Discovering the Origins
of the Davies Family in Wales

by Jeffrey L. Thomas

In July of 2003 I learned that Elizabeth Davis, the wife of John J. Thomas, was born in Brynmawr, Breconshire, Wales, and a few months later in October I proved that John J. Thomas and his family were also from Brynmawr. After finally achieving this important research goal, my next step was to learn more about Welsh genealogical records in anticipation of discovering more about my ancestor’s lives in Wales.

At first, the prospects of further progress did not look promising. After failing to identify either the Thomas or Davis families in parish records for Llanelly, (Brynmawr’s local parish), I turned my attention to Brynmawr’s non-conformist chapels, but soon discovered that these records were either fragmentary or non-existent. As such, I decided to concentrate on identifying another set of ancestors, the parents of Elizabeth Davis. The 1841 census of Brynmawr that had finally revealed John Thomas and his and family, was of little initial use in this pursuit, because there were several Elizabeth Davies’ living in the town who could have been our Elizabeth. In order to determine if any of these individuals were my ancestor, I needed to find a record of her marriage to John Thomas, which, judging from the date birth of their first child, should have occurred between 1845 and 1847. Again, the parish records of Llanelly had failed list a John Thomas marrying an Elizabeth Davis as being married at the church, which left civil registration as my last hope.

Civil registration for birth’s marriages and deaths, began in Britain in Wales in 1837. The records are indexed by quarters for each year, and provide only the name of the individual and the registration district where the event took place. You then use the information contained in the indexes to order full copies of the record, which contain further details for marriages; the name of bride and groom, their place of residence, the date of the marriage, the place of the marriage, the occupation of the groom, and (most importantly) the name and occupation of the fathers of the bride and groom. I reasoned that if I could find such a record for John and Elizabeth, I would then be able to identify Elizabeth and her family in the 1841 census for Brynmawr (when she and John were still single), thereby discovering another set of ancestors (Elizabeth’s parents).

The problem was, that with a large civil registration district (Crickhowell) and a common name like John Thomas, there could have been many instances of a John Thomas marrying in the district for the years in question. Another obstacle was getting to the indexes themselves, which can be ordered on individual pieces of microfiche at local LDS libraries, a less-than-convenient prospect.

Fortunately the Internet has recently seen the addition of a great web site called Free BDM, an online database of Britain’s quarterly indexes for birth’s marriages and deaths. I decided to try my luck by looking for any John Thomas married in the civil registration district of Crickhowell (which included Brynmawr) between the years 1842 and 1848. To my relief, the subsequent search returned five possible hits, and I soon sent away for all five marriage certificates with the faint hope that one of them would be the one I was looking for.

On January 14, 2004, the certificates arrived and another important piece of the Thomas family puzzle fell nicely into place. One of the certificates revealed that a John Thomas had married an Elizabeth Davis at the parish church in Llanelly on December 28, 1844. Fortunately, all of the details contained in this certificate, name, place of residence, name of father, occupation, etc., provided an exact match with my John and Elizabeth. The certificate indicated that Elizabeth’s father was David Davies, and I used this information to quickly identify Elizabeth and her family in the 1841 census of Brynmawr, where I found the family living on Glamorgan Street, only two blocks from John Thomas and family on Somerset street. This, in turn, confirms that John and Elizabeth were near neighbors in their youth.. The census showed Elizabeth was from a large family, that her father David Davies was a miner, and that her mother’s name was Hannah. The most interesting piece of information provided by the return was that only David and Hannah’s youngest son James was listed as being born in Breconshire, so where was the rest of the family born?

The next step was to examine the 1851 census of Brynmawr, which was the first census to identify places of birth (county and parish). Although by then Elizabeth had married and emigrated to America, I reasoned that if her parents were still living and in Brynmawr, the census would tell me where they and Elizabeth’s brothers and sisters were born. My plan was to visit my local LDS library to order the 1851 and 1861 census of Brynmawr, but before I had that opportunity, I was contacted by a local researcher in Wales, Keith Thomas. Keith told me he had recently visited my web site and had located my Davies family in Brynmawr for both census years! I thanked him and asked him if he could send me the information, which he soon did. A few weeks after that I obtained my own copies of the census, which confirmed Keith's information.

This time the returns revealed that most of Elizabeth’s brothers and sisters (and therefore probably Elizabeth herself) had been born in the parish of Aberystruth in Monmouthshire. At first this seemed strange, since Elizabeth’s obituary claimed that she had been born in Brynmawr, (Llanelly, Breconshire), however further research revealed that there was in fact a small portion of Brynmawr that was located in Aberystruth. Therefore, at this point my inclination is to say that all of the Davies children were likely born in Brynmawr, however the family at first lived in that portion of the town that was located in Aberystruth. The census returns also revealed that David Davies was born far away in the parish of Llangeler, Carmarthenshire, while Hannah was born nearby in Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire.

Below: the family of David Davies in the 1851 Census,
Glamorgan Street, Brynmawr, Breconshire, Wales.

Address Surname Christian Name Relationship Marital Status Age Sex Occupation Birthplace
Glamorgan Street Davies David Head M 53 M iron miner Llangeler, Carmarthenshire
  Davies Hannah Wife M 50 F   Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire
  Davies David Son U 29 M iron miner Aberystruth, Monmouthshire
  Davies Thomas Son U 22 M iron miner Aberystruth, Monmouthshire
  Davies John Son U 20 M iron miner Aberystruth, Monmouthshire
  Davies Dinah Dau U 18 F   Aberystruth, Monmouthshire
  Davies Hannah Dau U 16 F   Aberystruth, Monmouthshire
  Davies James Son U 13 M haulier Llanelly, Breconshire
  Davies Sarah Dau U 9 F   Llanelly, Breconshire
  Davies Hosea Son U 3 M   Llanelly, Breconshire

The marriage certificate of John Thomas and Elizabeth Davies had proved to be the key to a bonanza of information about the Davies family. By using information contained in the certificate in conjunction with the census, I was able to discover, (1) the names and dates of birth of Elizabeth’s mother and father, (2) the names of her brothers and sisters, and (3) additional birthplaces for two direct ancestors. I had gone into this latest research endeavor with the town of Brynmawr as my only research locale, and had emerged with three additional parishes/towns to consider, Aberystruth, Llangeler and Merthyr Tydfil.

My fear that it would be difficult to make further progress after discovering John Thomas and family in Brynmaw had been unfounded. Armed with a better understanding of Welsh records, and with a little more digging, I was able to unlock the secrets of my Davies ancestors with relative ease, and at this point I am confident that I will eventually discover even more about my Welsh ancestors.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
February 2004

May 2005 update on David and Hannah Davies

Having failed to find any trace of my Davies family in the 1871 census (besides daughter Dinah Price in Clydach Vale), I simply assumed that David and Hannah had died by then as they both would have been in their early 70s. Not so. As it turns out, David, Hannah and their youngest child, son Hosea, emigrated to America in 1865, arriving in New York from Liverpool on 15 Nov 1865 aboard the ship "City of Limerick."

I then found Hannah (Anna) and Hosea (Hosiah) in the 1870 census of Scranton, Pa., and that makes sense because David and Hannah had at least one other child who preceded them to Scranton, my g.g. grandmother Elizabeth Davies Thomas (emigrated 1848). David is missing from the 1870 census, and, this plus the fact that Hannah is listed as the owner of a small amount of personal property, is likely an indication that David Davies died sometime between late 1865 and when the census was taken in mid-1870. Hannah and Hosea were living with the family of Thomas and Anna Thomas, and it is possible that this Anna Thomas was David and Hannah's daughter Hannah (same age). Hannah and Hosea are nowhere to be found in the 1880 census, but by then Hannah would have been in her 80s. So, we now know that at least two and possibly three of David and Hannah's children emigrated to Scranton, and it is also likely that both David and Hannah died in Scranton.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
May 2005

Learn more about our ancestor, David Davies
Davies family census returns, 1841-1861
Prelude: the Thomas family is discovered in Brynmawr
Return to the main page at the Thomas Family Web Site

Text and photographs copyright © 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved