time that the book had not only been signed by the subject, but by the author, on the prior page.

After that we retired to our pub accommodation that night at the Baskerville Arms in the nearby hamlet of Clyso. Bondi got to be the hound of the Baskervilles that evening during dinner in the main bar. Posted by Picasa

Bastard! Bastard!

Wednesday 18th January

This morning I was beating the door down at the registrar’s office in my haste to make progress on the next generation of family tree data. At first it did not seem as if the records were going to yield anything, with my gg-grandfather Ellis’ birth and his daughters’ marriages seemingly unrecorded. There were 5 babies named Ellis Williams born in little Dolgellau between 1844 and 1846 but was certain the year was 1845, and the one listed for that year was known to be the wrong guy (having had some correspondence with one of his descendents).

It’s very hard sorting through bare registry records that show only a father’s surname as the pool of names is so small and the duplication of full names is extremely high. Apparently many of the transcribed records don’t show the first name simply because the computer programmer didn’t put in a field for first name. I had to stifle annoyance at this ridiculous sort of design. Chances are there was a local tender for a records system rather than using a better-designed, customizable off-the-shelf system.

The registrar then pulled a sleight of hand, pulling up an Ellis William, born to a Sydney (spelled Sudney) Ellis in January 1845. No father was recorded. I remembered a census record I had once pulled up that suggested Ellis was living with his grandfather of surname Ellis, and was pretty sure we had a hit. Apparently patronymics like Williams, Edwards, Roberts etc still had loose spelling and could appear without the final s. The other corroborating factor was the mother’s name, as Ellis’ third daughter was “Maria Sydney”. The next discovery was a real gem: the next birth record was Griffith Williams, same day, same mother: a twin!

Since Ellis and Griffith were born around the beginning of official national records (1837), there wasn’t any way to look for birth details of their mother Sydney. No marriage records were in evidence, so it meant that I’d have to go back to the archives office tomorrow.

For the afternoon, I decided to try visiting Portmeiron, an artificial Italianate village created near Porthmadog by the architect Clough Williams-Ellis (who sounds like he is related to me in multiple ways), where the old TV series The Prisoner was filmed. When I got there I found that, despite having a dogs’ cemetery on the grounds, live ones were not permitted. So I opted for Plan B, a revisit of Betws-y-coed. In Betws-y-coed I was chased down by a young guy from an outdoor adventure store who remembered Bondi from our visit 6 months earlier. As a malamute owner, he was rather concerned that his young dog might end up as large as Bondi.

Another beautiful drive through Snowdonia back to Dolgellau. The textures of woodland are so striking that I felt that any pictorial depiction would need a combination of overlaid textiles to command the same strength of form. Moving out of woodland into the slate-strewn hills surrounding Blaenau Ffestiniog I stopped by the roadside to watch the drifts of cloud moving slowly through the valleys like the hand of a creator still fussing over its handiwork.

At the B&B that night I trawled through my previous researches and turned up the 1861 census records which showed an Ellis Williams (tailor, age 16) living with grandfather Griffith Ellis (an 80yr-old tailor), his wife Ann/e (age 75) and other grandchildren Griffith Ellis (shoemaker, age 16) and John Jones (scholar, age 11).

Online census and death records also showed that Griffith’s death had been reported in the September quarter of 1871 (age 90!) and Anne had predeceased him, age 84 in June quarter of 1870.

So all this threw up new questions:

* Is Griffith Ellis (16) the same person as the twin Griffith Williams (16)? Perhaps a transcription error - or maybe we had fraternal twins brought up as cousins to share the burden of two illegitimate children. If he’s a different person ie a real cousin to Ellis, then what happened to Griffith Williams? Did he die or was he simply in another household on census night?
* What happened to daughter/mother Sydney? Did she die or move/marry out of the parish?
* What of the unnamed father? The attribution of William/s as the surname of the two boys is one item, and Ellis Williams’ marriage certificate names another Ellis Williams (labourer) as the father. Fact or official fiction?

Later that evening I had an out of the blue conversation with someone in Australia floating some ideas about working on a book tangentially related to this blog. Details will have to remain confidential. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dolgellau & Machynlleth

DSC04012Yesterday I drove from London to Wigan (to collect mail, and allow Bondi to visit vet for rabies and glucosamine shots) and then onto Dolgellau in North Wales. There I picked up the thread of family tree research from where I left it 6 months ago. On my prior visit the Dolgellau archives were packed up for moving to new premises adjoining the library.

This morning I rolled up to the archives and began trawling the birth and marriage records for new information on my great-great-grandfather Ellis Williams and his 5 children. Almost all of the detail that I have on them so far is drawn from census, birth, wedding, and death records. My goals are to identify Ellis’ birth information (including parentage) and any marriage records for his children – notably my great-grandfather Griffith’s 4 siblings.
I spent about an hour going through parish birth records from the 1840s and marriage records from the 1880s-1950s with out turning up a single familiar name. The archivist said this probably meant that my ancestors were chapel rather than church and that I would have to go back to the county records office to see these segregated records.

That records office is only open 10-12 each day, so I sped over there and got handed around a bit due to the registrars’ prior engagements, and finally had to make a time for tomorrow. The main archives office is closed that day, so it’s lucky I’d allocated 3 days to bounce between records offices during the windows of time available to the public.
We drove down to Machynlleth for the afternoon, remembering that it was a particularly beautiful drive and at the end was a pleasant wholefood café to relieve me from the mainly stodgy Dolgellau café-fare. I also revisited the Museum of Modern Art, Wales gallery Y Tabernacl, which had an impressive collection before and didn’t disappoint this time. I particularly admired the pastel life-studies by Mihangel Jones.
On the way back to Dolgellau, I turned off the road at Corris ( a link to Aussie author Peter Corris? ) to see some more of the Dulas and Dyfy valleys. I drove for about 40 minutes towards Aberangell, through some gorgeous countryside, supersaturated green overlaid with rouge and ochre scabs of dead bracken. Against the grey sky, some stands of red trees seemed to have pulled the blue from the sky to knit themselves a scarf of purple. Magic stuff.

Passing Place DSC04017
Before reaching the A470 again at Aberangell, pheasants began to invade the narrow lane, continually darting across the road just ahead of the car. Bondi found all of this wildly entertaining.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Some more of Twanks

I forgot to mention too that the program for the show has a cardboard press-out figure of Widow Twanky with a selection of costumes to affix, from her laundress house-frock to Agnetha(ABBA) white pantsuit....oh yes and the awful gown she bought "for a ridiculous figure". Posted by Picasa

Aladdin the Panto - direct from Hollywigan

Another night out at the theatre with Chris, Andrew & Garry: the Old Vic's production of Aladdin, starring Sir Ian 'Serena' McKellen as The Widow Twanky, the traditional pantomime mother of Aladdin. An absolute gem of a night, with particular highlights being the Widow's many costume changes (including an Abba-esque blonde wig and white pantsuit, and the above final cabaret number I've Done It All), Roger Allam's splendidly bored evil Abbanazar and the audience singalong of faux Chinese (this Aladdin is set in the Wigan end of Peking) song Prrr Piao Prrr Piao with lyrics supplied in Chinese ideographs. The Emperor kept referring to Sir Ian, as "Sir Derek Jacobi on his annual drag binge".

After a frustrating week of not hearing back from the Lodgis apartment service in Paris about some options for my upcoming stay, Chris found an alternate apartment in the heart of Les Halles area next to St Eustache church that seems to have almost everything I could wish for, and quite affordable. 3 weeks to go!Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

at the top of a steep stair that had its own climbing rhythm

Popped out to see Brokeback Mountain on Sunday evening. Heath Ledger's performance remarkable. Experienced an immense feeling of desolation towards the end, followed by tears.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Otherwise Engaged

My friends Andrew and Garry had moved from Sydney to London just before Xmas, and the four of us had a night out in Piccadilly to see the Simon Gray's play Otherwise Engaged, about a publisher (Richard E. Grant), whose attempt to have a quiet day at home listening to Wagner is continually disturbed by intruding friends (Anthony Head et al) and family, until his life is completely turned upside down. Although Grant is the headliner, Head has the meatiest part as a somewhat dissolute journalist who turns up twice to exhaust his host's drinks cupboard. A well crafted and very entertaining piece. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Chris and I initially set out for Egham village, but having noted the sign to Windsor en route, pulled out of the Egham car-park and repointed ourselves toward Legoland (closed) and Windsor Castle. Due to tourist congestion, it took ages to find a place to park, so we had less than 2 hours to look at the outside of the castle, or the many plaques on buildings proclaiming themselves to be Christopher Wren's house, taste and buy fudge, queue for coffee, before getting back to Brentford to go out again. Posted by Picasa

Tintin and the Volgonian Lovehound

I took Bondi into London city on Friday as I'd booked a post-driving-around-Europe massage near Liverpool Street Station. After that, it was off to the (soon to be remains of - ) Spitalfields Markets and some lunch. We walked westwards past the Barbican and Guildhall schools to Covent Garden. Along the way a rotund man asked the usual set of questions to which you give the replies malamute, MALAMUTE, 7, no, malamute. A little old lady next to him asked what breed Bondi was, and the man said He's a Volgonian lovehound dearie!

Near Covent Garden we stopped in at the Tintin store, where storekeeper insisted that Bondi come in for photos. Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 06, 2006

Middlesex Home Companion

It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone, oops Brentford, a mere stone's hurl from the M4. The quietness is partly due to a minor earache that has followed me from the continent, and a sinus-full of acoustic deadener, which followed me from the last week of 2005.

I tried to visit an NHS clinic this morning to have my ear checked out, but was repeatedly spurned as the local clinics said I was either not in their catchment area or were not taking temporary registrations. Neither had busy waiting rooms... Since it appeared I'd either have to drive outside London's paperwork zone, or risk a distant hospital's walk-in centre, I decided to opt for a private clinic, a short walk away. It turns out that an accumulation of cash in my wallet was impeding my hearing, so they removed that and sent me on my way.

Being in the Ealing area, and being that post-Xmas sales are on, I picked up a set of the major Ealing Studios very cheaply on DVD, since any viewing I'd had of them must be at least 30 years ago. I've got a couple of interesting theatre visits planned over the next week or so. I'll say nothing about them now except to say I'm looking forward to my first panto!

I got another strange email from the French consulate, saying "If you are not student in the uk, you cannot apply for a student visa. " I don't know why they require Australians who want to study in France to be a UK student as well. They also re-supplied their unmanned telephone number for any questions. Since I'm currently midway through Umbert Eco's Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotation, I'm wondering if they managed to completely strip my initial request of any semantic content by retranslating it from English->French->English->French a few dozen times. I'm sure in the next round, I'll be asked to reinstall my language subsystem and reboot.

My Parisian language school reports that finding long term parking is very easy, so I can now concentrate on simply finding a regular apartment for our 2* month stay. I think I've found a decent one in the 10th arondissement, that's reasonably handy to school and a transport hub. Sadly the Paris Metro is not dog-friendly like the London Underground, so Bondi will be adventuring on foot only.

*Since I don't have a longstay visa for France, I don't want to use up the 3 visa-free months in one go, as it would prevent me from visiting anywhere else in western continental Europe until August. So I had to tell the school that their government bureaucracy has successfully reduced their potential income.

I've been doing some more family-tree digging, and am trying to confirm a set of possible distant cousins in Victoria/Tasmania who share the same Scottish ancestry 200 years ago. I'm also hoping to get back to North Wales later this month to visit the reopened family records section at the Dolgellau local government offices.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Although I have been house-sitting at Newmarket, I've made several trips into London. NYE day was spent with Chris (above) walking a circular path from Chalford St Peter in the Chiltern district northwest of Heathrow. We then had a late lunch at The Bounty, a dog- and muddy-boot- friendly pub by the Thames at Bourne End. I ordered a pheasant casserole, which the publican described as the peasant casserole. I asked if it was their serf and turf offering - he liked that.

Walked past Ealing Studios on Ealing Road, Ealing (funny that) where such classics as The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers were crafted. Posted by Picasa