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!