Happiness and Tragedy – Exploring Anglesey Parish Records on Ancestry.co.uk

There was much joy among family history researchers recently as the genealogical database company Ancestry.co.uk announced the availability online of millions of parish records from across Wales. Their new collections include more than 765,000 baptism, marriage and burial records from Anglican/Church in Wales churches on Anglesey, dating from 1547 to 1994.

I’ve been an enthusiastic genealogist for many years and use Ancestry regularly. However, as an American transplanted to Anglesey, I don’t actually have any Anglesey ancestors who would appear in these records (although I can claim descent from the Princes of Gwynedd and a connection to the Tudors of Penmynydd). But these can also be a great resource for general historical research. So I decided to have a dig around in the records to see what I could find of interest. What I found were stories of the happiness of birth and marriage, but also of tragedy.

If you are interested in searching these records, but do not have an Ancestry.co.uk subscription, you can access it for free at most libraries.

Who’s Who?

I started by searching for some famous names. First up was the artist Kyffin Williams, who was the subject of the ‘K’ chapter in my new book A-Z of the Isle of Anglesey. He was in the Llangefni register, with his parents the unusually named Henry Inglis Wynne Williams and Essyllt Mary Williams.

His parents were married in Pentraeth in 1915…

… and his grandfather Owen was born in 1829.

Owen’s father James was the rector of Llanfairynghornwy (where Kyffin was buried), and he and his wife Francis were instrumental in establishing the Anglesey Association for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (a forerunner of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution) after witnessing a fatal shipwreck off the northwest coast of Anglesey.

Kyffin’s great-great uncle Thomas Williams, who was involved in the development of the Parys Mountain copper mine and was one of the richest men in Wales in the late 18th century, can be found in the Llanidan burial records

I branched out to other prominent Anglesey names , starting with the Bulkeleys (the subjects of the ‘B’ chapter of A-Z of the Isle of Anglesey). I found the burials of a trio of Richard Williams-Bulkeleys, the 10th, 11th and 12th Baronets of Baron Hill, Beaumaris.

A distant relative of theirs, William Bulkeley of Brynddu, was baptised in Llanfechell in 1691:

He went on the inherit the Brynddu estate, but more famously kept meticulous diaries that documented life on Anglesey in the 18th century. They can be read online at bulkeleydiaries.bangor.ac.uk.

Of course far more people in these records weren’t the rich or famous. But there are still stories behind their entries. In 1850 a William Jewett married Hannah Hughes. He was a boilermaker working on the construction of the Britannia Bridge (and probably living in the workers’ accommodation on site). His name sounds English rather than local, so I guessed he came here for work and married a local lass.

A quick search through the census records on Ancestry shows that in 1871 a William Jewett and his wife Hannah (she was born in North Wales, he in Manchester) were living in Portsea, Hampshire with their seven children, where he was building ships. The birthplaces of the children show they moved around a lot: Plymouth, Newton Abbott, Southampton. In 1881 they were living in Southcoates, Yorkshire, where he was still building ships.

Other bridge-connected records were of the sons of Henry Fisher, who was the first keeper of the Menai Suspension Bridge after its completion in 1826. They would have been born in the Bridge House at the Gwynedd end of the bridge. Here is Henry Jr’s baptism record:

The Royal Charter

Alongside the happiness of baptisms and marriages, there is also the sadness of the burials. But some of these reflect a much wider tragedy than the individual losses. I specifically went looking for what the records could tell us about the Royal Charter sinking.

On 26 October 1859 the steam clipper Royal Charter, returning from Australia, sank in a storm on the rocks near Moelfre, with the loss of over 400 lives. You can read more about this on my web site.

The closest church, at Llanallgo, bore the brunt of dealing with the dead, so I found the pages from their parish records. I was stunned to see just a single entry for many of the dead, with the actual number repeatedly scratched out and revised:

I was also surprised to see a familiar name further down the page. Isaac Lewis was a Moelfre-born lad who went to sea and was a crewmember on the Royal Charter. He died in the sinking, within sight of his boyhood home. He reportedly cried out ‘Oh, my father, I’ve come home to die.’ A song was written about him; you can hear it through the YouTube link at the bottom of my web page about the wreck.

Although the initial burials were unnamed, over the next couple of months more victims of the wreck were buried after having been identified. The ones in the record below were from Liverpool and Melbourne.

The task of dealing with the dead fell to the rector of Llanallgo, Stephen Roose Hughes. The burden of attempting to identify the victims, organizing the burials, and writing hundreds of letters to the grieving relatives took a terrible toll on him. The next page in the records show that he died two years later at the early age of 47.

Although most of the victims were buried in Llanallgo, bodies were washed up on the shores of neighbouring parishes, as far away as Pentraeth, and they were buried in those local churchyards. Many were interred in the parish of Penthos Lligwy, whose rector was Hugh Robert Hughes, the brother of Stephen Roose Hughes. Many of the burials in his parish were unidentified. But he attempted to add possibly identifying features, such as initials on crucifixes around their necks. One victim was noted to be “apparently an African”.

Overall, this is a fantastic collection that gives lots of insight to the people of Anglesey. I think I’ll be using this resource a lot in my future historical research.

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