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Friday, February 4, 2011

The Welsh Connection

Great Grandmother Mary Ann Francis Evans was born in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1834. I have been researching her life to build a picture of this welsh washerwoman with whom I instinctively feel connected. My own birth place was Cardiff, Wales and in 2005 I travelled back to visit the town and the welsh countryside in search of my own beginnings. My very early childhood was spent in Eglwys Brewis near St Athan in South Wales in a modest but comfortable house - so I was told.

In stark contrast the childhood environment for Mary Evans was bleak - the 1841 census reveals that Mary, aged 8, was living at a Workhouse. A workhouse was the worst possible accommodation for a person in that era let alone a small girl. I wonder why she was in the workhouse and not living with her family and I can find no clues as yet to the reasons.

Her family background is confusing at Ancestry.com - according to years of research I find that her father David Evans was married several times and I don't know which wife was her mother:  Elinor Nathan, Gwenllian Davies, Esther Jones or Elizabeth Rowlands. In the 1861 census we find David at home at No 6 Goose Road, St Peters, Carmarthen, with Elinor and his youngest child and his occupation is listed as Tanner.

After searching in vain for more details of Mary I resort to researching her name and birth place. I recently received a little story of the history of the Evans name from a fellow Ancestry.com genealogist - here it is:

Evans is of Welsh origin. In its anglicised form the name means "son of Evan". Regarding its Welsh roots, it is a derivative of the name Ifan, a cognate of John.[2]

It is a misconception that the name Evans is a patronymic name. The name does refer to Evan-S, meaning son of John, however, in this case the name refers to the fact that many Welsh were late converts to Christianity and around the 3rd Century AD a huge evangelical conversion began. Converted followers took the name of Son of John (the Baptist), in reference to the John the Baptist as the baptiser of Jesus Christ and considered a cornerstone of Christian conversion. It is possible that later some did take it as being the son of their father called Evan (John), but the extended use of religious forenames being converted into surnames by the addition of "s" of Son (Jackson, Johnson etc) does not account for the huge popularity of this name in this part of the world (South Wales).

In the Welsh language the patronymic "ab Evan", results in the surname "Bevan", which is also common in Wales.

There is little to tell of Mary Ann Francis Evans between the 1841 and 1861 census except for her whereabouts and her occupations in and around Pembroke. It seems that at the age of 17 she was employed as a washerwoman and I fancy that she was employed at one of the castles.  According to Wikipedia, Pembroke literally means lands end. The main point of interest in the town is the magnificent Pembroke Castle, the remains of a stone mediƦval castle which was the birthplace of King Henry VII of England.Is this where Mary did the washing.

Mary is later recorded in the 1861 census as an unmarried visitor at 60 Black Horse Inn, in St Michael's, Pembroke.  Could this possibly be the place where she met my Great Grandfather, George Robinson? My imagination now creates a picture of such a meeting and begins to fill in the missing pieces of the history puzzle.

George Robinson is employed as a Railway Inspector for Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate according to the 1871 and 1881 census records. More details about the men and women employed by the Imperial Railway can be located online but I need to know which company. More resaeach!

The marriage date for George and Mary is September 1862 in Bermondsey, Surrey; the 1871 census reveals Mary aged 37 living in Croydon with George aged 32 and it lists their children as follows: George aged 9, Elizabeth aged 3 and Edith Mary aged 1. My Grandmother Mary Jane was born the year after this census was taken, in 1872.

So putting that all together I see that my great grandparents lived a prosperous and comfortable life in Croydon between 1862 and their deaths in 1908/09. I see a rescue from poverty for Mary Ann Francis and happiness for George. According to his 1908 will George Robinson of 185 Hessle Road, Kingston-upon-Hull left to Mary Ann Robinson a sum of 3021 pounds, no shillings and 9 pence. Obviously a much better life style for Mary Ann since her early years in Wales - and a small legacy to pass on to her children at the end of her life in 1909.

What I don't see yet is her early Welsh history and I am now researching the details of the lives of her parents. 

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