Saturday, 2 July 2011

My Village, My Home, My Life - part nine

Dad - John Henry Evans about 1950
I'm coming up to the age of 64, and with the help of my Sister, and along with millions of other people, I have decided to trace our family heritage. (Millions are tracing their own families of course, not ours - though from what I've seen so far, I could do with their help).

It has now become an obsession, particularly on my Father's side. It is said that "Genealogy is where you confuse the dead and irate the living". If I'd have started this many years ago, I may have been able to take the advice of Mark Twain, "Why waste your time and money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponents will do it for you".

My family history has meant very little to me up until the last few months, as I was only ever concerned with the present and the future. Now in retirement there is a passion for reflection - I guess that comes with age, but it's also because there is time. I think that the words of Alex Haley ring true. "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness". And the one thing that I have come to really see the truth of is that Genealogy without documentation is mythology.

Map of Llanrwst about 1915
My Mother came from a long line of William Gronnow's, who up to my Grandfather, all lived in Farndon, Cheshire. There's still some details to complete, but I've settled with going back to the late 18th Century. My Mother and her three sisters were all born, brought up and lived in Penycae. As yet, the family tree has yielded no 'saps' or 'nuts'.

It's my Father's history that has caused me to be locked away in obsessive research - and soon I may be locked away for real.  I've had to wrestle with the stories I was brought up with, and the questions now being asked that challenge some of those stories. This means changing some of the information outlined in an earlier Blog. My Father died when I was quite young, and though I have vague memories of someone who was very kind and tender towards his Son and Daughter, there is still much to learn. I have battled to compose a timeline for him from his birth to his death, and I've had to explore information that is conflicting, obtuse or deliberately misleading, and I'm still not there yet.

One indisputable fact from his birth certificate is that he was born 17th June 1917 at Llanrwst Union Workhouse, and his Mother was Jane Evans, a Domestic Servant from Pentre Broughton, Wrexham. There is a line drawn where the Father's name should be. I'd often wondered why his Mother would have gone from Wrexham to Llanrwst to give birth, as it is around 50 miles away. Research has opened up the possibility that a Jennie Evans (Jane's were often called Jennie, as was the case with my Mother) came originally from Llanrwst, and in the early 1900's, single mum's to be often went to a workhouse as the cost of the birth would be covered by the institution.

The Morton Family
Now comes the fun part - what happened next? It's not so much looking for a needle in a haystack, as the stack has lots of needles, when what we need is thread.

Our family story is that Jennie Evans left my Father when he was about 18 months old, and he was fostered by a family called Morton who lived at Cae Glas Farm in Minera, Wrexham. Jennie is then supposed to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

Unfortunately, this story has had to be questioned, at least the part about Jennie, because the Gwynfryn Council School admittance records show a John Henry Evans being admitted on the 26th June 1922, and the parent/guardian being named as Jennie Evans of Cae Glas Farm. Clearly his Mother was still about and living at the farm when Dad was 5 years of age. I hope that you are still with me.

What is not in doubt is that Dad was fostered by Benjamin and Margaret Morton, but when, is uncertain, as a clarifying Adoption Act did not come into place before the 1920's, so no records exist, and fostering may have been very informal. Dad left school in July 1931 and continued to live at Cae Glas.

Cae Glas Farm as now - very different from then
Benjamin and Margaret Morton produced ten children between 1898 and 1912. William (died aged 4), Allen, Richard, Henry, Stanley, Arthur, Gladys, Dewi (died at birth), Gwen and Nell.

The Morton family picture above shows the parents and the eight surviving children, which was taken sometime between 1918 and 1920. Was Dad fostered at this time? If so, why isn't he in the photo? Or did he come along later? You see, questions, questions.

On leaving school, Dad worked for the Morton family as a farm labourer, until the Morton's retired in 1944, and he seemed to move to Clith House (their home on retirement) with them. We were brought up to believe that Dad wasn't very happy at the farm, and that he wasn't well treated, but I now have to question that, as he was still with them when he got married at the age of 26, so things couldn't have been that bad. One of the reasons for the story I think, is that we were told that Dad slept in a shed on the farm, and not in the main house. Personally, I'm happy to go along with the Morton family history, where on this point, it records that "On the left in the front garden at Cae Glas was a corrugated tin hut in which, towards the end of his life, when he was unable to climb the stairs, Taid (Benjamin Morton) slept; not only Taid but two other workers or guests also - John Evans, aged about 20, and Simon Hughes, a much older man. Simon was probably a farm worker, but John, although also a farm worker, was much more a member of the family".

Information that I would love to be able to verify is that my Dad played the violin, but that one day, Benjamin, when a bit worse the wear from drink, broke the violin. My Son Chris is an accomplished violinist, and it would be lovely to think that this was in the Evans genes; if so, the musical ability skipped a generation with me. Again you see, questions, questions.

Mum & Dad's Marriage Certificate
Dad married my Mother on the 12th February 1944, when he was a farm labourer living at Clith House, Bwlchgwyn, and she was in the Land Army and living in Penycae. The photo below also shows Dad in the army in 1943.

Dad circled 1943
Dad didn't go overseas, and having had the photo looked at, it's possible that he was in the Home Guard, where he would be protecting Minera against the Germans. Sorry, that's a bit flippant; I know how important the work of the Home Guard was right across the country. The next few years are a bit unclear as per this timeline, and it may be that Mum and Dad were working a small farm together in the Minera area.

37a, Hill Street, Penycae
They were however, definitely living at 37a, Hill Street, Penycae in 1947, for that is the address on my birth certificate.

The photo opposite was taken by my Sister in 1968, and corrects a photograph I posted in an earlier Blog. Our house is the one immediately on the left of the picture, but was knocked down, and replaced by a later dwelling.

Round about 1950, Dad ceased to be a farm labourer, and went to work as a lorry driver for the local electricity company, MANWEB. He was there until his illness in 1956, and by all accounts was well thought of as an employee of the company.

Between 1956 and 1958 he was confined to home and Christie's Hospital, Manchester, suffering from Leukemia. He died on the 27th September 1958 as a result of that disease, at the age of 41. His was a simple, but hard life, and everything I can find out about him shows someone with great dignity and warmth. This is one of the reasons why I am now determined to try and fill in the blanks, and correct the myths. It may not be possible to find out who his Father was, but his Mother couldn't have just disappeared; there will be records somewhere, and I will do my utmost to find them. This is a hole in my history that just has to be filled. Oh, why didn't I start this search years ago, when so many more key people were alive?

Mum and Dad
If any family members are reading this Blog, you can view the Family Tree to date here.

Part of the purpose for posting the Blog, is to give people the opportunity to suggest corrections or additions; to try and complete the picture. Don't be afraid to get in touch.

"The family. We were a strange little band of characters drudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms ... and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together". - Erma Bombeck

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