Showing posts with label Edwards (Carmarthenshire). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edwards (Carmarthenshire). Show all posts

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Bibles and Bugs: My Welsh Ancestors In and Out of Africa (an oral presentation adapted into a blog post)

 This is an adaption of an hour-long (at least that was the plan) live presentation I presented to the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO - we say "BuhFizzGo") on 11 January 2014 at Library and Archives Canada.  A number of my friends and relatives on Facebook have expressed an interest, so I've edited it for the blog.  My singing has thus been excised.

I can tell you're crushed.

Intro, as it appeared at the BIFHSGO web site:  How does Gail Roger owe her very existence to her great-great-uncle Thomas Lewis who died more than eighty years ago and had no children?  How did her very Welsh great-great-uncle and her equally Welsh maternal grandfather wind up on opposite sides of the African continent in two different centuries, one to build churches and the other to control the tsetse fly? Come to her presentation and learn why Uncle Thomas' posthumously-published autobiography about his missionary days in the Cameroons and the Congo both helped and hindered Gail's search for Welsh ancestors in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

Gail feels she is qualified to speak on family research because she herself belongs to a family and has reason to believe she has ancestors.  Her Welsh is limited to "Good day", "Thank you", "Welcome" and "Wales Forever", but she can be prevailed upon to sing "Land of My Fathers", "Watching the Wild Wheat", or "Suo Gan" should the current venue for this BIFHSGO meeting need to be evacuated in a hurry.  Gail can say one or two words in Swahili, but has difficulty pronouncing "Trypanosomiasis".  Her bug phobia would not impress her grandfather the entomologist.
(Side-note - When I performed some snatches of song during the original presentation, the fire alarm went off and the auditorium had to be evacuated, which, in Ottawa, means fetching the winter gear from the cloakroom, hauling it on and trudging outside to wait for the fire department to allow us all back in.  Miraculously, the audience returned for the rest of the show. I can only assume that they were more afraid of going out into the treacherous freezing rain than the alternative.)

I once knew a lovely lady who was born in Alberta the same year Alberta joined Confederation.  Her second name was Alberta, as a matter of fact.  She had a good idea of her family history which included England, Scotland and Wales. She had Loyalist roots, and as a result, relatives in the United States. So one year, she and her husband were returning to Canada from visiting American relatives -- by way of Wisconsin.  They stopped for gas and picked up some snacks.  The cashier gave her a curious look and said:  “You have an interesting accent – where are you from?”  The husband thought this was really funny and said:  “Oh, she’s Welsh!”  The cashier smiled in a relief:  “I knew it!  You can always tell those Scandinavians!”

Canada's flag 1957-1965
Unlike my Albertan friend, I’m a first-generation Canadian.  I first started becoming aware that I was different from my more Canadian peers in that really patriotic time between 1965 and 1967.  You might remember that 1965 was the year we got the new flag.  We certainly remember it in our family.  My father was livid.  (Dief was his chief, y’know.) 
1967 was Canada's centennial, of course, so between 1965 and 1967, we sang a lot of patriotic songs at school.  Including this one:

 “Side by side and step by step our fathers were marching along…

I was just getting old enough to think to myself:
Wait a minute.
My father was born in Putney.
We’re not singing about my fathers, are we?
Who are my fathers, anyway?


 I checked with my mother and got her standard response:  “You’re half English, three-eighths Welsh, one-eighth Scottish and All Canadian!”
“Mama, the kids call me ‘Limey’.”
“Nonsense! You just talk properly!”

 No one can scoff like my mum.  It demonstrates a strength of conviction that might come of living with a name like Nanw.  ("NAH-noo" - "W" is a vowel in Wales.)

She’s spent years dealing with banks and credit card companies who think her name is a typo.  Also, many jokes about “Nanook of the North” and “Mork and Mindy”. (“Nanu-nanu”?  Anyone remember that?)

Now, I knew something about being Scottish – I was surrounded by Scottish surnames at my school which also specialized in Scottish Country Dancing.  Seriously.  We won prizes at Kiwanis.  I definitely knew something about being English because of my parents’ accents and the fact that we were smack in the middle of the British Pop Invasion.

Welsh?  Not so much.  You can always tell those Scandinavians.

So I begged my mother for stories about her childhood.  She was happy to oblige, although she might have suspected me of postponing bedtime. She told me all sorts of stories about ---


She’d tell me about their pet giraffe Ekori.  A girl in my Grade Three class flatly called me a liar when I told this story – Take that, Brenda Morey!
My mother had tales about mixing chemicals in the high school science lab so that the smell would drive them outside and she and her classmates could wriggle on their bellies to steal pomegranates while the teacher read to them.
About my grandmother growing poinsettias.  Outside.
About eating fresh mangos from the orchard in the bathtub – to catch the drips.  My grandmother would then run the bath and my mum, my aunt and my uncle would polish the pits into fluffy "hedgehogs".

Wairagu wa Njohe
Stories about their cook Wairagu - affectionately known to the family as “Ragbags” - who would sneak food up to my mum when she had been sent to bed without supper.   If he got in trouble with my grandmother, he would know it, because she called him Wairagu instead of “Ragbags” and his skin would go kind of green underneath. I should mention that my grandmother also called my mother “Nankypoo”, my Auntie Eryl “Eccle-Peccles” and my Uncle Keith “Keefybissawoowoo.”  One of my aunt’s American acquaintances once asked:  “Uh, is your mother English?”
Eland with Lewis children - 1943

So, like me, my mother and her siblings had a bit of a national identity problem.  I once traveled with my mum to England, where people would look at her strangely when she spoke and ask if she were Australian. (She doesn’t sound Australian.)

My aunt had a ball teasing young patients at the Californian clinic where she was a nurse, telling them she was African-American, too.  Well, it was true.  She was born in Africa and had married an American.  One little girl got really irate: “No way!!!”

My mother as a toddler in 1932.  The man in white is Kirimo, the family cook prior to Wairagu.

My uncle believed he lost chances at a few engineering jobs in the 1960s because his CV said he was born in Nairobi.  Potential employers thought he was black. Eventually, he would wind up helping design the Hong Kong subway system in the 1970s. 

It was only when I was quite a bit older that I thought to ask how my mother came to grow up in Kenya. The stories had got a bit more grown-up and scary by that time:   

For instance, clearing out of the house to let the safari ants just march through.  You didn’t dare get in their way, though, on the positive side, they left the house quite a bit cleaner.

Or the one about Lady Delamere and her Nairobi canteen for Allied soldiers during the Second World War.  My mother and aunt were volunteering in the canteen one day when two black men walked in.  Lady Delamere was furious and told them off in Kiswahili:
“Twende hapana kuja hapa!!!”
One fellow looked over to his companion and said:  “Man, this dame’s nuts!”
They were American soldiers.
It wasn’t until I heard this story that it even occurred to me that Kenya Colony was a segregated society.  When I thought segregation, I thought the American South or South Africa, not my mother’s childhood home. 

So what was my mother’s family doing in Kenya?

Edward Aneurin Lewis 1900-1967
Frome, Somerset, shortly before his death
"near Mount Kilimanjaro March 1932"

This is my maternal grandfather Edward Aneurin Lewis, known to the family as Aneurin. I never met him in person, although I spoke to him on the phone, but only a handful of times because long-distance calls in the 1960s were a rare luxury. I remember when I was about seven, telling him about going to the movies because at that time, that was the epitome of excitement for me (that and going to Al Oeming’s Game Farm).  He seemed confused until he figured out what I called “movies” were what he called “the cinema".

This is probably the last I heard from him, in this diplomatic postcard (“your picture with the nice background” – I can just imagine!) sent the summer I was ten. I only came across this when visiting my mother last summer.  I was startled to see the postcard is signed “Grandpa” because I have always called him “Grandad” when discussing him with family.

When he died three months after mailing this postcard, the family was in shock.  He was only 67 – which, of course, seemed terribly old to ten-year-old me - and had just been elected to the Frome Urban Council as Chairman – so he was essentially the mayor of Frome in Somerset, where he had retired with my grandmother.  My mother, who had not seen him for over a decade, could not afford the airfare to England, but we were sent the order of service for the funeral which was attended by more than 250 people – and those were just those whose names were important enough to be listed in the local paper.

This was the first inkling for me that my grandfather was more than a voice on the phone, and a character in my mother’s childhood stories. These articles detail his many interests and accomplishments during his dozen years in Frome: his work on the Council, his support of the local schools, especially the technical college, the local youth club, he’d been a magistrate ex officio because of his position in the council, etc.

My grandfather's UN pass
But the articles also mention his work as a consultant with the World Health Organization, and before that, many years in Kenya, part of that as a director of the East African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Research and Reclamation Organisation. 

My mother explained to me that her father was an entomologist (“bug scientist”) who studied the tsetse fly (a bug) which caused trypanosomiasis (“sleeping sickness”). 
 I was ten, so my response was “EEEEWWWWW!”  Before his time at EATTRRO, he was a staff entomologist at the Veterinary Research Laboratory in Kabete and a lot of his work involved the study and identification of species of ticks.  He was frequently away on safari and he sometimes would return with orphaned animals, which his children would attempt to rear.  That’s how they had a pet giraffe and also successfully raised baby antelope and buffalo.  They never managed to keep orphaned hippos and rhinos alive.

My grandfather also brought home queen termites, but I don't think they were popular pets.

So I went on with my life, becoming a teenager, going to university.  In 1978, when I was in Third Year, my grandmother became dangerously ill, so my mother went to England, sold up my grandmother’s furniture, and donated my grandfather’s papers and his collections and models of tsetse flies to the University of Bristol, which is not far from Frome. My grandmother brought her memories of my grandfather with her to Canada, and he became almost as much a presence in our lives as she was.

As a result, when my sister was taking a course in Medical Anthropology, she decided to choose trypanosomiasis as a topic, figuring my grandfather’s name might turn up.  It did – but only in footnotes in medical publications, referring to articles he had written in the 1940s and 50s.  Now, we had gathered that our grandfather had some minor fame as an entomologist – he’s featured, for a few exciting seconds, in a 1950 documentary short from the Gaumont-British Instructional series “Secrets of Life” for the J Arthur Rank Organization.  We have it on videotape sent by a helpful cousin:

I can only apologize for the quality of this snippet, captured by my iPod, of all things.

The film has a brief glimpse of a building just before my grandfather appears, which has helped me identify the location of this photograph.  I suspect the gentleman speaking to my grandfather in the clip may be John Longridge, standing immediately next to my grandfather, in the dark vest with arms crossed.
The back of the photo reads: "Dad and Staff 1948 - John Longridge, Dad, John Freund, Peit Retief, Herman (Heek) Krueger"  The Tsetse documentary short from 1950 has a brief shot of this building.
Also, about twenty years ago, my aunt was at a Yale Alumni dinner (her husband was an alumnus), and there happened to be a couple of entomologists at her table who got really excited when they learned who her father was:  “This is EA Lewis’s daughter!”  (My aunt was just a little nonplussed.)  So, he seems to have had some notoriety among entomologists, at least.

My mother tells me that during the Second World War, my grandfather wrote to Cambridge University asking for names of experts in his field.  They sent him his own name.

Recently, some Ancestry users started posting a potted biography of my grandfather on Ancestry.  These are perfectly nice people, not really related to my grandfather at all – they’re very distant cousins of my grandmother, but I did manage to track down the source to the Wellcome Library, a repository for historical medical documents in London, which is evidently where the boxes of my grandfather's papers wound up.

Now, this is a good illustration of how we should look critically at any document, be it an entry online, even from a reputable institution, or a certificate, or a book, or a memoir.

I’ve come across a book entitled Speaking with Vampires: Rumour and History in Colonial Africa by Luise White out of the University of California, published in 2000.  She quotes my grandfather (calling him “Edward A. Lewis") from one of his administrative papers called “EATTRO Objectives”.  She’s paraphrasing him here:  Edward A Lewis likened sleeping sickness in East Africa to malaria in medieval England, noting that tsetse were only dangerous because (and these are my grandfather’s words) “of the diseases they carry . . . . The objective must be to rid the country of trypanosomiasis . . . not rid Africa of the tsetse fly.”

This reflects beliefs that I have heard attributed to my grandfather.    He was a great respecter of all forms of life and had an idea of ecology that may have been a little ahead of his time.  Even the description of the film Tsetse refers to tsetse fly control, not eradication.  For that reason, I’m not copying the text of this page to my public tree.

However, it wasn’t until a couple a months ago that I finally ran into some of my grandfather’s articles on the internet.
Guess why.
Okay, I’ll tell you.
I “liked” BIFHSGO on Facebook, that’s why, and last fall, they published the tip about searching the Google for the pertinent country.  So I typed up “Aneurin Lewis” in, instead of or

There are 23 articles in all and for forty dollars a pop (or, I can “rent” the article for 24 hours at 6 bucks), I can read all about such topics as:

An Account of a Survey of the parasitic helminths of some Domestic Animals in Mid-West Wales

Some Tick Investigations in Kenya Colony

And my personal favourite: Sheep Scab : Remedial Measures reviewed

I sense that you may not be enthused. To tell the truth, I wasn’t either until I slowly realized what I had.

For one thing, this is an abstract of the article my sister kept seeing footnotes for.  It appears to be one of my grandfather’s most significant findings, that the railway system in East Africa was promoting the spread of the tsetse fly.  Not a surprising concept today, but it was a breakthrough then. However, this abstract tells me two other things of importance to a family historian:  the year the article was submitted and my grandfather’s position title.

Here’s one of his earliest published papers.  Although published when he was twenty-six, it gives some account of his undergraduate activities in the winter of 1921 to 1922, which is when he was twenty-one.  It also tells me he was Demonstrator in Zoology, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (which means he was helping supervise practical classes, probably in laboratories).  If I put the twenty-three articles in chronological order, noting his changes in position over the years, I get a much fuller idea of his academic and scientific career than ever I had before.  I know where he was, some of what he was doing, and can mark his advancement -- even if I don’t really care to read through the articles.

Back to the 1980s, when we had just received the video of the Tsetse film -- which reminded my mother that she had brought four boxes of my grandfather’s slides back from England when she had returned with my ailing grandmother, now fighting fit and ready to view the slides as well.

Acacia trees, taken by my grandfather Aneurin Lewis - coloured slide circa 1930s

Now, a lot of these slides were for my grandfather’s work.  This one, for example, was intended to illustrate the sort of terrain where tsetse flies tend to thrive.  However, I’ve been interested in photography for years, and I recognize a photographer’s eye when I see it.  (My mother has the eye too!) This photo is supposed to be about the landscape, but look how much sky is in this picture.  My mother confirmed that my grandfather had a collection of filters to enhance the clouds that he loved so much.

This is such a thrill for me because I’m looking through my grandfather’s eyes at this ancient African sunset. The more recent slides have cardboard frames, but there’s a group of slides – the ones I’m showing you - with rigid pearl-coloured frames.  These are slides taken in the 1930s and early 1940s.

African ferry - my mum calls this a "ford" - it was a platform drawn across the river.

That photographer’s eye again! I sometimes wonder if my grandfather would have liked me much; unlike my sister, I’m very weak in the science-and-math arena, but I like to think we would have found some common ground in his artistic side.

My grandmother Kathleen Anne Lewis née Griffiths, photo taken by my grandfather - early to mid-1930s

I think this must be one of the oldest slides in the collection. On the frame is scribbled, in my grandfather's handwriting:  "Kath and Pepper Tree".  My grandmother, like me, had grey hair by her late thirties, so I know this slide is from 1935 or earlier.  Apparently, she and my grandfather came across two Indian merchants stranded in the middle of nowhere – there’s quite a bit of nowhere in Kenya – and gave them a lift.  My grandfather refused payment, so one of the gentlemen said, with a discreet hesitation:  “Would Mrs Lewis like a dress?”   I can still hear my grandmother's voice when I tell this story. Isn’t it lovely?

Eryl, Keith and Nanw Lewis - Christmas 1937, Kabete, Kenya

I know fellow family historians will understand that this photo gives me the same chills as it did when I first saw it.  It’s my mum age seven, my uncle age three and my aunt age five in my grandmother’s beautiful Kabete garden, caught in a picture that looks like it could have been snapped last summer.

The pink arrow points out the approximate location of Kabete, where my mother and siblings grew up.

This is where that garden was, on a rather busy 1935 map of Kenya. You can’t see Kabete on this map, but it was 14 miles to the northwest of Nairobi. My grandfather arrived there in late 1929; my grandmother arrived with my eighteen-month-old mother in the summer of 1931, which is quite a gap. You see, my grandfather received his PhD roughly the same time the Great Depression hit.  There were three brand-new PhDs at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, and a scramble to find positions for them.  My grandmother, who was pregnant with my mother, prayed daily that my grandfather would be offered the available position in Edinburgh, so of course he got the one in Kabete.  My grandmother declared she would not have her first child that far away from home, and furthermore, she refused to join my grandfather in Kenya until he could guarantee that the bathroom would be inside the house. This is how my mother ended up being born in Wolverhampton and not Nairobi.  For years, I thought this was because my grandmother thought Africa was a savage place.  Well, she did, but it turns out she was far more worried about Wales. 

Here’s the house that was waiting for her in Kabete, complete with indoor bathroom.

About ten years earlier, my grandfather had spotted a young woman on holiday with her mother in Aberystwyth where he was an undergraduate.  They were staying at the boarding house where his best friend had lodgings, so Aneurin wangled an introduction and when it came time for Kathleen Griffiths to return home to Wolverhampton, asked if he might write to her.  In due course, he brought my grandmother to his childhood home in Whitland, Carmarthenshire Wales to meet his mother, my great-grandmother Fanny Lewis née Wilcox.
My great-grandmother Frances Lewis née Wilcox
My grandfather, 1920's
University College of Wales, Aberystwyth

Kathleen Anne Griffiths - Wolverhampton
circa 1924, when she became engaged.

“This is Miss Griffiths,” he said, and his mother took Miss Griffiths directly into the kitchen.  When he could get her alone, my grandfather whispered::  “You’re in.”  Many other young ladies the Lewis brothers brought home for inspection had been taken into the front room.  I’m not sure when they took her to the garden, but she was horrified at what was at the bottom of it.


These days, quite a few people in England have Welsh cottages as get-aways.  Lots of them are named “Ty-bach” because that means “Little House” which is perfect, right?  People who have actually grown up in Wales often find this -- quite funny.
The Lewis Family circa 1920 - Whitland, Carmarthenshire, Wales
Back row:  Vincent, John-Rees, Wynfred, my grandfather Aneurin, Cecil and William
Front row:  Maggie ("Mags"- 1894-1972), my great-grandmother Frances Lewis née Wilcox (1868- 1951), and Gwen

My grandmother may have been shocked by how tiny the cottage was where my grandfather grew up with five brothers and two sisters, and she was unquestionably not amused by the idea of nine people sharing a ty-bach in the bottom of the garden, but she loved her mother-in-law. You need to understand that my grandmother was not a sentimental person.  She definitely was not the archetypical kindly, cuddly grandma, so saying she loved her mother-in-law is significant.

I want to tell you quickly about the two in-laws my grandmother loved, because they are women, and women get lost in family history far too often.

My great-grandmother Frances Lewis née Wilcox (known as “Fanny Lewis”, or “Granny Lewis” later on) was the youngest of ten children born to an English stonemason and his Welsh wife in Pembrokeshire, so my great-grandmother and her siblings were unusual in their village in that they could speak both Welsh and English.  (I know they spoke both because it’s noted in the censuses.)  Fanny Lewis was fond of joking “I’m a Cornish girl,” – her dad came from Devon -- which led to confusion among my mum’s cousins when I was first gathering family data in the early 1980s.  They all said she was born in Cornwall – she wasn’t – I have her birth certificate. She was Welsh through and through. There is a family legend that her maternal grandfather John Davies had to go into hiding after the Rebecca Riots. If I ever find documents supporting this, I’ll be back at BIFHSGO with a “Great Moments of Genealogy” presentation, faster than you can destroy a toll-gate.

Fanny appears to be the first literate woman in her family.  In all documents, I find Fanny’s mother and sisters make a mark, but Fanny was able to sign her name and read Scripture, and that’s how you spent Sundays at her house.  She married Benjamin Lewis, a blacksmith who was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of blacksmiths. Other than what I find in the census and in BMD certificates, I know very little about him, although I do know he was a master farrier in addition to being a blacksmith, and that iron gates and fences made by him were still standing in the district in the 1940s.  My mother says she often asked Granny Lewis about her late husband and all she would say was:  “He was a good man.”  

Granny Lewis also had a standard response in her West Wales accent when asked about family history in general:  “We’re pure-bred mongrels.”

She was widowed when the youngest of her eight children was five days old.  Her husband’s four forges were sold. It was whispered that Granny Lewis was cheated in the transaction; at any rate, she was forced to take in laundry and send her elder children out to work. It can’t have been easy. These were the circumstances under which my grandfather grew up.

I can’t resist this story:  When my mother visited Granny Lewis as a little girl, a lady from chapel had come for tea.  “Well, Nanw,” said this lady.  “What Welsh have you learned since coming to see us?”  My mother responded with a toe-curling list of profanities.  The neighbourhood boys had taught her swear-words without telling her what she was actually saying.  If my grandfather had been there, I’m sure she would have been punished, but my great-grandmother had raised six sons.

When she died in 1951, her burial service was attended by four ministers of different denominations and two other ministers sent letters of regret.

I know a lot of this because my mother – God bless her and keep her – has been compiling memory books for both my sister and me.  She’s written down everything she can remember about any ancestors on her side and has included biographies of each of my grandfather’s siblings, her aunts and uncles.  Fellow family researchers undoubtedly understand the importance of this.  If you know the brothers and sisters, you have tools for going further back. Her handwritten book includes a lengthy section on everybody’s favourite sister and aunt, Margaret Mary Lewis, known as “Auntie Mags”.

My mother, Uncle Keith, Auntie Eryl as children with their mother Kathleen
Lewis née Griffiths, plus their "Auntie Mags" - looking rather like PL Travers'
original version of Mary Poppins here - and May Lewis née Griffiths (no
relation to Kathleen, other than being the wife of her brother-in-law Vincent).
Sandgate Esplanade, near Folkestone, Kent, 1938
- my mother's family's last furlough from Kenya before the war.
My prickly grandmother was also very fond of her sister-in-law Maggie. I have yet to find a single family member who speaks of Auntie Mags with anything but a warm glow of love and appreciation. My grandmother, who had lost her own sister in the great Spanish influenza pandemic following the First World War used to giggle and tease with Auntie Mags like teenaged girls, pretending to be neighbourhood gossips:

  “They say a crazy woman lives over there – she can’t get a man!”
  “And have you heard about her filthy sister-in-law?  She lets cats sleep on the bed!”

Auntie Mags and Granny Lewis took in child evacuees sent to the country to avoid the bombing of bigger cities during the Second World War.  From Kenya, my grandparents sent care packages with tinned vegetables, meat and butter.  However, these women had learned through hardship to be frugal, so when my mum and her family came to visit in 1947, two years after the end of the war, they found Granny and Auntie Mags had saved the food “for best” and the butter had gone rancid!  My mum thinks it’s a shame they didn’t use these precious supplies to help feed the evacuees, but the children kept returning to visit for many years.  I guess they’d had the love, patience and understanding that my mum remembers.  My mother says:  “Granny and Auntie Maggie had enough love for everyone.”  Even unbuttered.

Maggie will figure in my backwards story later. When I found her in the 1901 census, staying with a great-aunt, this led to my finding the Davies family (of the possible Rebecca Riots notoriety) which in turn led me to my third cousin once removed, who has helped me enormously in sorting out the Davies branch of the tree.  However, if I mention my grandfather, she tells me that he was known as “Congo Lewis” in Whitland and asks me if I have ever read his book.

Her mistake is understandable, so I try to point out gently and diplomatically that a) the Congo is on the west side of the African continent and Kenya is on the east side of the continent; and b) my grandfather did not write a book. She’s thinking of someone else. You’ll meet him in a second.

How did my grandfather, son of a prematurely dead blacksmith and his widow who was forced to take in laundry with eight children to feed and clothe (and a ty-bach in the bottom of the garden), end up getting a Ph.D  in zoology at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth?

Rev. Thomas Lewis

This is my great-great-uncle Thomas Lewis.  He was my grandfather’s paternal uncle being the eldest brother of my great-grandfather Benjamin Lewis (“the good man”) Somewhere around the time this picture was taken,  he decided, having outlived three wives and having no children of his own, to offer the sons of his dead brother a university education. My grandfather was the one nephew to take Uncle Thomas up on his offer.
Uncle Thomas is our other connection to Africa.
Now, the copy I have of his autobiography is an original edition.  I believe it belonged to my grandfather, although it has my grandmother’s name and address in Frome inscribed inside.  When various cousins ask me about Great-uncle Thomas -- again, usually confusing him with my grandfather -- they sigh:  “I wish I had a copy of that book!”  I tell them there are several copies available for quite reasonable prices at both and  I have the good fortune to have several relatives who published autobiographies and I obtained copies through these web sites, which usually give you a list of book sellers who have copies of that out-of-print book your ancestor wrote or was mentioned in.  A good tip is to pick a bookseller within your country, if available, because the delivery charges are usually a chunk of the overall price. I actually was able to arrange a personal hand-off in a downtown mall for a book I ordered.  It felt slightly shady, but the woman was very nice and we had a good chat about books.

Great-uncle Thomas has an entry at the web site of the National Library of Wales.  It’s a tidy and precise mini-biography, though I’m amused by the sources cited:  Thomas' own book and the entry-writer's  “personal knowledge”, which is a vague source to offer on the web site of a national institution, isn’t it?  “I know it because I know it.”  Everything here is mentioned in These Seventy Years, so I guess the Reverend Evans wanted us to know he was personally acquainted with Thomas.
I found this, by the way, during an online assignment when I took the very first Pharos Tutors Welsh Genealogy course about two years ago -- I'll tell you more about that later.

My mum always told me that Uncle Thomas was quite famous.  I listened politely, until this autumn, when I used that Google trick from BIFHSGO again.

Would you believe someone wrote a play about my uncle?  It’s in Welsh, of course.  Amser Duw means:  “God’s Time”.  It was written in 1960 for an eisteddfod, which is a cultural festival celebrating Welsh performing arts.

You might find it more credible that the town of Whitland observed the centenary of Thomas Lewis’s birth in 1959.  You remember that helpful Davies cousin who mixed Thomas up with my grandfather?

I’m here to tell you sternly:  Cousins deserve your utmost respect and gratitude, always.

She got in touch with one of her cousins who, out of the blue and the goodness of his heart, sent me a scan of this programme of religious services, held over two days at the chapel where Thomas was received into the Baptist faith and where my great-grandparents were married.  I learned through reading through the four-page programme that at one time, there was a Thomas Lewis Memorial Hospital in Angola, and recognized a familiar name unveiling the plaque in the chapel. Can you see it?  It's the second name from the bottom on the page below.
My grandfather was not the only person whose life was transformed by Uncle Thomas.

Auntie Mags kept house for Thomas Lewis in London following the death of his third wife in 1923.  After Uncle Thomas died in the last days of 1929, Auntie Maggie received a handsome legacy with which she purchased three houses in Whitland.  She rented out two, and moved into the third with her mother Fanny. 
"Glyn-teg" - one of the three houses bought by Auntie Mags
with Uncle Thomas Lewis' legacy - this is the house into
which she moved with her mother Fanny Lewis née Wilcox.

I believe it had indoor plumbing, and it was far roomier than the cramped cottage where my grandfather and his siblings grew up.  That’s why they were able to take in evacuees.

In telling this story backwards, we find ourselves back in Wales - Whitland in Carmarthenshire, to be precise.  I'd like to give you a better idea of where that is and how it relates to my family (no pun intended).

I stole this idea when one of our BIFSGO Past-Presidents, John Reid, did a presentation on personalized family maps.  As I recall, he was using Google Maps to plot cemeteries (if you’ll pardon the turn of phrase) in London, looking for family patterns.  I was inspired because my husband is a non-family-researcher who is very spatially motivated and it’s a great way to explain what I do in a way he can enjoy.  I now have about half a dozen personalized family history maps for different branches of the family, and this is the one map that has nothing to do with my husband.  So far, we’ve been unable to detect a drop of Welsh blood in him.  His loss.
A screen-capture of my personalized Google Map "Walespring" showing my various Welsh family lines.
Light blue = Lewis and Edwards; Pink = Davies and Wilcox (my great-grandmother Fanny's ancestors); Bright Green = my grandmother Kathleen Anne Griffiths' ancestors; Dark Blue = my father's Welsh line; gold houses = churches.

You can zoom in and out of a Google Map so from way back, we can see where my Welsh blood comes from and from which relative.  The light blue tacks are my Lewis ancestors, those in my direct line only, otherwise this would be a real dog’s breakfast of markers.  If you look up the west coast of Wales, you’ll see a light blue tack at Aberystwyth, where my grandfather got his undergraduate, masters and doctorate.

Here, we’re closing in on this area on the border between the counties of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. The small town of Whitland is obscured by light blue markers, but can be picked out by the cluster of three gold houses, which represent the English Congregational Chapel, the Nazareth Baptist Chapel and the local parish Church in Wales – my family, particularly the Welsh members, have a long history of religious dissent, which is true of Wales in general and is one of the challenges of Welsh family research.

On the actual map -- the above is obviously a screen-grab -- you can click on an icon on the side, or on the map itself and read about the place I’ve marked.

Why do a family map?  It’s a lot of work.  Well, it shows patterns, it shows distances, it shows relationships.  It’s also a way of re-processing information.  It sends me back to documents to confirm things I believe and I catch mistakes this way, or I see something new.  (Incidentally, the same thing happens when you do a presentation for your family history society.  Just sayin’.)

My great-grandfather William Lewis, my great-grandfather Benjamin Lewis and their African missionary son and brother Thomas Lewis outside the forge at Pont-y-fenni, Carmarthenshire, Wales - 1891

Uncle Thomas himself grew up in – well -- poverty.  His father William Lewis (my great-great-grandfather) was a blacksmith in a long line of family blacksmiths, but the community tended to pay what they could for his services and usually not in money, so there was no financial security. This picture appears in These Seventy Years and was taken in 1891.  How do I know?  I’ve been doing timelines for various branches of my family.  The time-line I did for the Lewises, which incorporates Thomas’ autobiography, showed me that Thomas was home for his first furlough in 1891.  My great-grandfather Benjamin would be twenty going on twenty-one, which looks about right for the young man in the photo.  He married Fanny Wilcox some weeks after Thomas returned to Africa that summer.

The above is a tiny segment of my Lewis time-line. Time-lines are a fabulous way to settle arguments.  If someone challenges me on when something occurred, I answer with a mini-timeline.  “I believe this because this happened, then this happened, then this happened.”  Once again, a timeline ferrets out my own mistakes and forces me to re-examine documents I haven’t re-visited in a while.  As in the family map, I tend to limit most of it to relatives in my direct line – I’ve made an exception in this timeline for my great-great-uncle Thomas.  Again, I colour-code to highlight which direct relative belongs to which ancestral line.  I can really recommend time-lines if you haven’t tried them.  You don’t have to do them my way; find your own rules and make it your own. Yes, it's lots of work, but the benefits and revelations can be enormous.  In my experience, they’re easier for non-family-researchers to understand than traditional genealogical reports, too!

Where was I?
Oh, yes. Uncle Thomas and his autobiography These Seventy Years.

This photo, which appears in my great-great-uncle's
autobiography, was also taken in 1891.
Here’s the cottage at Pont-y-fenni, where my great-great-grandfather William and my great-grandfather Benjamin also were born, with two women who are probably my relatives.

 They are not named.

 This is pretty typical for Uncle Thomas, although, to be fair, he does name the second and third of his three wives.  His first bride-to-be came out to the Cameroons after he’d been on his first mission for two years.  They were married in a civil ceremony by the Portuguese authorities, followed by a Baptist service (of course).  Within three weeks she was dead.  If you don’t go beyond his book, all you’ll know about her is that her name was Miss Phillips and that he was devastated.  If you read between the lines, you can figure out she was a Welsh girl, because he speaks of his first Christmas away from home, being swept up in English Christmas traditions. (Welsh Yuletide cheer was geared to New Year celebrations.)  He says that he found himself longing to have a Christmas pudding made by “the hands I loved most”.

I had a time-line, so I knew his mother and only sister were dead, and that his father had recently remarried, so unless he was really fond of his stepmother, I think he meant his fiancée.

Remember I told you that many of my other cousins also mix up my grandfather and my great-great-uncle? I say again, don’t disrespect your cousins.

Look what one of them found me.

This is Thomas Lewis’ second wife Gwen Elen Thomas, born in Islington, London, but the daughter of Welshman.  There is an entire book about her which is mentioned in my great-great-uncle’s autobiography, but it was my cousin (blessings on him forever) who found it for me on line and sent me the link.  Gwen nursed Thomas’ first bride through her final days and in this book, we are told that first wife’s name was Jane Phillips. I was able to find her in the 1881 census.  She was from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, where Thomas went to Baptist College.

It’s possible I’m being very hard on poor Thomas, but I have so many examples both in my husband’s family and mine, where a relative (usually female) is lost to history because someone was too upset to ever mention them again.

Just last week – that’s how BIFHSGO presentations are; you get a lot of last-minute discoveries – I found yet another book on-line, this one entitled Angola: 1880 to the Present:Slavery, Exploitation and Revolt by Bruce and Becky Durost Fish, published 2002.  (Coincidentally, there’s an intro by Richard E. Leakey, son of Louis Leakey the wildly famous archaeologist – Dr Leakey used to do presentations at my mother’s school in Nairobi.)  It features a number of crystal-clear pictures of my uncle’s missionary work in the then-Congo. No pictures of Thomas, but here’s one of his second wife Gwen at the infirmary two years before her death.  It may be a clue to how she got sick.

Wife number three was Emily Bean whom he had met through his church in London. She also was an exemplary partner and “triumphantly passed away” - Thomas’s words - eight years after they left Africa for the last time in 1915.

Above is a contemporary map of the west coast of Africa at about the time Thomas Lewis set off on his first mission in 1883.  I had been having nightmares about question period for this presentation, in case someone decided to quiz me on Colonial Cameroons or Colonial Congo (the latter is a particular nightmare).  What we see here are the results of decades of conquest by several European powers of hundreds of kingdoms and peoples.  What you may also see over to the extreme right, is that Kenya is not yet there; it didn’t come into being until the 1920s.  The green arrow indicates the general area in the Cameroons where Thomas was first assigned.  The settlement of Victoria was in Portuguese hands at the time, I believe, and shortly after Thomas’ arrival, the Germans took over with plenty of gunfire.  I marvel that Thomas survived: there were skirmishes like this; the people he’d come to save were not all that thrilled to see him and some suspected him of witchcraft; it was decades before anti-biotics and many of his companions didn’t make it.  The red arrow indicates the approximate locations of the lion-share of his missionary work in what is present-day Angola.

What you need to understand about Thomas is that he started teaching himself English when he was sixteen, having been taken out of school to help in the smithy when he was eleven.   He said: “There was no one in my immediate neighbourhood of my home [in the parish of Llanboidy] who knew enough English to help me.”  Despite this, and through determination and plenty of sacrifice on the part of his father, he got back to grammar school in his late teens and managed to be accepted at the Haverfordwest Baptist College at age 19, but had to wait another year to raise the twenty pounds needed for tuition.  He left before graduation because he was burning to join a mission and regretted leaving college prematurely for the rest of his life.  I’m sure that was part of the reason behind his decision to help his nephew Aneurin to get a university education.

I think it was partly his experience being a Welshman that contributed to his successes in Africa. As an outsider in English society, he felt odd being addressed as “sir” and said when an elder of the community in Victoria “dropped the title ‘Massa’ and changed it to ‘Ma boy’. . . “, he was “proud of the change.  At the same time, as a denizen of the twenty-first century, I find myself cringing a little when he wonders:  Could I be a brother to the negro?”  I have to remind myself that he was a man born into the Victorian era, writing in the 1920s, and that it’s not helpful to judge him by present-day standards.

If I could ask him which achievements gave him the most pride over his career, I suspect his establishment of a teachers’ college in Kimpese would top the list, followed closely by his presentations to the Royal Geographical Society concerning his pioneering mapwork while traveling in the bush, and, finally, his heading of the Kongo Bible Revision Committee which was a mammoth undertaking of getting the Bible into authentic KiKongo. All this from a man who had been pulled from school as a boy and was teaching himself English from penny readers at age 16!  He also used his experience as a blacksmith to teach Africans the trade; a nameless [sigh] cousin in Carmarthenshire had taught him shoe-making which came in handy; and later in life, he used one of his furloughs in London to attend a technical college and study plumbing.  No word of whether he used those skills for indoor bathrooms, but his students in the Congo benefited.

When I first acquired my great-uncle’s book, I barely glanced at the chapters on his missionary work.  The first chapter contained tantalizing leads on my Welsh family history.  You can see more than one just on this opening page.  Along with the full name of my great-great-grandfather and my great-great-great-grandfather, he supplies the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother, names where her family lived, and gives details of two of her uncles.  He also tells me that his mother died when he was eleven.

On the plus side, I now had the name of my 3xgreat-grandfather Thomas Lewis and knew he was a blacksmith.  I found out through the censuses that he had married a second time, but it took years for it to dawn on me that I could order the certificate from this second marriage to discover the name of my 4xgreat-grandfather John Lewis and that he was also a blacksmith!
My 3xgreat-grandfather Thomas Lewis to his second wife -- after the advent of civil registration!  This means the name and occupation of his father appear, something I wouldn't be able to find with his pre-civil-registration first marriage!

Now, what do you suppose my chances are of finding John Lewis’ father?

Have you ever heard of patronymics?  The opening lines of this parody by Heather Rose Jones, entitled "Welsh History 101"  (sung to the traditional Welsh tune for "The Ash Grove") pretty well sum it up:

If ever you wander out by the Welsh border, come stop by and see me and all of my kin.
I'm Morgan ap Dafydd ap Gwion ap Hywell ap Ifor ap Madoc ap Rhodri ap Gwyn.

In other words, prior to the late eighteenth century, the Welsh didn’t use surnames the way the English do. You were “David the son of Robert", David ap Robert, which might morph into David Probert, or "Morgan ap Richard", which might eventually be Morgan Pritchard.  Owen – Bowen, etc.  This means that, seeing my John Lewis was probably born about 1760, he might be John Lewis or he might be “John, the son of Lewis”, so my hopes of finding out which was his father's name might be a tad faint.  It also explains why there's a small number of Welsh surnames and why it's unlikely that I'm related to every Lewis in Carmarthenshire -- or even in Llanboidy!

How about the Edwards of Ffynnongain, also mentioned in that front page of the autobiography?  There are rather a lot of places -- cottages, farms, etc. named "Ffynnongain" -- it means something like "Holy Well". To cut a long story short (it took a number of years before I even thought to check the registration district of Carmarthen where the village of Meidrim is - the site of the Lewis family's favoured Baptist chapel of the 19th century), I eventually found the marriage record of William Lewis to Mary Edwards of Ffynnongain.
William married Mary at the Baptist chapel in St Clears, not Meidrim, but it's also in the Carmarthen registration district --- and this document tells us that "Ffynnongain" was in or around St Clears which is roughly two miles east of Pont-y-fenni. You can’t find “Pont-y-fenni” or “Ffynnongain” on Google Maps – Google Maps is remarkably lacking in detail for Wales.  However, Pont-y-fenni does appear if you search a wonderful site called Curious Fox:

And that site links directly to

Where Pont-y-fenni is, according to Street Maps UK on a zoom-out setting.

And if you zoom very close and search east of Pont-y-fenni and west of St Clears….

The closest zoom on Street Maps UK reveals the likeliest location of the Ffynongain Farm where my great-great-great-grandfather David Edwards was working as a labourer at the time of the 1841 census with his wife Rachel Phillips (my great-great-great-grandmother), and the youngest of their daughters, two-year-old Mary (my g-g-grandmother).

Oh, and Uncle Thomas Lewis was not eleven when his mother died…

. . . he was fifteen.  Always question every document, even an autobiography.  This certificate -which took me years to find, thanks to These Seventy Years -  shows me that Mary Lewis née Edwards had a sister with her when she died of consumption (tuberculosis).  I didn’t know she had a sister.

However, because I had recently taken a course on Welsh Family Research online through Pharos TutorsI knew to search Family Search and FreeReg, which have accumulated some wonderful nonconformist parish records since I first began online research.  Mary, it turns out, had five sisters and her father David Edwards had six brothers.

The Edwards brothers all preached, not just the two mentioned on the front page of my great-great-uncle's book but that’s another long story.

This was something like the fourth of the five courses I’ve taken with Pharos. They’ve had staff members presenting at our annual conference.   You may be interested to know they’re offering the course twice this year - which, among many other things, offers excellent advice in dealing with the above-mentioned patronymics, and the repetition and multiple spellings of Welsh place-names.  (For example, my grandfather Aneurin was born in Llangan parish -- where Whitland is located -- not the town of Llangan which is located several miles to the east.)  It’s a 100-level course which usually means about beginner level, but they do recommend some basic knowledge of English family search; we had a lovely lady in our group who was an absolute beginner and the rest of us were using the limited class discussion time explaining things like the BMD index and the census.

Uncle Thomas lost three wives and had no children – and changed the course of my family’s history.  He’s actually every bit as responsible for my existence as the ancestors in my direct line.  My grandfather would never have met my grandmother had he not had the opportunity to attend university in Aberystwyth where she was in the habit of taking seaside holidays from Wolverhampton.

I’m grateful to my great-great-uncle for his book -- in spite of all the wild-gooses chases he sent me on -- for his passion about education and his longing for love and justice in the world.

  I’m so thankful that my grandfather accepted the financial help and took up the challenge from his uncle; he made that chance count, and transformed his future and that of his children, and furthermore, he documented his life in Kenya with such an artful eye.

I’m filled with gratitude for the female relatives whose contributions so often get eclipsed and forgotten.  A few years after my grandmother’s death, my mother legally changed her surname to “Cariad” because, as much as she cherished her parents, she learned about unconditional love from Granny Lewis and Auntie Mags during her visits to Carmarthenshire where she was Nanw cariad – "darling Nanw".

 I’m forever in debt to my mother for writing down what she remembers -- the priceless details which aren’t in documents -- of family members I knew and those I never met. 

And I’m glad of this opportunity, stressful as it has sometimes been, to consolidate what I know, due entirely to the crazy intrepid family researchers of BIFHSGO, who turned up to hear me despite the fact that freezing rain had turned the roads and sidewalks into icy chutes.

Diolch yn fawr.
Asante sana.
Thanks ever so much!