Five Illegitimate Sons – The Hunt for My Great Grandfather

My great grandfather Henry Griffiths was a bit of an enigma for me for some time. When I first started researching my family tree back in 2003 I had little to go on about him. We had a few original certificates, but none were specifically for Henry – known as Harry. We had a few photographs of him in an album and my Dad told me that his Taid (Welsh for Grandfather) had died shortly after he was born. I knew that he had been a slate miner and that at some point he had run a bicycle repair shop from his home and was known by the locals as ‘Harry Bikes’. This ‘Bikes’ epithet was also bestowed upon his sons.

Harry Griffiths

I knew that my paternal grandfather Clifford had been born in Llansanffraid Glyn Ceiriog in Denbighshire, Wales and I ordered his parents marriage certificate from 1903 and his father’s death certificate from 1947 to discover more. While I waited for them to arrive I tried to see if I could find any likely entries for Henry in the 1901 census. I knew from the age given at death on the indexes that Henry had been born around 1882, so I hunted around for potential entries in Wales – specifically the areas around Glyn Ceiriog and over into the Shropshire border just in case. I had found several possibilities, making sure I looked using both Griffiths and Griffith. I hoped that once I received his marriage certificate I would have a father’s name to help narrow down the possibilities – when it arrived I was a bit surprised and disappointed.

Griffiths Brown marriage crop

Where a father’s name should be – it was blank. I was left scratching my head. In a previous post – To Err Is Human – I mentioned having once gone down a very wrong route, and this was the one in question. I was a novice at the time and I was eager to get cracking and find out more. It would be years before the 1911 census would become available to search, and so I ended up finding a Henry Griffiths born around 1882 in a place called Llanarmon Yn Ial. I went ahead and researched his family and keenly set off to hunt around that area for gravestones when I visited my parents. However it kept bugging me that it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t really have any proof that this was my Henry and then when I made contact with someone connected to that family – she said that their Henry never married. I felt a bit sick but also berated myself because I should have known better than to let my imagination get the better of me and merrily charge onwards without the crucial evidence to tie it all together, especially when I had that nagging feeling that it wasn’t right. I deleted that whole section from my tree and spent some time hunting around for a birth certificate for my Henry. At one point I thought I had it – one born in Wrexham Workhouse, but he turned out to be wrong too.

Harry Sarah & Kids

Harry – his wife Sarah, my grandfather Clifford his sister Kath and Harry’s granddaughter Ena circa 1935.

I would often look over the other 1901 census possibilities, wondering whether any of them were my Henry. It wasn’t until the 1911 census became openly available to search that I found the answer I was looking for. Living with his wife Sarah and her family, Henry – down as Harry gave his place of birth as Cefn Canol – which was crossed out and then Llansilin written over it. Cefn Canol is a small hamlet just north of the village of Llansilin on the border of Denbighshire and Shropshire. It also connects up to Rhydycroesau – another small hamlet which crosses the border and is unique having once had it’s church in Wales with the rectory in England.

Rhydycroesau Map

A somewhat tiny map of the area!

One of the possible 1901 census entries I had found was for a 19 year old Henry Griffiths – born Llansilin, working as a Cow Man on Cynynnion farm in Rhydycroesau. My next task then was to find him in 1891 – and again I was stumped. I couldn’t seem to find him, so I decided to drop the surname and just search for Henry’s and Harry’s aged around 9 in the Llansilin area, wondering if perhaps his surname had been mistranscribed. One entry came up that drew my attention – Henry Edwards aged 9 – a scholar – born Llansilin living at a house called Cilrhiw in Rhydycroesau. He was down as being the son of an Elias Edwards – a Wheelwright and Elizabeth, along with a six year old brother Edwin. I then looked for a marriage of Elias Edwards and Elizabeth and found it in 1890 in Oswestry district – Elias Edwards and Elizabeth Griffiths. I ordered the certificate – wondering if Elias was Henry and Edwin’s stepfather, perhaps Elizabeth had been a widow when she married Elias? Not so. Elias – a batchelor married Elizabeth – a spinster on 27th March 1890 in Oswestry. They were both noted as living in Cefn Canol, Elias was a Journeyman Carpenter and Elizabeth a Domestic Servant. Neither of them could sign their names. I looked for a birth in Shropshire for Henry and for Edwin under both Griffith(s) and Edwards – nothing. The local registrars in Oswestry and Wrexham looked for me too in case anything was missed from the GRO indexes – nothing. In 1881 Elizabeth was working as a Housekeeper at Cefn Canol for an elderly Agricultural Labourer Edward Jones. With her were three other children, Job aged 5, Watkin aged 4 and John aged 1. Both Job and Watkin had been born in Llanfyllin, while John had been born in Llansilin. I tracked down their birth certificates, they showed me that Job had been born in 1875 at Lower Street, Llanfyllin, Watkin in 1877 at the Llanfyllin Workhouse (known as The Dolydd) and that John was called John Allen and had been born at Cefn Canol in 1880. Sadly Job died in 1882 aged 7 of Convulsions.

Llanfyllin Workhouse 2

The Llanfyllin Workhouse

I then searched the Denbighshire Records Office online catalogue and found a reference to an Elias Edwards of Cefn Canol from 1890 – I ordered a copy of the document which was in relation to Edward Jones signing his property over to Elias in order to pay off his debts. He owed money but was too old to work in order to earn money to pay it off. This was in the May of 1890 – just a couple of months after he married Elizabeth, Edward’s housekeeper. Elias Edwards transfer of Cefn Canol 1

So where were her surviving two eldest sons in 1891? I found Watkin working as a General Servant at the Rhydycroesau Rectory – down as Watkin Griffiths – not Edwards. I then found John Allen working as a Labourer on a farm at Vodwen, Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog – again down as Griffiths not Edwards. So it seems that these two boys had not taken on Elias’s name when he married their mother. I also found it quite telling that on the 1891 census Elias didn’t describe Henry and Edwin as stepsons and that they were listed as Edwards. I do know that Elias Edwards was living in Cefn Canol around the time that Henry was born, from a newspaper article from the Wrexham Advertiser of 24th February 1883. “Assault on Lord Harlech’s Gamekeeper – Thomas Evans, Llansilin, Abner Jones, the Racecourse, and Elias Edwards, Cefn Canol (who did not put in an apperance) were charged with assaulting Charles Tomkins, of Cefn Coch, Selattyn, gamekeeper to Lord Harlech, on the 12th inst. – Thomas Evans pleaded guilty and Abner Jones not guilty. – Mr R H Ellis prosecuted – It appeared from the evidence of prosecutor, that he had to go to the Cross Foxes Inn at the Lawnt on business on the night in question, and got there about nine o’clock and stayed after transacting his business, which was with the landlord, till closing time, ten o’clock, and soon after he had left the house he was set upon by defendants and another, not yet in custody, and violently assaulted. – John Morris gave corroborative evidence. – Colonel Lovett characterised the assault as of a most shameful character, and sentenced defendants to pay one month’s imprisonment each. They were also to pay the costs viz, Thomas Evans 11s 6d, Abner Jones 10s 6d and Elias Edwards 12s 2d, or to go to gaol for fourteen days longer. The money was paid. During the hearing of this case Lord Harlech retired from the Bench.” Unfortunately Henry’s mother Elizabeth didn’t live much longer beyond the 1891 census as she died on 14th April 1894 at Cefn Canol of Phthisis – another name for Tuberculosis. Just seven months later Elias had remarried to a Mary Elizabeth Stokes on 2nd November 1894 in Oswestry. Mary also had two illegitimate children, William and Mary born in 1890 and 1893 in Oswestry. Elias and Mary went on to have a son Enoch in 1895. I then decided to track down Henry’s siblings in 1901 – I found Edwin down as Griffith – a Cattleman on a Farm at Llawnt, Llansilin. I then struggled to find any trace of Watkin or John Allen. After a while of fruitless searches under the name Griffith(s) I decided to try Edwards and came up trumps. In 1901 Watkin was a lodger at 1 New Hall View in Ruabon – he was a Trooper in the 88th Company Imperial Yeomanry – he served in the Second Boer War and was awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Transvaal, 1901 – 1902. He had joined up on 12th February 1901 and I was surprised to see that he was shorter than me (just) at 5 foot 4 and a half inches tall, weighed 126 lbs, had a fair complexion with blue eyes and brown hair, and interestingly was Church of England – rather than Church of Wales or nonconformist like I knew my great grandfather had been. He had been posted to South Africa on the 6th April 1901 and returned home on 25th May 1902 – so he had just scraped it onto the 1901 census before being sent to war. His next of kin details proved interesting too, originally it had been given as Edwin Thomas Edwards but this had been crossed out with the forenames John Allen being given instead, of Australia Terrace, Trevor, Llangollen.

Watkin Edwards Next of Kin crop

I duly found John Allen living at Australia Row (actually Terrace) in 1901 – down as Edwards not Griffiths. He was a Labourer in a Brickyard. I took at look at the fantastic free newspaper archive provided by the National Library of Wales and it was here that I found an article relating to John Allen – in the Llangollen Advertiser on 8th March 1901 which was written in Welsh.

Llangollen Advertiser 8 Mar 1901 John Allen Edwards

Using my trusty Welsh / English dictionary I was able to decipher the general gist of it. On Friday 6th March while working on a machine at the brick firm of Messers Roberts and Maginnis, he caught his right hand in the machine or engine where a serrated wheel or cog severed his thumb and his third finger. It said that fortunately a Dr. L Roberts was nearby and had him sent to Ruabon Hospital on the train. It stated he was a native of Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog. Roberts and Maginnis had a mine in Trevor which mined Fireclay and Ganister. Ganister is a type of stone used in silica brick making. Silica bricks were mainly used to line furnaces. It was interesting to say he was a native of Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog – certainly it was where he was working in 1891. It must have been excruciating to get his hand stuck in the machine like that, and of course in the days before ambulances in the sense that we have them today, it must have been pretty horrid to have to sit there on the train with your mutilated hand in such a state. This occurred in the same month the census was taken, so perhaps he would have been convalescing a little before getting back to work, but I imagine he wasn’t afforded that luxury and not given much time off before getting back to it. In 1911 Watkin was a boarder at 4 Australia Terrace, Trevor and was a General Labourer. He was boarding with the same family his brother John Allen had been living with in 1901. John Allen by then was married and living at Bryn Melyn, Garth Isa, Trevor and was a Silica Brick Worker. I believe that both Watkin and John Allen worked at the same Silica Brick Works, many men who lived in that area worked there. Both Watkin and John Allen were on the 1911 census as Edwards not Griffiths. As for Edwin – he was living at The Hand Hotel, Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, working as a waggoner on a farm. He was down as Edwin Thomas Griffiths. He married as Griffiths and remained in the Glyn Ceiriog area and died at Wrexham Hospital in 1960.

Hand Hotel

The Hand Hotel

Both Watkin and John Allen continued to use the surname Edwards, marrying under that name and dying under that name with their descendants – until recently – not having a clue that their surname was actually supposed to be Griffiths. When Watkin died in 1953 in Wrexham, his obituary did not mention his brothers Henry and Edwin’s families, only John Allen’s. John Allen died in 1957 in Wrexham and his family also seemed to know nothing about any other siblings other than Watkin. Had they fallen out? It seems odd to me that these two brothers who seem to be not Elias Edwards’s sons, decided to use his surname for the rest of their lives after their mother died, yet the two boys who are more likely to have been his sons – Henry and Edwin Thomas couldn’t get rid of it fast enough! Did they just grow apart? Did they disagree over their father figure? Did they split over religion? I also found it interesting that Elizabeth had no issues with registering the births of her first three children – the ones who seem to have not been Elias’s son’s, yet when she had Henry and Edwin Thomas – their births were not registered. Perhaps Elias stopped her from doing it? On all of the brother’s marriage certificates I have (John Allen, Henry & Edwin’s) their father’s name is left blank. Elias and his second wife Mary were living at Brookside, Oswestry in 1901 and he was still a Wheelwright. He clearly states that Mary’s children William and Mary are his step children (unlike in 1891 with Henry and Edwin) and in 1911 they were at Hillside Cottage, Rhydycroesau and he was a Carpenter. The 1911 census stated that Elias and Mary had been married for 17 years and had three children – despite the fact that they only had one child from their marriage – it is actually kind of right if you think that if Elias had fathered Henry and Edwin with Elizabeth and then Enoch with Mary, and likewise Mary had given birth to William and Mary with someone else and Enoch with Elias. The children weren’t with them in 1911 so it wasn’t like they were putting three down to make William and Mary seem like they were Elias’s children. Elias died on 21st May 1912 at Llawnt and his cause of death was given as ‘Probably Heart Disease’. Luckily for Elias he wasn’t alive to suffer the tragedy of his son Enoch’s death during WWI – having been killed in action in Salonika in 1918. Enoch’s army service record gives his half siblings William and Mary as half-blood relatives but there are no mentions of Henry or Edwin who if Elias was their father would also have been half-blood siblings to him. I wonder what sort of a relationship, if any, he had with them? His death notice from the local paper said “He was a bright and intelligent young man of a very genial disposition and had a wide circle of friends. Much sympathy is felt for his invalid mother and his brother and sister.

Enoch Edwards Oswestry Advertiser death notice crop

Enoch’s death notice from the Oswestry Advertiser

My father was quite amazed at the tangled web these brothers had left behind. He had no idea that his Taid had any siblings as he had never heard anything about them. Henry and Edwin may have been closer than they were to their older brothers, having lived not far from one another in Glyn Ceiriog up until Henry and his family moved to Shrewsbury in 1940. I am now in contact with descendants of John Allen Edwards and hope to eventually track down some of Watkin’s family – I know he had two children, Cyril and Lena. Lena never married but Cyril did and had at least one son Philip. Edwin no longer has any living descendants. He only had one child – Robert Hugh who did not have any children, but I am lucky to at least be in contact with two members of John Allen’s family who have memories of him – and hopefully might have some photographs to share. It would be lovely to see a photograph of him and see if he and Henry were alike at all. I also love the coincidences I have uncovered along the way. As a child I used to go away for little holidays in the Glyn Valley. I used to like knowing that my family came from around there, thinking of my great grandfather working in one of the local slate mines and feeling a little closer to that – even as a youngster it felt important to me. We would often stay at The Hand Hotel in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog and at one point my parents were thinking of buying it in the 1980s. It is nice to think that my great grand uncle Edwin lived there in 1911 and similarly across the road from this hotel is another one – The West Arms. Henry’s sister in law Eliza Brown was working there when she got married in 1913 – and we used to stay there a lot too.

The West Arms

The West Arms

My parents now live near Llanfyllin where they run a lovely B&B and we often drive past the Llanfyllin Workhouse where Watkin was born, which is now a community centre, used for artists studios and events. In 2013 I made contact with a lovely couple who live in Cefn Canol who helped me to locate the house Henry and his family were living at in 1891 – Cilrhiw. To begin with I couldn’t make out what the name was and they helped me to identify the correct spelling and showed me to the house – where I met the current owners who were so pleased to meet someone who had a family connection to the house. Goronwy – the kind man who took time out of his day to show me to the house also gave me a spare copy of a book he had – Rhydycroesau 2000. This book is amazing, a great work put together by the village talking about the area, the houses past and present. Elizabeth and her family were mentioned in it with their 1881 census entry – interestingly they were noted as being at Cilrhiw then, despite the 1881 census itself just stating Cefn Canol. Apparently originally Cilrhiw was a small one up one down house, so evidently it has been extended over the years to the lovely house it is now. Cilrhiw is Welsh for ‘Shadow of the Hill’.

Cil Rhiw

Cilrhiw in 2013

Rhydycroesau 2000

The fabulous book!

Thanks to some great books written about the Glyn Valley Tramway and the slate mines by John Milner and 100 Years in the Valley by Dewi Parry Jones & Robert Owen Jones I have been able to identify that Harry worked at the Cambrian Slate Mine in Glyn Ceiriog. I also found business directories at the Denbighshire RO with entries from 1922, 1933 & 1936 stating – “Griffiths, Henry – Cycle and Motorcycle agent and repairer. High Street, Glyn Ceiriog. Repairs and accessories of all kinds.

Harry Griffiths younger

Harry repairing a wheel

After moving to Shrewsbury in 1940, Harry worked at the Sentinel Wagon Works where he was a Gantry Crane Operator. He died in the Berrington Hospital in Shrewsbury on 15th October 1947  of Prostate Cancer when my Dad was 8 weeks old. He had worked hard all his life, been a staunch Methodist who went to chapel, raised five sons and one adopted daughter and had lost one son in World War II. I think it is interesting that Henry was one of five boys and that he too had five sons, John Henry (Jack), Edward Thomas (Ned), Norman Vaughan, Trevor & Clifford Handel.

Griffiths family circa 1925 slight restore

Harry & his family circa 1925

Some years ago on a trip back to Glyn Ceiriog with my Dad and his second cousin we stopped off at the house of a man who had lived in the area all his life. My Dad’s cousin’s wife started to explain who we were to him…. “You remember Harry Griffiths?” He nodded. “And you remember his son Clifford?” Again another nod. “Well this is his son David… and his daughter Alex…” He grinned – “Bloody hell!!!!” It was lovely to meet a man who knew my great grandfather all those years ago. He told us of another nickname that we hadn’t known about – “Harry OK” because he apparently used to say “OK” a lot!

Henry’s story has been a long and complicated one – but one I have thoroughly enjoyed!

Harry close up

Harry Griffiths 1882 – 1947


7 thoughts on “Five Illegitimate Sons – The Hunt for My Great Grandfather

  1. This is absolutely fascinating and so well- written. It reveals so much about their times and working conditions. It must have been so exciting to find all of this. And I love the Welsh place names!

    • Thanks Amy! Me too, I was pleased that when I said Rhydycroesau to the locals they were impressed that an English girl could say it right!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.