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I'm a firm believer in putting the complete results of my research online, and hope that others will do the same.  This is one reason why: finding my maternal grandmother's birth was not straightforward, and took nearly 9 years. And it was an online tree that provided the final piece of evidence that I needed.

I knew her name (Margaret Ellen Roberts) from my mother's birth certificate, and I'd found her marriage certificate from 1924, which put her birth around 1898; her death certificate from 1931, which miraculously claimed she hadn't aged a day since her marriage 7 years before, put her birth around 1905. I was inclined to believe her marriage certificate, as she claimed then to be 8 years older than her eighteen-year-old husband and that would be an odd lie to tell.  I knew her father's name and occupation from her marriage: Henry Roberts, a slate quarryman; he was shown as deceased at her marriage in 1924.  And I knew the place of her marriage: Merthyr Tydfil; and the place my mother said she was born: "somewhere near Machynlleth" in North Wales.

My first step was to search freebmd for likely birth registrations. I set the search range to be 1895-1906 and looked for Margaret Ellen, Margaret E, Maggie Ellen or Maggie E as forenames and Robert or Roberts as surnames.  I pasted the results into an Excel spreadsheet so I could keep track of things; I had to juggle a bit with the data to get the layout of the results that I needed and add a country manually based on the registration district. And then I was ready to go.

The first step was to filter the results by country: everything I knew said my grandmother was born in Wales. That left me with 48 possibilities, but back then (2003) I could get the GRO to reference check the possibilities against the father's name of Henry. That whittled it down to two, but there wasn't any way of telling which was more likely: the Margaret Ellen Roberts born in Carnarvon (North Wales) — let's call her M1 — or the Margaret Ellen Roberts born in Merthyr Tydfil — M2. So I ordered both certificates to look at the father's occupation.










Margaret Ellen







Margaret Ellen

Merthyr Tydfil




The father of M1 was a general labourer and the father of M2 was a colliery timberman. Neither of them was a slate quarryman but that didn't mean that they didn't become one subsequently or have been one earlier, so I still couldn't make a decision between the two births. Possibly the North Wales one was more likely as that was a slate quarrying area, but there was nothing to say the other Henry hadn't originated there.

The next step was to look in the 1901 census.  M1 was living in Vaynor, near Merthyr Tydfil; her father was a coal hewer underground. And M2 was living in Merthyr Tydfil (at the address where she was born) with her widowed mother Mary.  A search for the death of a Henry Roberts between 1898 and 1901 in Merthyr Tydfil yielded a death in 1899 (at the same address); his occupation when he died was coal miner which makes it unlikely that he would be described as a slate quarryman 25 years later — except his daughter would probably have known very little about him, so could she have got his occupation wrong?

And there I was stuck in 2003: two possibilities, one (M1) more likely than the other but I didn't have enough evidence to prove it beyond reasonable doubt. I tried tracing the families back to 1891 and 1881 but there was no smoking gun... So I let the matter rest until more records became available.

In 2009, the 1911 census went online, and I poked at all my outstanding problems that it might help with, including this one.  M1 was still in Vaynor; her father was a coal hewer underground. M2 was at the same address in Merthyr Tydfil; her mother had remarried and was now Mary Driscoll. I could have searched for a marriage of M2 — if I definitely found her marriage, I could eliminate her — but I didn't have any information that suggested a date range (other than after 1917 when she would have turned 18) nor a place. And an awful lot of Margaret Roberts got married between 1917 and 1927 (an arbitrary cut-off). So I left the problem to lie fallow again.

One thing I do periodically with problems like these is look for the individual in other people's trees. Not because those trees are free from errors — often far from it — but they can provide opportunities to make contact with researchers tracing the same family lines.

In May 2012, I was looking at some records on ancestry and saw a leaf denoting that I had some unviewed 'hints'.  I'm not usually a fan of 'hints'; I prefer to do my own searches so I know exactly what the search parameters are. However, some of the hints that day led to online trees, and one in particular led to a Margaret Ellen Roberts that matched in many respects one of my candidates (M1).

The name was right, and the husband and father's names were right, and the birth and death dates were pretty close, so I made contact with the owner of the tree with a few details of M1 to explore whether we did indeed have a match (but not naming my mother). The response that came back correctly named my mother and later correspondence (including instant identification of his grandmother as the woman Mum referred to as Auntie Kyke1) confirmed that I was in contact with a second cousin (B) whose grandfather was Margaret Ellen's brother. I'm not naming my cousin here as I don't have his permission, but B — if you ever read this — thank you for putting your tree on-line and pulling down my brick wall, as well as for the wealth of information about our shared family and especially the stories passed down about them. It's glorious to have their lives fleshed out, not just the bare data from the records.  And some of them were real characters — I'll probably come back to them on this blog in future.

[As an aside, I could have solved for myself the puzzle of which Margeret Ellen was mine when the 1939 register became available. A search for a Margaret E with the birthdate of M2 leads to a Margaret E. Meredith living at the same address as M2 was born; and there's a marriage between a Margaret E. Roberts and Stanley Meredith in Merthyr Tydfil in 1923.  So that would have pretty conclusively eliminated M2 and left M1 as my grandmother. But I'm so much more happy to have made contact with a cousin than simply solving the puzzle would have made me.]


1. From B: Auntie "Kyke" was Mabel Nellie FULLER from Hastings in Sussex and spoke until she died with a strong Sussex ascent so every time she offered someone a piece of cake she would say “Kyke”. I can only vaguely remember her I was very young when she died, but [redacted] a first cousin to my father and your mother who lives not far from me still talks about the way she pronounced cake as “kyke”.

Oct 3, 2016 By ColeValleyGirl

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