The Welsh tend to get overlooked in British genealogy, in part because the census and civil registration regimes of the Principality are the same as for England. Many other records don’t distinguish.
For this year’s BIFHSGO conference we’ve made sure Wales gets attention along with England. With the London area emphasis of the conference we’ve even included a presentation by Hugh Reekie on the Welsh Dairy Trade in London.
The Ottawa Welsh Society will be present in the Marketplace.
For those not familiar with the Welsh in Canada, the Spring 1995 issue of Anglo-Celtic Roots included a relevant article by Carol McCuaig, Thanks to Carol for allowing us to reproduce that classic article here, with slight updating.
The Hidden Welsh of the Ottawa Valley
by Carol Bennett McCuaig
There was no group migration of Welsh people to the Ottawa Valley, as there was to other parts of Canada. However, as members of the Ottawa Welsh Society will tell you, there is definitely a Welsh presence here.
Most Welsh settlers who have come here during the past 150 years have been individuals, or members of family groups. However, it is a mistake to conclude that these people always migrated directly from Wales to Canada, as did the professional and trades people who arrived in the latter half of the twentieth century as part of the so-called brain drain.
Welsh Migrants to Canada
Your ancestor mav also have been among the following:
* United Empire Loyalists with Welsh roots, such as the Merricks of Merrickville;
* Military settlers who received land grants as a reward for service in the British Army or Navy;
* People who first settled elsewhere in Canada, examples being: Colliers who were recruited by mine owners of Nova Scotia and in the West;
The Patagonian Welsh of Bangor, Saskatchewan;
* People from the USA, where there has been a large Welsh presence over a 300 year period;
* Pioneers of Welsh descent who came from Ireland or England;
* Home Children.
Over the years the myth has been perpetuated by people who should know better, that only about 150,000 Welsh people have settled in Canada. This is rather ridiculous, but if we look at some of the ships’ lists and immigration records at Library and Archives Canada, we can see the reason for this way of thinking. Some officials seemed to think that the names England and Britain were interchangeable, a belief which resulted in such recorded statements as Dafydd Evans, born Penhriwceibr, England.
Welsh Migrants from England
Added to that, many early Welsh pioneers actually migrated from London or other English cities because they, or their parents, had previously gone there from Wales in search of work. In fact, there were so many Welsh-speaking people in nineteenth century Liverpool that it was jokingly referred to as the capital of Wales. I spent my childhood in South Wales but when I came to Canada I had to join the ship at Liverpool. This did not make me a Liverpudlian!
Welsh Migrant Tendencies
The Welsh in Canada are far outnumbered by the Irish and the Scots, and this is partly due to the fact that Wales did not suffer natural disasters similar to the Irish potato famines.
At times the Welsh did suffer from religious and cultural suppression and economic deprivation but when they left their own country they tended to migrate either to England or to the United States.
Readers whose ancestors came out from Wales in the twentieth century are fortunate because they may be able to draw on family stories for information, or to glean data from obituaries, censuses and tombstones.
Do be prepared to take some of these sources with a grain of salt. Remember that newspaper editors and census takers may not have been familiar with Welsh place names, and if your ancestor didn’t speak English, that fact could have added to the confusion.
Place Name Changes
When you start your research on the other side of the Atlantic, be aware that some place names may have changed. Just a few years ago the old county system was done away with and Wales was reorganized into several large divisions, for administrative purposes. You will need to know the old county names, in both English and Welsh. These are:
- Anglesea (Mon)
- Brecon (Brycheiniog)
- Caernarvon (Caernarfon)
- Cardigan (Ceredigion)
- Carmarthen (Caerfyrddin)
- Denbigh (Dinbych)
- Flint (Fflint)
- Glamorgan (Morgannwg)
- Merioneth (Meirionydd)
- Monmouth (Mynwy)
- Montgomery (Trefaldwyn)
- Pembroke (Penfro)
- Radnor (Maesyfed)
Many of the place names that you will find in records are easily recognizable as Welsh. Examples: Llantrisant; Llandaff; Caernarfon. However, many others have become anglicized, such as Llantwit Major Llanilltud Fawr, Cowbridge Y Bont Faen, and Cardiff Caerdydd. The moral here is, if your ancestor came from Llantwit, don’t dismiss the different spelling without checking to see if the two places are one and the same.
How can you tell if you have Welsh ancestry? Some old Welsh surnames are easily recognizable because they are a version of men’s first names. A few of these are: Davies, Edwards, Evans, Griffiths, Harris, Harry, Howell, Hughes, Humphries, James, Jenkins, John, Jones, Lewis, Llewellyn, Mathews, Morgan, Morris, Owen, Phillips, Rees/Rhys, Richards, Roberts, Stevens, Thomas, Vaughan, Watkins, Williams, Wynne.
The Welsh word for son is mab, which becomes ap when used as a prefix. Mutations result in new names, such as Bowen (ap Owen), Parry (ap Harry), Powell (ap Howell), Preece, Price (ap Rees, ap Rice), Probert (ap Robert), and Pugh (ap Hugh). Ancestors of mine, named Pritchard, were presumably sons of Richard.
David THOMPSON, well-known to Canadians as an explorer, cartographer and fur trader, was a Welshman, born in eighteenth century London. In books by several Canadian authors he is said to have been a Scot. Hardly likely, as the namesake of a father named Dafydd ap Thomas! (David, son of Thomas.)
Welsh from Ireland
All of the foregoing names are quite familiar in the Ottawa Valley, but in many cases their owners claim that their people came from Ireland, which is quite correct.
It is probable that, long ago, their forebears were sent from Wales and England to colonize Ireland. Such plantations were setup under the rule of Oliver Cromwell and before that, during the reign of the Tudor monarchs, who were of Welsh descent.
When the Normans invaded Ireland in the twelfth century Welsh families went with them. Prominent among them were the Fitzgeralds, who were the sons of the Princess Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tudor, Prince of Dyfed. Because we are speaking of Old, unhappy, far-off things it is unlikely that all readers will be able to make the link between their families and those early migrants, Yet, it has been done by several families in the Ottawa Valley.
Harry SEARSON’s Irish ancestors came to Grattan Township, near Eganville, in the 1840s. Their place of origin was Killea, County Tipperary. In researching his roots Mr Searson struck gold on the other side of the Atlantic in the form of family history notes compiled in Ireland long ago by a distant cousin. He learned that an ancestor, John Searson, migrated from Wales to Ireland in 1770.
Many Irish people who came to the Valley at the time of the great potato famine in Ireland already had relatives here. This was true of the Catholic Searsons, whose cousins in Fitzroy Township, Carleton County had arrived a decade earlier (a Protestant branch who spell their name Serson, they had come from Burrisoleigh, Glankeen Parish).
Harry Searson has been able to make contact with cousins in Ireland, as well as with the Sersons of Fitzroy. Sometimes genealogists’ dreams do come true.
If you suspect that your Loyalist ancestors migrated from Wales to the USA, you are probably in luck because a number of books have been compiled which give information about UEL families (try Library and Archives Canada if you can’t find them elsewhere). Local history books may also provide you with good leads. An example is the History of Leeds and Grenville, which was written by Thad WH LEAVITT in 1879. A fascimile edition was printed by Mika Publishing Company in 1980. One of the profiles in it concerns the BURRITT family (of Burritt’s Rapids) who were Of Welsh descent, William and Stephen Burritt emigrating from that country about the year 1600.
Welsh Home Children
If you have a family member who came to Canada in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries as a Home Child, you might contact John Sayers (via firstname.lastname@example.org ) who has taken over from David Lorente, son of a proudly Canadian Welsh-born home child.
I’m always amused when I hear people arguing over the name MERRICK. Should it be pronounced as Murrick , or made to rhyme with derrick, they ask. In my part of Wales they say Mayrick.
Welsh people named DAVIES are often incensed when North Americans insist on calling them Davees. In Wales they say Davis.
Copyright Carol Bennett McCuaig, 2011
Carol Bennett McCuaig is the author of In Search of the Red Dragon: the Welsh in Canada, the first book to have been written about the Welsh in this country as a whole. It is available through her website at http://www.nrtco.net/~juniper2/