Kathleen – My Adopted Grand Aunt

Thinking of Kathleen, my father’s only aunt, fills me with a mixture of happiness and sadness. I never got to meet her, but my Dad has such fond memories of her. A loving, kind woman who died far too soon.

My Dad’s mother was an only child, so the bulk of his family comes from his Dad’s side. His father was one of five sons of Henry (Harry) Griffiths and Sarah Brown. The 1911 census information stated that Harry and Sarah had already lost one child but a search by the local registry office turned up no other births or deaths for this couple in the period between their marriage in 1903 and the 1911 census. Their eldest child John Henry – aka Jack had been born in 1904 and there was a ten year gap between him and his next brother – Edward Thomas. Surely there must have been another child? Perhaps it had been a stillbirth rather than a live birth? I might never know.

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Kath with her adoptive mother Sarah and an unknown lady.

My Dad always told me that Sarah and Harry had longed for a little girl, and so after having five boys they decided to adopt a daughter. It is a little surprising as they were both in their 50s by the time they adopted Kath, who was about 18 months old when she was taken into the Griffiths family in around 1934.

She ended up with the nickname Dora. She and my grandfather were quite close. She seemed like a happy child.

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Kath was admitted to the Glyn Ceiriog National School on 26th July 1936 until 6th June 1940 when the family moved to Shrewsbury.

The family had moved to 5 Sundorne Crescent in the Harlescott area of Shrewsbury and this was where Kath did the rest of her growing up. Sadly her father died just seven years after they had moved and then her mother passed away eight years after that when Kath was 23.

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Kath outside the house in Shrewsbury – possibly with a boyfriend (at the back) her mother Sarah is off to the left. I imagine the other people may be friends or neighbours. The back of the photo says ‘Bath Night.’ There is a similar photo just with Kath and her boyfriend and three other people from this photograph and the back says ‘I shall always remember.’

My father remembers that Kath used to work at George Mason’s on the Mardol in Shrewsbury. She used to sit in the booth where the money was kept – they would use a pulley system to transfer money and goods back and forth in a basket across the shop. My Dad used to sit in there and they would send him sweets in the basket.

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Kath on the end at the far right – at George Mason’s.

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My grandfather with Kath on the left and a friend on the right.

After the deaths of her parents Kath had gone to live with her brother Norman and his wife Jane in Castlefields behind the Dingle Quarry Gardens and then had lodged at 2 St. Chad’s Terrace with a friend she worked with who later became one of her bridesmaids. She went on to marry Geoffrey Charles Davies in 1958 – with their wedding reception held at The Old Post Office. Geoff had worked at Veitch’s in the town. They went on to have a son Steven a couple of years later.

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Kath and Geoff on their wedding day.

Sadly this lovely couple didn’t get to spend many years together as Kath died on 2nd August 1963 at 3 Monkmoor Crescent, Shrewsbury aged just 31. She died of congestive heart failure, auricular fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), rheumatic conditis (possibly some sort of infection leading to rheumatic fever) and also had Crohns Disease. She died in her sleep – so at least it was peaceful.

My Dad was devastated when she died, her loss was a real blow to the family. Geoff remarried the following year and had a daughter who sadly died in infancy. My father lost touch with him and his cousin Steven as they moved to Northamptonshire. It is a bit hard tracking down someone with the surname Davies as it is so popular, but I know my father would love to make contact with Steven – to have reconnected somehow to Kath, it is thought he might have joined the Navy. I know that Geoff died in 1985 in Peterborough.

Some years ago Dad said to me that he would love to find out who Kath really was – where she came from. This was a bit of a tall order. Adoption records are usually sealed – only for the adoptee to be able to see. For a short period of time an adoption register was available to view on a site called Family Relatives – this was a list of the adopted names of adoptees – it didn’t display on the register what their birth names were. It didn’t stay online to search for long before it was removed. I had searched this for Kathleen’s name but found nothing. Although she had been adopted in the 1930s some years after adoption had become a legal formal process in 1927, there wasn’t a mention of her. I wondered if perhaps it had been more of an informal adoption, seeing as the process was still in its infancy in those days.

I had a confirmation of Kath’s birth date from her school entry record which matched information from one of my father’s second cousins who remembered it as they shared the same birth date – 8th February. I had a feeling that Kath’s first name had probably not been changed much, having been adopted when she was 18 months old. A few years ago I had an article placed in the Shropshire Star newspaper about Kath, asking if anyone knew her and could get in touch. I was really pleased when I had a phone call from a wonderful lady called Miriam who had been Kath’s housemate and bridesmaid. She told me that one day at work a woman had come into the shop and asked for Kath – she strode up to her and told her she was her mother! Apparently Kath’s middle name of Victoria had been given to her after the name of the hospital she had been born in. This was all Miriam could tell me but it got me thinking…

I looked online to see what hospitals were in the area near Glyn Ceiriog where Kath had been taken in by Harry and Sarah that had the name Victoria in – and sure enough there was the Victoria Memorial Hospital in Welshpool. I took a chance and looked up all births in the Forden district that covered Welshpool in the first quarter of 1932 with V for a middle initial (thank goodness for sites like FreeBMD to be able to do searches like that!) I discounted any with first names that were nothing like Kath and soon found an entry for a Catherine V Gwilt. I contacted the local registry office and asked them to only supply me with her birth certificate if her birth date was the 8th February and if she was born at the Victoria Memorial Hospital.

And this was what arrived a few days later:

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So I had found her – I actually cried when it arrived. I was so pleased to be able to tell my Dad who she was and where she had come from. He was amazed I had been able to find her! Her birth certificate had been amended to show she had been adopted – but it is unclear at what point this took place. It is unlikely I will ever really know the full story behind her adoption. Of course we have no idea who her father was, perhaps he was someone Winifred worked with or for at White House? Kath’s mother Winifred never married and died in Cardiganshire in 1982. I wonder if she knew that she had outlived her daughter by almost 20 years?

I have two photographs of Kath in frames in my living room at home. One is the lovely rosy cheeked photograph of her as a young girl, and the other is this – she looks so glamorous and beautiful and I love it.

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Kathleen Gwilt/Griffiths/Davies
   1932 – 1963

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20 thoughts on “Kathleen – My Adopted Grand Aunt

  1. I’m very glad that you managed to track down Kath’s original birth certificate! As you say, a shame that you never got to know her. But some cracking photos of her! 🙂

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