Sunday, January 22, 2006

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

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