Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Grandma I Never Knew Part 5: In Sickness And In Health

[There are once again a great many people to thank for the information given here. Rosemary, Ruth, Angela, Glyn, Wendy, Norma, Merthyn and Christine. This blog is not possible without all of their input and willingness to allow me to quiz them on family history.]

Iris suffered some hardships while living in Africa. In the early 1950’s they lost a child. Her name was Bronwyn. There were blood complications and she was born with Down Syndrome. She did not survive long after her birth. Two years later Iris would have to sit in a nursing home, praying and waiting while their new born son was rushed to a hospital in Salisbury. His blood was rhesus negative and required a complete blood transfusion which was not possible in Umtali. 150 miles, two blow outs , a borrowed car and one police escort later, Merthyn Davies reached the hospital and one of the first ever full blood transfusions for a child in Africa was completed. Iris could thank God that this child was saved. [1]

In 1965 Iris eldest son Glyndwr returned from working in Salisbury to celebrate his 21st birthday. He brought home a young woman named Norma. Iris and Norma took to each other quickly. In fact, the first night after meeting her Iris took her son Glyn aside, shook him and said, “You better marry this girl.” Even after marriage Iris would still introduce them as, “This is my daughter Norma and my son Glyn” which often caused some confusing looks to pass between the listeners.

Both Norma and Iris enjoyed gardening; it was one of the many things they shared in common. The latter particularly loved growing an English rose garden and made sure to teach her daughter in law just how to do so.

In 1966 Iris had the joy of her little brother David Griffith moving over to Southern Rhodesia1 with his family. One can only imagine what it would mean to see someone after so long apart. David was a pastor within the A.O.G. and at their church in Umtali. The families grew close together and there was much love between them. David’s daughter recalls how Idris would lead the songs but that many were duets between Iris and her husband. Iris herself sang in a high soprano voice.
Idris and Iris Davies at Christmas Pass in Umtali.

There were a great many places to see in Southern Rhodesia and at times Iris would go with her husband up to Christmas Pass in Umtali and see the Kingsley Fairbridge Memorial[3]. Iris loved the outdoors and no doubt enjoyed walks like this immensely.

Occasionally they were able to visit their home land and then they would be able to catch up with family such as Ruth, Iris younger sister. Ruth remembers that at one such time they spotted an old three wheel car. They were popular in the 70’s and 80’s in England. Iris loved it and always thought it would be nice to drive one in Rhodesia.
Below, Iris and Idris Davies with their youngest son Merthyn Davies. Christmas 1978

Iris suffered with bad health most of her life. She had severe anemia and internal shingles in her back. This would cause her great pain and the only way the doctors knew how to deal with it at the time was to give her medication which would knock her out for days on end. During this time she was reliant on her daughter Wendy to look after the younger children.

It was impossible to say when an attack of this nature would occur and sometimes they would be traveling when the pain suddenly came over her and she would have to be treated there and then. It did cause some anxiety when taking the car or a form of transport that she would need to be in control of. Eventually doctors tried to sever Iris nerves to relieve it but this was not successful and caused more complications. They offered to do another surgery but Irish would not take it since the first had not gone very well. Sometimes at night Iris would use a hot water bottle to help soothe the cold her shingles caused but because the nerves were damaged it would burn her skin and leave scars.

Despite all of this she complained little. There was another sickness Iris struggled with and that was poor kidneys. This was made worse by the amount of tea she drank. When asked to cut back from the 30 cups she drank a day Iris would stew the tea on the oven top to make it stronger. It was the one thing in the world she couldn’t live without! As her kidneys grew progressively worse they tied one of them off and she lived a while on the remaining good kidney. Eventually the doctors discovered that this kidney had also died but the one which they had formerly tied off had somehow come back to health and was keeping her alive.

Her struggles did not go on for much longer however and in April,1982 Iris Davies died. She died of Septicemia which set in after an operation to remove stomach ulcers. The news reached her son Glyn while he was conducting a church service in Maine. He took the call behind the pulpit and was caught somewhat off guard for he did not know just how severe her condition had been. He flew back to Zimbabwe for the funeral, and was met there by Merthyn, Christine and their son John.

Iris had lived a full life and lived in multiple continents while doing so. Though she left many behind who loved her dearly, the words of her favourite song were undoubtedly echoing through her soul as she departed.

“Hope, as an anchor so steadfast,
Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered,
Robbing the grave of its goal.
Come then, O come glad fruition,
Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory
Never, O never depart.”

1. An earlier version of this post stated there was a 6 year gap between Bronwyn and Merthyn being born. I have since discovered the death record and know for certain it was 2 years.

2 Southern Rhodesia has had many names. As a colony of the British Empire it was Southern Rhodesia, but briefly "The Republic of Rhodesia" between 1970-1980 before finally being recognized as its own independent state by the British Government in 1980.

3 From what I understand Kingsley Fairbridge built a series of ‘fairbridge’ schools and did a great deal towards helping emigrate children to the British Colonies for their education. This particular memorial was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on July 8th 1953.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Grandma I Never Knew Part 4: In Africa

[There are countless people that contribute to this blog. For the information contained in this I would like to specifically thank Uncle Glyn and his wife Auntie Norma, my Auntie Wendy, my Dad and my Great Aunt Ruth.]
Iris and her son Merthyn at their house in Umtali, Southern Rhodesia.
Iris and Idris started their life in Africa together, living in a suburb of Salisbury named Hatfield. Later, sometime in the 1950’s they moved to Rainbow Ranch in Inyanga, this is in the eastern highlands of Southern Rhodesia. They were only here briefly however and later that year the family moved to Umtali where Idris would eventually build a house that they all enjoyed for quite some time. Before it was finished they had already moved three times, just in Umtali itself.

The house was designed by Idris, based on the home they had in Birmingham, England before they first moved to Africa. It cost around 3,500 British pounds which was borrowed from the Central African Building Society, or CABS for short. Idris did the labor himself. It had three bedrooms, was two storeys tall and contained one and a half bathrooms. In Africa when they had bathrooms they separated the bath from the toilet.
The front room of the house at 4 Taylor Avenue. Looking out into the yard as the cat eyes the pet Budgerigar.

They had servants that did all of the house work while they were in the house on Taylor Avenue. Iris concerned herself mostly with her garden and her work at the local library. As her eldest son remembers; “She had a green thumb and could grow anything.” So she did; especially flowers and particularly roses. One of the trees which grew was a Frangipangi1 when this bloomed it is described as having the “most amazing white flowers.”

The Assemblies of God South Africa planted a church at their house in Taylor Street and Idris was one of the elders. It was pastored by Don Normand. The first ever service of the church occurred in this house on a Sunday morning and a proud Iris watched as the pastor asked her son Glyndwr to lead communion. In Communion it is customary to serve the bread first, followed by the wine. This is based in the passage of 1 Corinthians 11 from the Bible. Iris pride turned to horror as Glyn served the emblems the wrong way around.

There were other incidents during their time in Africa. They used to own a 1941 Plymouth and on one occasion Iris ended up driving it into the large wooden posts that held up the car port. No one was injured and fortunately her husband and pastor were able to re paint and fix it up so that it could be used by their daughter Wendy at a later date.

Iris was a woman who loved life and if her children wished to get away with something there was no doubt in their mind that they had to ask their mother and not their father. When the movie “The Dam Busters” was released Glyn wanted to go see it. He knew that to his Dad, cinemas were off limits. So he asked Iris. She gave him some money to see the movie but it remained a secret kept between the two of them for quite some time. It was only years later that Glyn heard the many occasions that Iris would sneak out of the house to dance when she was young.

Working in the Umtali library Iris would find herself reading often. She would bring book after book home to continue one of her favourite past times. Her children were surrounded with them. No doubt Iris would sit down to reading while drinking that quintessential English drink, Tea. She loved tea and once, when asked by the doctor to count how many cups she had a day Iris stopped the count at thirty six! On doctors2 orders this was reduced to no more than six!


1: The scientific name for this plant is a Plumeria.

2: There were health reasons behind this order

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Grandma I never Knew. Part 3 1944 - 1948

[I wish to say another special thanks to my Aunt and Uncle; Glyn and Wendy, this blog would not be possible without their input.]

When Iris married Idris she was aware that Idris believed he was called by God to Africa. It was not long after the ending of World War 2 that those plans became more concrete and the two of them would decide to move their small family across two continents to the country of Southern Rhodesia. [Now called Zimbabwe. (2)] Idris would move out there in advance of the rest of the family. This would allow a house to be bought and give a place for Iris and their children to move to.

Here is a photograph taken shortly before Idris departed for Africa in 1937. From left to right they are: Glyn [Idris' brother], Grethe, Price Davies, Annie Davies, Iris Davies, Idris Davies, with Wendy and Glyn [Idris son] at the front.

This was taken in Birmingham. The family are standing in the allotment (1) with the Anderson Shelter just out of sight!

In the mean time Iris, Glyndwr and Wendy moved in with Harold E Griffiths and his wife Annie. The two Grandparents lived near a highway and were quite strict with the children in telling them not to go outside and near the road system!

Iris continued to work at the Woolworths department store as a lift operator. [Elevator operator.] On occasion Iris would invite the children and her Grandpa to come and visit, showing them the controls and how everything worked. By January 1938 the time had arrived for Iris and the others to join Idris.

They set off from Birmingham via train. Iris eldest daughter, Wendy, didn't much care for trains but it was the quickest way to reach Southampton where the boat would leave. Harold joined them, no doubt wanting to make sure that his daughter and grandchildren made it safe and sound to Southampton. Wendy recalls that he stood and waved to them as the boat departed. There was also alot of excitement as they would be passing through London and the whole family wanted to see the capital!

The boat ride itself was a journey of 3-4 weeks. They sailed straight from Southampton, through the Bay of Biscay on the west coast of France, and on to Cape Town in South Africa. As they boarded the boat Glyndwr was terrified. There were gaps between each step of the gangplank and he could see down into the water between them. Finally a steward came and carried him across. The boat was large, as it would have to be, and even in 1948 it contained a swimming pool. Wendy would often be in the swimming pool though Iris remained in the lower decks for most of the trip for she was sea sick.
Sometimes they would have a crew member come to visit, either to bring food or to make sure they were okay. At these times Wendy recalls that Iris would pull herself together enough to say thank you and be appreciative before retiring for the rest of the day. Wendy discovered that being below decks caused an adjustment to the ear pressure and made the sea sickness worse. Poor Iris may have been better off staying above decks.

There was one other thing of importance that occurred on the journey. Glyndwr celebrated his 4th Birthday. What a way to celebrate!

When they finally arrived in Cape Town another train journey awaited them. This time they would travel from Cape Town to Southern Rhodesia. This would take a number of days and be very tiring for Iris and the family who were already worn out from the four week boat journey. It was all worth it though when Idris pulled up to greet them in a 1938 Ford V8 with red spoked wheels. One can imagine the look on Iris' face at being reunited with her husband after so long apart.

Wendy "Felt like a Queen" and Glyn was constantly telling his father to "Speeder faster, speeder faster." It was the first car the family ever owned and Iris must have beamed with pride. It was a nice way to say, "Welcome to Africa."

[1] An Allotment was a piece of land granted by the British Government during WW2. Some allotment sizes were larger than others. It was part of the "Digging for Victory" effort. During World War 2 German U boats cut off alot of the food supply that Britain would traditionally import from the Empire to feed its citizens. Here is a link to a video that helped promote the use of allotments in Britain during


[2] Southern Rhodesia has had many names. As a colony of the British Empire it was Southern Rhodesia, but briefly "The Republic of Rhodesia" between 1970-1980 before finally being recognized as its own independent state by the British Government in 1980.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hymns of My Fathers "Whispering Hope."

This is the second in a series of blogs based on the hymns my ancestors used to sing. Whispering Hope is a song that my Grandparents, Idris and Iris Davies were heard to sing on many occasions. They sang it at weddings, funerals and various church events. Here are the original lyrics as written by Septimus Winner.

Verse 1

"Soft as the voice of an angel,
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion,
Whispers her comforting word;
Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the shower is gone.


Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

Verse 2
If, in the dusk of the twilight,
Dim be the region afar,
Will not the deepening darkness
Brighten the glimmering star?
Then when the night is upon us,
Why should the heart shrink away?
When the dark midnight is over,
Watch for the breaking of day.

Verse 3
Hope, as an anchor so steadfast,
Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered,
Robbing the grave of its goal.
Come then, O come glad fruition,
Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory
Never, O never depart.

Septimus was a famous song writer born in the 1800's. This particular hymn he based off Hebrews 6:19; "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." It was the last popular song that he wrote before his death.

This is a hymn that I do not remember hearing as I grew up but reading through it now I can see why Idris and Iris loved it. The words are so poetic and I can see how it would be powerful at funerals and weddings.

  • Monday, July 16, 2012

    Family Help

    Last Thursday my Uncle went to visit the grave sites of my Nanna and Granddad. While there he found an attendant who was able to find my Great Grandparents graves as well. I'm so thankful for this as I am not in England anymore and unable to visit possible sites. Another friend of mine is trying to locate the graves of my Great Great Grandparents in Binbrook, Lincolnshire. We're not positive they are there but we think they may be.

    Here are the pictures.

    The top half is really difficult to read but I believe it says:

    "Ada Mildred Wright, Died 6th Oct 1958 Aged 64 years. 
    George Ernest Wright, Died 7th Jan 1962 Aged 77 years.

    Below are the two pictures my Uncle sent of my Grandparents graves.

    These say:

    "May Hilton 1921-2001. 

    Beloved Wife, mother and


    "Ernest Hilton 1923-2003.

    Beloved husband, father and grandad"

    It did bring back to mind a memory of my Nanna. They have also, coincidentally, made me aware that I spell Nanna wrong but I can't break the habit of a life time.

    When I was a young teenager I remember commenting to Nanna about how much work she seemed to do for other people. Nanna was the type of person who was always visiting friends who might be sick, lending a helping hand if she could. She said, "I've never understood these people who don't look after others while they're alive and then spend all their time at the graves trying to make them look pretty. You do everything you can for someone while they're here and after they are dead what more can you do?!"

    Now that I'm tracing family history I would like to say that I do see the importance of keeping Graves clean and readable but I loved my Nanna's attitude, I like to think it has affected how I act today.
    Nanna was a hard worker who didn't like to stop. She suffered with Leukemia for a long time and the Doctors told her she had to rest. We used to live in the same town as my grandparents and once when they came to visit Granddad said something along the lines of,

    "You'll never guess what I caught her doing."

    "What?" We all exclaimed!

    "Trimming the hedge with a pair of scissors."

    My Nanna replied somewhat sheepishly, "Well the Doctor said I couldn't use the hedge trimmer and it needed to be cut."

    I hope I have inherited half of her character and work ethic. If so, I'll do well in this life and the next.

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

    Hunting For George Part 2

    The last post on Great Granddad George Wright mentioned that I could not find him in the 1891 census and that I had heard he had fought in the Boer War. I couldn't find any information about his military record and I needed to confirm a few pieces from my Uncle. I emailed My Uncle and he said he had fought in World War 1 and that he was 'there for the Boer War' if he didn't 'fight in it.' I'm not fully sure what this means. How could a poor farm laborer from Binbrook, Lincolnshire, be there but not for the fighting?

    I also received these photographs.
    George Ernest Wright in Military Uniform
    George Ernest Wright and his wife Ada. 

    My Mum had always said he was in the army. The sign on his left arm is of two crossed anchors with a crown above it and there are three chevrons beneath it. I can't seem to get a clear enough picture of the image on his cap to tell what it is :/. Still, unless I'm completely mistaken from the research I have done this is a Royal Navy Uniform and the chevrons make him a Petty Officer 1st Class. According to my Uncle, George had captained a small ship that helped with the rescue at Dunkirk. I don't think this was military related however.

    I found this explanation on a genealogy site that was attempting to explain the uniforms and their ratings.

    From 1853 to 1907 the badge of the PO 1st Class and from 1907 to the present the badge of the Petty Officer. (With appropriate crown, that depicted is correct for the period 1901-1953)

    The site address is here:

    I'm not positive what the Chevrons mean though.

    I must confess to needing a bit more tutelage in this area. So if anyone is out there who can shed a little more light on the what my Great Granddad's uniform symbolizes I'd love to hear from you!

    Friday, July 13, 2012

    Hymns Of My Fathers - "I fell in love with the Nazarene"

    This is the first in a series of blogs that will endeavor to capture the heart of some old hymns. They are not just any hymns but those which I know my ancestors sang. I will post the lyrics with some information about who crafted the hymn and why. Sometimes I may explore the words and lyrics of a tune and sometimes there may also be a family story behind them. I hope you enjoy reading about this as much I will sharing them with you.
    Harold Emanuel Griffiths
    There are many things to write about Harold but for the purpose of this blog it is enough to say this: He was a man of great conviction who became a Christian sometime after World War 1. He became a Pentecostal minister who planted churches around the United Kingdom and Ireland, in partnership with Edward Jeffrey's who started the Bethel movement. These churches later joined the Elim and Assemblies of God churches on the European side of the Atlantic.[1] Many of the churches he planted bare the name "Bethel" today. As well as a preacher he was a pianist and a singer. He composed a new tune to the formerly well known hymn of "I fell in love with the Nazarene." The words are as follow:

    Verse 1

    "The Master stood in the Judgment Hall of Pilate great and strong,

    He stood there silent and alone for all his friends were gone.

    They had scattered far and near, and left him with the throng,

    No voice of love his heart to cheer, thro' all the morn' so long."


    "I fell in love with the Nazarene, "The beautiful Nazarene."

    Whose face with glory was a-light, the fairest I have seen.

    Near his side I would abide, with ne'er a veil between,

    Since I fell so deep in love with Jesus "The Nazarene."

    Verse 2

    "His face was fair as lilies white, a halo round his head,

    While all around was black as night, their souls thro' sin were dead.

    See his hands all bound with thongs, the thorn crown on his brow,

    Hark! The Angels mournful song, "All heav'n in sorrow now."

    Verse 3

    "The angry mob cried out in wrath, "Crucify him now!"

    And so he trod Golgotha's Path, The life blood on "His brow."

    On on he trod and bear the Cross, But never made a moan

    Weak and falling from the loss, of blood yet not a groan."

    Verse 4

    And when they nail'd him to the Cross, with cruel spikes and deep,

    His face diviner grew to me, And I began to weep.

    All His anguish quite forgot, I heard him gently pray:

    "Father forgive, for they know not the wrong that they have done."

    I must confess, I don't know the original tune, and I haven't yet heard the tune my Great Grandfather composed for it. I have however convinced my Mum that when my parents are over to visit at Christmas she will play the tune for me. How do we know the tune? Harold's granddaughter sent me these images via email:

    They came with the following message:

    "I think it is an appropriate song to remember Harold by as he never got over the love of God, the wonder of his salvation and he had a deep love for the Lord. It is a moving song and anything Harold played was moving and congregations would laugh, cry or worship depending on what Harold did on the piano as he sang. When you hear this song you can imagine the power of God at work when Harold ministered in music. 

    I remember hearing Harold (tenor) and Nance (alto) singing it. I also remember hearing David singing it. He had a lovely voice, as did all of them. I suppose you know the whole family sang song items together at services."


    It has taken me a while to track down the origins of this song. I searched some of the books about old hymns from the 19th and early 20th century but couldn't turn anything up. Eventually however I found a site online that contained "The Weekly Evangel Issue 169, Dec 16th 1916." I believe this was a tract that was given out in the beginning of the Pentecostal movement to people and churches connected with it. In it is the story of Sarah Payne, a former song writer for 'the world' as she said herself. This was the first song she created after "Giving her life to Jesus." It was written within moments of this commitment and nearly burned to ashes a few days later. Fortunately for my Great Grandad and many many others, it wasn't.

    [1] An early version of this blog said he campaigned with the Jeffrey's brothers. This might be true, but I have changed it to Edward Jeffrey's because there is evidence of this in a pamphlet created to commemorate the building and commissioning of Bethel Church at Milton Hall in 1950. This church was built by Harold E. Griffiths. 

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    How I found Anney!

    I have mentioned before that when it comes to Genealogy I am fortunate to have some other family members that have done the hard work for me. Many branches of my family tree have already been explored to a certain extent. There was one significant branch that was missing; that of my Great Grandmother Simpkins. I initially put her name down as Annie in the searches I made through census records but I couldn't find her. Then I changed it to Anne but still no luck. On Ancestry a picture of a little green leaf appears if the name matches any records they have. The name didn't.

    So I waited a few weeks; in genealogy there are always more things to move on to. I'm still looking for information on Great Granddad George Wright and there are the ongoing interviews with family about my Grandma Iris, as well as many many other people to research. Within the past week though, Great Aunt Ruth sent me some information confirming Anne's father was John Simpkins and she had a sister called Lily. Great I thought, now I can search for Anne/Annie in conjunction with her father.

    I put in some simple searches and it still came up with nothing. I must state, probably much to the chagrin of my Aunt Ruth, that I was unsure whether she had given me the right names. [The moral of this story - never doubt an Aunt, particularly about her own mother!] As I looked back over the information I had gathered I realised Anne was definitely Annie because I discovered a wedding between Harold Emanuel Griffiths and Annie Simpkins from 1911. I've sent off for their marriage certificate but it hasn't arrived yet. I also realised that they definitely lived in Abertillery at some point. So again I ran the search, and this time a close match popped up. I discovered this!

    Anney, there you are. Yes, Anney...with her whole family. So this is how they spelled Annie in 1911. Or at least, that is how the person taking notes for this particular census form spelled Annie. It doesn't help that her mother was recorded as Eliz, when I had it down as Elizabeth. Which brings me back to something I read on my friend Bill's blog once. [His blog can be found at] It is also listed on the right hand side of my blog.

    He mentioned how many people in previous times didn't know how to spell their own names and had never had to write them before. Therefore many names were probably spelled phonetically, or close to it. When it came to a census the person conducting the census might have no idea how certain names are spelled. All this leads to a variety of names being found on a census for the same person. If you look closely at this particular form you will notice that John's last name is "Simpkins" and Eliz' last name is "Simkins." It's a prime example of how lax some people were on the spelling!

    Now that I had found Annie in 1911 and all of her family, I sent a quick message to Great Aunt Ruth to confirm it was the right one. It is - so I'm pretty sure that with the information from this form I can trace her back through the other records now.

    And that is how I found Anney!

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    The Grandma I Never Knew. Part 2 1938-1944

    [Let me first start by addressing a mistake I made in my first post about Iris Griffiths. I mentioned that due to her older sister Annie being partially blind and deaf Iris may have done most of the house hold chores. I have been informed by one of their sisters that Iris did not take over from Annie's duties. This makes Annie quite a remarkable person, but that is another story;)]

    Contributors to this post are: Merthyn Davies, Glyn Davies, Wendy Thomas and Ruth Salmon. Thank you, I could never have done this without you.

    [Above: Iris Davies with her 2 eldest children Wendy and Glyndwr, in Birmingham abt1947]

    After the death of William Sergeant, Iris was single for a while. By this time most of her family had moved to Birmingham and Iris went with them. No one is completely sure how Iris met Idris Davies, but it seems fair to say they may have met at Church. Both were devout believers and both had a Pentecostal upbringing with fathers who were preachers. The story of their meeting however is one that I have not yet discovered.

    On Dec 24th 1938 Iris was married to Idris and became Mrs. Iris Davies. The wedding took place at Bethel Gospel Temple, Wardend Road, Birmingham, England. Iris' father Harold Griffiths was a traveling preacher and he was due to be speaking and planting churches in Ireland both before the 24th and after Boxing Day. (1) So the 24th it was!

    Their first child was soon born; Grace Wendy Davies! The lives of everyone around the world were to be horribly interrupted shortly after. On September 1st 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Britain, France and most Commonwealth (2) countries declared war on Hitlers' Germany. World War 2 had begun.

    The Davies' were affected in a similar way to most of those in Britain at the time. Some family members went to war while others were involved in the Home Guard.(3) Below is a picture of Idris with his brothers DavidJohn, and Glyn. Glyn went to war, the others were in the Home Guard.

    During World War 2 Iris' husband Idris became a munitions inspector but Iris worked at the local Woolworths. Woolworths was a chain of shops in England. Iris would operate the elevators. Their son Glyndwr recalls visiting Iris with his Grandpa Harold Griffiths. They watched as she operated machines to move the Elevator. In those days it did not move at the push of a button!

    During the war Iris and Idris lived at 54 or 45 Heather Road in Birmingham and that house is still standing today. The same can't be said of every house of that street. Birmingham was bombed often during World War 2 and the Blitz. The Blitz was a series of bombing raids organized by Germany and night after night would see the bombs come down on all the major cities of Britain. Birmingham was the second most bombed city of Britain during this time period. Over 2,000 people were killed in Birmingham with many more injured.(4)

    Like others, Iris and the family were given Anderson Bomb shelters, sturdy Air Raid Table shelters, and drills in what to do when the Air Raid sirens sounded.(5) Iris' sister Ruth recalls that Iris, Ruth, Wendy and one of their neighbors would all run to the shelter.

    "We used to go down in the shelter that Idris had made in the garden, he made it very comfortable so we could play games while the bombs were dropping all around us. Idris was out & about in the Home Guard helping to dig people out that had been hit." - Ruth Griffiths

    Iris father Harold was also not with them as he was "out there praying with people who were dying."

    In the shelter they would sometimes sing to try and drown out the noise of the bombs falling and the guns firing. Sometimes they would play games like Ludo, Tiddlywinks and Drafts.(6

    Wendy remembers that the Air Raid Table was used for those times that they couldn't make it to the Anderson shelter or if the shelter was flooded. There was only one time she can ever remember using it and none of them thought it was safe. On another occasion a bomb had a direct hit on a house just four lots away, It was demolished and the windows of Iris' house came breaking inwards. As the family ran down the hallway to reach the Anderson shelter they discovered a piece of burning shrapnel had flown in with the glass and landed on an Eider Down (7) on the sofa, setting fire to it. Fortunately they saw  it and were able to put it out or the whole house may have burnt down.

    It wasn't all doom and gloom though. Wendy observes that Iris would often take her to the clinic where they would have to do all kinds of tests. Then they would have to do silly exercises like picking up matchsticks with your toes to stop your feet from becoming flat. [There's more to this story but it is related to another blog of the future.]

    Then towards the end of the war their second eldest, Glyndwr was born. It was often joked among the family that "Wendy began the war and Glyn finished it". 


    (1) Boxing day is December 26th In England.
    (2) The Common Wealth, formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is made up of a collection of countries that used to be part of the British Empire.
    (3) The Home Guard is a term used during WW2 in the United Kingdom, for those people who volunteered to serve with the military at 'home'. They were usually ineligible for military service due to age etc. and were employed in many tasks from cleaning up wreckage, last line of defence, and putting bodies back together.
    (4) This website can give many more details about the affect of the Blitz and bombing on Birmingham during WW2
    (5) Anderson Shelters were given free to many British house holds during and in the lead up to WW2. They provided excellent protection from ground shocks but had a tendency to flood during cold weather. An Air Raid Table was just what it sounds like. A table that was perhaps sturdier than your average table but a table never the less.
    (6) Ludo is a game similar to the American board game "Trouble." Opponents race their counters around the board from start to finish by throwing the dice and moving accordingly. Drafts is known in America as "Checkers".
    (7) An Eider Down is like a quilt but made out of Eider Duck feathers.

    Tech Tuesday: Using Pinterest for your Family History Photographs

    Tech Tuesday is a blogging prompt used by the Geneabloggers group and others to help inspire bloggers to post. Today my post is dedicated to using Pinterest.
    I've been aware of Pinterest for a while but I hadn't really looked into it. As I started this blog I thought, wouldn't it be cool to have another place where family members and others can just view the photographs of our ancestors. In essence, the tale of our family through pictures. With this in mind I created a Pinterest board specifically for it. The link is contained in the information section on the right hand side of this page. I will also post it here:

    Pinterest is a social networking tool based around images. People post images that fit around a specified criteria to their Pinterest site. You have to be invited to use it but you can personally request an invite through their main webpage. After my initial request it took them a day before inviting me. Pinterest is linked to a Facebook account so you have to be careful about your settings unless you want every picture posted mirrored to your Facebook timeline.

    Once on Pinterest you create something called "a board." This board can be called anything you like and about anything you like. I called mine "Tall Tales Of A Family." Original eh! You can change the name at any point but the link to the site will also change. Once a board is created you pin [upload] pictures to the site. Alternatively, if you find an image online you can pin that to the site without downloading it to your computer. Family and friends can then leave comments with each picture, a great way to share memories.

    So now I have another place online that people can connect with my family history blog. It's a visually driven site and hopefully provokes enough questions that people want to find out more.

    A word to the wise. If you are using photographs of living people, make sure to get their permission before you post it. This should be just the same as when blogging an article. Whenever I post a story that contains the name of someone living or the immediate family of someone living I make sure to give the living relative an advance copy and I do not post the blog until they have affirmed it. Sometimes they make suggestions that improve the story. Sometimes they notice mistakes and they always have the option to say they are uncomfortable with that story being put online. The same should definitely be true of their own photographs as well.

    With all that said, why don't you hop on over to Pinterest, maybe visit my own Pinterst 'board' and see how you like it.

    Saturday, July 7, 2012

    Hunting for George Part 1

    Just a note at the beginning to say that unlike some of my previous Blogs this research is very much still in progress. Where I know 100% that it is a fact I will state so. George Ernest Wright was my Great Granddad on my Mum's Nanna's side. He was born in 1884 in Lincolnshire.[Fact] My Uncle told me that he served during the Boer War and was on a small boat that helped with the rescues at Dunkirk. This instantly intrigued me. For those who aren't familiar with these pieces of British history here is a brief summary.

    The Boer Wars were fought in the late 1800's and last Boer War was from 1899-1902. It is this last war that my Great Granddad George will have fought in. The last war was fought to regain the Boer Republics as British colonies. During the latter stages of the war the British rounded up the Boer families into concentration camps. While intended to be different to the use of concentration camps by Germany during and before world war 2 it never the less had a very similar affect. The Boers who were will fighting hit the supply trains that were due to bring food and hygiene supplies to the people in the camps and the result was very often disease, starvation and death. It was also this war that led to Britain seeking out additional allies and making more binding treaties. A condition that would lead in large part to the onset of world war 1.

    Dunkirk is considered one of Britain's greatest memories. At the onset of world war 2 many French and British forces were trapped in the city of Dunkirk. They had no where to run and only the English Channel at their backs. Winston Churchill called for the British people to help with a massive evacuation of all troops from Dunkirk and called for a National Day of Prayer as the evacuations took place. Over the course of the next couple of days over 300,000 troops were evacuated. Fisherman and boat owners from all over England sailed their boats down to Dunkirk and helped the Royal Navy rescue all of the soldiers stranded. Because of the success of this evacuation Britain and France maintained most of their military men and were able to continue waging war despite the bleakness of the situation after Hitler conquered France and mainland Europe. Great Granddad George Wright took his own boat to help with this evacuation. Who wouldn't want to know more about this person?

    I remember when I was younger, having a conversation with my Nanna about how her family had once lived in the small nearby village of Binbrook. Sure enough, George was born to James and Hannah Wright in Binbrook (Formerly Westerman) in 1884. [Fact] From this point the waters become a little more murky. The 1891 census doesn't show George living with his parents, but it does show an Ernest. I once read that the reasons we have middle names is so that "A child can know when they are in trouble." I might change that to; "So that a genealogist can know he's confused."

    Since George's middle name was Ernest it isn't a complete leap of faith to believe it might be the same person. After checking with a friend who has been doing genealogy much longer than I, he said it was quite possibly the same person. In his own research his ancestors often changed from first to middle names in the census etc. He finished by saying, "If the age is right, it's probably the right Wright." I liked that quote so I have included it!
    So in 1891 Ernest Wright is listed as six. Depending on the month it was taken he could very well have been born in 1884. However neither Ernest or George are present during the 1901 census. For that matter neither is James. His father James seems to have died in 1900. If George joined the military and fought in the Boer War he will have likely joined by 1899. So the next stop is to see if any military records can shed light on this - while emailing my Uncle to see if he can shed any further light on it. That research will have to wait for another blog!

    Thursday, July 5, 2012

    Grandparents. What's in a name?

    While researching my Grandparents it's been interesting just to note what names they preferred to be called.

    My Nanna and Granddad (May Wright and Ernest Hilton) were always called Nanna and Granddad and always in that order for some reason. Even now it just seems to roll off the tongue with a Nanna first, then a Granddad.

    This is a photograph taken of them on their Wedding Day, April 22nd 1944.

    Below is a photograph taken sometime in the 90's for their Ruby Wedding Anniversary. I remember when this was taken as I was there. I was due to sing a solo at the celebration and that week I had a five a side indoor football (soccer) tournament. While attempting to head the ball it hit me in the nose and scraped off my skin. So I had to sing with a nose that had half its skin gone.

    While I never met my Grandparents on my Dad's side he always calls them Grampy and Grammie Davies. I'm probably butchering those spellings because I've never written them down before. Below is a picture of my Grandparents with two dogs, Tanya and Meghan. I'm still hunting around to see if any surviving relatives have a Wedding photograph of these two love birds. Or rather, my relatives are hunting around for me, while I do the pestering!

    It made me think. I wonder if what we called them has something to do with a culture we have now forgotten? I'm sure if I do a little investigation I might identify a geographic or cultural region that resulted in these names. Dad's parents were Welsh, do any of the Welsh side of my family know if Welsh grandparents were always referred to in this way? It will be interesting to find out!

    Grampy and Grammie I wish I could have met you! Nanna and Granddad, I always will miss you! To all of you, I am looking forward to the day when we will all meet again:)

    If any family members are reading this and would like a copy of these photographs please let me know!

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012

    Importance of Dating

    When I received a genealogy tree from a member of the family it has my Great Grand Father Harold Emmanuel Griffiths as born in 1880. His wife was left blank. When interviewing their daughter I discovered he was married to an Annie Simpkins but I assumed the dates I was given for Harold were correct. It turns out this has been a mistake - and a lesson well learned for this beginning Genealogist.

    - Always double check your facts, and when interviewing always ask for dates as soon as you possibly can! -

    Today their daughter confirmed that Harold was born in 1895 and Annie in 1896. This changes everything. I believe I may have found their marriage records for 1911. That means they married 16 and 15 respectively. The law stated the man had to be 14 and the woman 12 so this is perfectly legal. Still, I can't imagine being married at that age today! It wasn't long before they gave birth to their eldest either!

    I am still short of a picture for both Harold and Annie. Family members are searching and I hope such a blog as this can soon be graced with one.In the mean time I've sent off for the marriage certificate that I believe belongs to them. If it does then I might have a better time tracing their lineage. Annie was often referred to as Nance by her husband. This may have been a pet name for "Annie" or it may have been a name in it's own right. I'm not one hundred percent sure yet!

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    Stories that lead to stories

    One of the great joys I've experienced since starting to trace my family tree is the joy of meeting and talking with people in the family I never really knew. Not only does this speak to me on a profoundly emotional level, but it also helps out a great deal with the giant jigsaw that is a family.

    As I've previously blogged about, I decided to try and interview whoever I could about my family. To begin with, I spoke with my Mum and Dad. My parents are moving out of the country, and as they are doing so, they have dug up a few old photographs that had been shared with them. As we spoke about the photos, Dad was able to remember several little events and point out to me who the people were in the photographs. People have names, names lead to questions, which lead to stories, which lead to more things to talk about :)

    As I asked questions about Dad's Mum, Iris Griffiths, he pointed me in the direction of her sister Ruth. I do not think I have ever met Ruth but someone had taught her how to use Facebook. I instantly felt a strong connection with her as Ruth began to answer the many many questions I have about Iris, her family and life as she grew up. I now count Ruth as a good friend and I am honored to spend time each week picking her brain for little tidbits of information. As we spoke (or rather, typed) Ruth thought of someone else I should contact. She helped me get in touch with the daughter of her brother David.

    Today I had the first conversation with my "First cousin once removed." At least I believe that's the term! Her mother (Betty or Rosemary) is still alive and now I will be able to send some questions to her mother via email. Just from the few minutes I have spoken to my newly found cousin, I have already found out some great information. More details will be forthcoming.

    I'm a Christian and deeply interested in my ancestors faith as well. Turns out my Great Grand Parents on Grandma Iris' side were descended from theJews. Rosemary might be able to shed some light on this and I am super excited about asking questions and hearing the stories that will help explain this connection! So this tree here - will hopefully become more than blank slots!

    So for those who still have relatives living that can share stories you yourself have not experienced, or remember information you simply do not know - ask them about their life while you still can! This week there are more people I'm hoping to connect with. My Auntie Wendy (Dad's sister), my Aunt Winnie (My Mum's aunt), and my Uncle Michael (Mum's brother). So much to learn and so little time. I can't wait to hear from them!

    There's an old African proverb that says, "When an old man dies a library burns down." I think this was made famous during a 70's T.V. program called "Roots." I'm glad that part of the "library" these people contain can now be passed on!

    Saturday, June 23, 2012

    The Grandma I Never Knew. Part 1 1918-1938

    (Based on birth and marriage records, and an interview with Ruth Griffiths, younger sister of Iris Griffiths. All quotes are from the interview with Ruth Griffith in June 2012)

    The Early Years

    Iris Griffiths was born to a Harold. E. Griffiths, and Annie Griffiths (Formerly Simpkins) on the 25th February 1918, in Wales.[1] She was the second of 9 children who despite the family moving around a great deal, were always born in Wales. As Ruth, one of the younger sisters would later say, “Mum & dad wanted all the children to be born in Wales as Dad wanted us all to be true Welsh. Mum would stay in Wales for 6 weeks.” (Just enough time to ensure they were registered there.) Though many of Iris’ siblings would be named after people from the Bible, her father Harold was not yet a Christian[2] and both Iris and her older sister Annie were not named in this fashion.
    Wales at the time was dominated by the mining industry and in the early years her father, as with most of the community, would go daily to the mines and complete another hard day’s work. Even the walk to the mines could be quite long, over hilly terrain no matter what the weather had to offer. It is important to remember that while countries such as the U.S.A. were not suffering from a depression in the 1920’s, most of Britain was. World War 1 had left Britain in debt and with a significant cut in economic output. People were glad for what work they had.

    Life in those days was without the creature comforts we are now so familiar with. Even a cup of tea would require collecting water from a pump, lighting a fire and then finally beginning to boil the water. There were no washing machines or dryers, clothes would be washed in the sink or at the well. Iris eldest sister Annie, although born mostly blind still did a lot of the house work.

    Iris loved dancing and by the 1930’s she liked a certain man named William [Bill] Sargeant. Bill, by all accounts, was a genuine nice warm fellow and Iris would sneak out at nights and go down to the local dance hall so they could dance together. This showed a certain mischievous streak, for by this time Iris father was a vicar and would not allow dancing as it was, “mixing with the world.” It therefore should come as no surprise that her father would often check on her at night. Finding her bed empty he knew exactly where his dancing, life filled daughter would be. Making his own way to the local dance hall he would confront Iris and bring her home. It didn’t seem to stop her for long though, for as her younger sister Ruth would recall, “This happened quite a few times.”

    Finally, at age 18 on Dec 19th 1936, Iris married Bill. The wedding took place at the Wesleyan Chapel, Cheddleton, Cheadle, Staffordshire, England. Since Iris was 18, she must have had her father’s permission. Harold was the sort of man you would want permission from and since Iris was not yet 21 it was unlikely she did not have it. No doubt Harold secretly liked the spritely lad who would oft' spirit away his daughter to the local dance halls. Unfortunately the marriage was not to be for long. Bill died in 1937, soon after their wedding. He had suffered from ear ache for quite some time and soon after they were married, Iris, being the determined woman she was, finally convinced him to go to the hospital and have it seen to. He never came back from the hospital. There had been something seriously wrong with the mastoid in his ear. Despite the sadness of this time it did pave the way forward for a different life that would eventually take Iris half way around the world to Southern Rhodesia in Africa.


    [1] On January 27th 2017 I looked through old records provided me by a family member and discovered that I believe Ruth must have Iris' birth year wrong. I think it was 1916, which would make Iris 20 when she married William Sargeant.
    [2] A short biographical pamphlet published in 1950 for the opening of Milton Hall, Assemblies of God, lists Harold Griffiths conversion date as 1922.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012

    Interviewing Family

    As I have been asking my Dad questions about his mum I have discovered one of my grandma's younger sisters is still alive. Her name is Ruth Salmon (Formerly Ruth Griffiths) and she lives in Stoke on Trent, where her family has lived for many years. But what a discovery, for this now means I can ask Ruth many questions about Iris childhood that I otherwise would not have been able to ask and may have never known!

    Suffice to say I have been doing just that. Now with Ruth living in England and I living in the U.S.A. I have been asking these questions via email and Facebook. Initially I jumped straight in and asked a couple of questions about Iris first husband William. No one knew much about him in my family and although Ruth was not able to say too much I did discover a couple of little things. From here I dove into my grandma's personality and early years. A friend and genealogy blogger Bill West suggested interviewing via photographs. I have not been able to conduct this method yet because I have no pictures of Iris from situations Ruth will have known. All my photographs of Iris were from when she lived in Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe.) I am using this method with my Uncle Glyn however!

    I used this website as an outline for questions I can ask.

    I found it quite useful and I am sure it will be beneficial for those who have no idea where to start with such interviews! I am now looking forward to a blog post entitled, "The Grandma I never knew." It may still be many days away but I am beginning to create a write up of all the interesting facts about Iris that will help give me a glimpse at who she really is!

    Sunday, June 17, 2012

    Getting Started

    So when I decided to start researching the genealogy of my family I had no idea where to begin. I'm sure others who are making such a decision are also asking the same question, 'Where the heck do I start?' I asked a friend. I found someone who was interested in genealogy and had kept their own blog and records. I asked for tips and they gave me a few websites to start a family tree, some software to keep it on and websites to search for records.

    The website I was directed to was . It allows you to download some great software for beginning your family tree. I then went to which is a database initiated by the church of LDS. They have done a great job working to make many many records free for those that need it. This is a good general database to begin using.

    This of course led me to helping with their indexing myself. Indexing is when you take an image of a record and transcribe it into an electronic format that is searchable. I'll write more about indexing on another day.

    The next thing I did was ask my family members what they knew of our past. I discovered that two of them had already started researching my families past. My Uncle Michael had researched my Mum's side, and my second cousin Roy Davies, had researched my Dad's side. My wife's mother had also researched both sides of my wife's family.It was perfect really. I know most people won't be fortunate enough to have so many involved in genealogy in their family, but the principle of asking family members for help still remains.

    I'm only a couple of weeks into it but the last tip I have is to write everything down! I keep a word document that I record all my notes in as I'm talking with family members and I am buying a journal that I will be able to keep notes in if my laptop is unavailable. So write and record, you always think you will remember but you rarely remember all of the details!

    So in Summary:

    1) Make the decision

    2) Ask anyone you know who does genealogy - for tips etc.

    3) Check out some basic genealogy websites that provide free information

    4) Talk with family members

    5) Keep a journal / log of everything

    I'm still learning, but I'll keep sharing as I do!

    Saturday, June 16, 2012

    Digging Deeper

    I feel like I've learned so much in the last two weeks it's incredible. I have discovered little things about my family and alot about how to research genealogy, the websites and with its affiliates. I have discovered and PAF - files types I didn't even know existed until two weeks ago. What a learning curve I'm on. I am so glad I took the leap to finally pursue this.

    I've been blessed with other family members who have already done alot of the hard work for me. My wifes mum has traced her family tree back several generations and has many many folders full of family trees, profiles, stories and documents. This tells me so much about the Dell's and Bhatt's. Both sides of that family are so interesting, with involvement in Ghandi's movement in India and creating mills here in the U.S.A. My wife's half Indian so that whole culture is fascinating to learn about.

    On my side of the family, my uncle traced my mothers parents family tree back 200 years with dates and marriages etc. My Second cousin has traced my Dad's family back just as long. They are full of fascinating questions and stories, many of which I hope to relate to the general public on this blog over the coming years. For now let me leave you with this tidbit of information:

    This document is so important for a variety of reasons. While right now every person mentioned in this newspaper article is alive (Except for Mr. and Mrs. Idris Davies), one day they won't be. Being from Zimbabwe it is really difficult to discover many of the records kept there. This article provides a fascinating insight into my Uncle Glyn (Formerly spelled Glyndwr), my Auntie Wendy and even a little bit of information about my Dad, Merthyn Owen Davies. It's already inspired me to interview my Dad when he comes over at Christmas. The interview will be all about life in Umtali and the schools he was a part of. I'm sure my Dad will love sharing those stories and I hope they're interesting enough that you will enjoy reading them too!

    Friday, June 8, 2012


    As I determined to start discovering my families history and ancestry I sent some quick emails to my Uncle Michael and a certain Roy Davies. I'm not sure at this stage how Roy is related to me but I think he's my Dad's cousin. I know it's terrible that I don't even know that yet but I shall and you shall hear about it when I figure it out!

    Roy has a lot of information from my Dad's side but has not yet sent me the details though he will! On the other hand, my Uncle sent me an email with birth dates and names of my mums side of the family. My Grandad - Ernest Frederick Hilton was born in Tamworth and it appears his family lived there for a good 150 years before he moved. I know that one of his sisters is still alive and sends me a Birthday card every year. She's amazing! They still live in Tamworth although my Grandad moved to Cleethorpes in the North East of England where my mum was born.

    I've published the family tree that my Uncle has put together. It can be found here:

    My Uncle sent another interesting tidbit. I'll quote him,

    "It would appear that the Hilton's started in Tamworth but some finished in the Workhouse and from there were sent to Wolverhampton area to work in terrible conditions as locksmiths in back to back houses before returning when that industry started to decline."
    So I'm happy; the journey has started and hopefully I can help add to what my Uncle has already discovered!

    Monday, June 4, 2012

    Venturing Forth

    An old friend of mine started blogging about his family one day. When I say his family, I mean his extended family, as in extending into the past. His blogs fascinated me. You see it was a genealogy blog. He was searching into his families past and putting together a history that would otherwise have been forgotten. I never told him this but I am pretty sure I loved the short stories he would share almost as much as he did. You see, until he uncovered the tales of his ancestors they were a mystery. In my eyes, genealogy is like that. Gradually, over time you peel back the pages of this novel and discover the mystery within. Only instead of starting from the beginning and reading forwards, you're starting from a point somewhere (hopefully) in the middle of the book and reading backwards.

    Orson Scott Card wrote a book called "Pastwatch." In Pastwatch historians of the future would watch history happen through a machine that allowed you to view the past. Some of them chose to focus on a particular individual and watch their life backwards, seeing the events before the causes. This idea fascinates me!

    So I've decided to join my friend and hopefully discover some of the tall tales of my own ancestors. This blog is dedicated to such findings. I'll let you know everything; from starting out on the genealogy journey, conversations with family members and maybe you will catch the bug too. Perhaps you're like me? You're thinking how the heck do I start to find my families genealogy? Where do I start? I've often found the best thing to do in such situations is to dive right in. That's what I'm doing. I truly hope you have as much fun reading this as I do sharing it!