My family came from The Garden of Wales.
This may surprise long-time readers of these diaries, many of which begin with a story about my upbringing in the less than bucolic suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not only that, the majority of these anecdotes concern my maternal relatives, who were descended from a sturdy clan of farmers, cobblers, and factory workers who had clawed their way into the middle class thanks to a combination of Grandma's business sense, Bob and Dan's farming for the war effort, Oscar's CPA, and Mum's teaching certificate. This side of the family emigrated from Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz in the mid-19th century, and my grandmother and great-aunt were in close touch with their cousins in the Old Country as late as August of 1939.
So they were most definitely not Welsh. "You're a Kraut, and don't forget it," Mum would say once in a while, and even my miserable failure to learn German as a second language did not change this. They were Teutons, probably with a good dash of Slavs and possibly Magyars in the mix, and proud to say so.
No, the ancestors I speak of today were my father's ancestors.
I always knew a little about them, thanks to one of Dad's cousins. Her name was Kate Evans Tharp, and she may have been the first member of the extended family to be interested in American history. Kate was a proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, founder and first Regent of the Waubonsie Chapter of Clarinda, Iowa, and a fervent patriot and genealogy buff. She'd managed to trace the family back as far as the ancestor who'd fought in the American Revolution, one Evan Evans, and made sure that Dad's family was given a copy of her research in case any of the women wished to join.
To the best of my knowledge none of Dad's aunts did so (why, I have no idea), and I'm about as likely to join an organization that includes Phyllis Schlafly on its rolls as I am to desecrate a grave. However, I do still have copies of Kate's research should I decide to change my mind and become one of those civic-minded little old ladies who weeds the parklet around the Civil War Memorial Statue on the town common. As long as they don't mind me showing up in my typical stylin' threads, it could potentially work.
Kate's research is actually quite interesting. It seems that I'm a direct descendant of one "Evan Evans," a Welshman who came to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century, married a woman named "Jenet," and had issue named things like "Margaret," "James," "David," and "Cadwallader." I'm not descended from the grandly named Cadwallader
damn it, that would be SO COOL, but from his brother James, who married a woman named Griffith. One of their children married the daughter of a Scotch-Irish immigrant named Robinson, and one of their kids fathered a son who fathered the man who eventually fathered me.
That the family also produced someone named "Hiram Evans," which is a name that belongs on a patent medicine bottle, amuses me no end.
Alas for Kate, she was unable to trace the family back past Evan Evans. Little wonder; not only was it much more difficult to trace one's bloodline in those pre-Ancestry.com days,"Evan Evans" is the rough Welsh equivalent of "John Smith." Worse, Kate didn't even know the maiden name of Evan's wife Jenet so had no way of determining just which Evan Evans she was looking for, and which part of Wales birthed him. Short of actually traveling to Berks County, Pennsylvania, and spending several years combing through church records, Kate had about as much chance as finding about more about the Evan Evans who served under Captain John Robeson in the Revolution in the early 1900's as she did of winning the yet-to-be-established Pulitzer Prize.
So the matter lay for many, many years. I was mildly interested in knowing more about Evan, but since he'd died 170 years before I was born it wasn't as if Dad had told me heartwarming stories about his great-great-great-great-grandfather to encourage me. Evan Evans was a name in a record someone else had compiled, nothing more.
Then my friend Bunkie, who's a genealogy fanatic, decided to get involved. How she managed to do this is still not clear; from what I could tell it involved a proprietary combination of mad Intarwebz skillz, years of experience on Ancestry.com and similar web sites, and just plain luck. Regardless, it took her less than fifteen minutes not only to track down my Patriotic Ancestor, but his wife, his town, and his parents' names.
Thus it is that I now know the following:
- The family can trace its roots to Caernarvonshire in the early 14th century, then moved about the countryside before ending up in Llanmihangel-ar-Arth in Carmarthenshire, a farming region called "The Garden of Wales."
- They might have been Quakers or Methodists, but Evan himself was no pacifist; not only did he fight in the Revolution, he was a veteran of the French & Indian War twenty years earlier.
- Evan was born in 1720, came to the new lands of America no later than 1740 or possibly a few years earlier, and married no later than 1750, when he was around 30.
- His wife, Jennet Hughes, was only 14, meaning that Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddad was either a raging pedophile or (far more likely) following the custom of his time.
- Evan had died in 1790, followed by Jennet fifteen years later.
- Their descendants fanned out all across Pennsylvania and the Midwest by the early 20th century, and can be found pretty much everywhere from Massachusetts to California.
- I may be an only child, but go back a couple of generations and I probably have more cousins than Sir Joseph Porter of HMS Pinafore fame.
- Genealogy is a lot more interesting than you'd think.
I'm not sure how much farther back I want to trace my family tree; between work, these diaries, setting the world afire with my mad textilez research skillz, and making sure the Double Felinoid has food, drink, and comfortable places to sleep, my time is limited. I have, however, managed to learn a bit about Llanmihangel, a sleepy little community notable for a 15th century church that was restored in the 19th century:
The Ancestral Church of Ellid, where Evan Evans was shoved, naked and screaming, in a baptismal font sometime in 1720, and only took until 1740 to beat feet for the comparatively drier climes of Berks County, Pennsylvania.
I have been unable to confirm rumors that the town has recently welcomed a casino called, I kid you not, "Llas Vogas" and an airport boasting a large plastic head of Sinead O'Connor. However, given that this is the place that eventually led to me, it's not out of the realm of possibility.