I am trying to identify the parents of my great-grandfather Thomas Jones (born 5 March 1870 in Dowlais, Merthyr Tyfdil, which ties up with all his census entries from 1881 onwards.) I know their names but cannot track them down before or after the birth of one of their only known child.

What I know and how

His father was Thomas Jones, 'Agent', and his mother was Elizabeth (formerly Hughes) -- all this information from his birth certificate (using a date of birth found in the 1939 Register, and verifying with the Merthy Tydfil register ofice that there was no other Thomas Jones born in Dowlais on that date.

By the time of my great-grandfather's marriage in 1893, his father was recorded as a deceased Engine Driver (which probably means a stationery engine at a pit).

Looking for siblings

Searching the GRO indices for other children with the surname Jones and others maiden name Hughes born before and after Thomas isn't a feasible proposition -- Jones and Hughes were very common names in the South Wales coal fields.

Looking at the first census after he was born:

My assumption is that if my Thomas was born in March 1870, his age and birth place in the 1871 census would be given quite accurately.

In the 1871 census there are only 6 candidates born in Dowlais between 1869 and 1871; there are a further 9 born in Merthyr Tydfil. None of them have one or both correct parent(s)...

... except for a Thomas Jones aged 1 in the household of William Harries born abt 1811 and his wife Jane born abt 1816 both in Carmarthenshire. Alongside their unmarried children born 1849 to 1863 (all in Dowlais or Merthyr Tydfil) is an Elizabeth Jones a widow aged 28 (so born abt 1842/1843) in Dowlais and Thomas Jones aged 1 born Dowlais:

1871 census image

(There are no other candidates born Glamorgan with a correct parent and a birthplace that isn't too specific to be an option).

Elizabeth Jones is shown as the granddaugher of William Harries and Jane, which is where this particular difficulty starts.

Can she really be the grandaughter of the head of household?

I have traced Willian and Jane (and their children) back through the censuses to 1851 -- their ages and place of birth are consistent (1811 Carmarthenshire for him and 1818/1820 Carmarthenshire for her.) I've also correlated the childrens' births via the GRO indices and determined that Jane's surname is Matthews. There is a marriage of William Harries to Jane Matthews in 1846Q2 Merthyr Tydfil. I haven't found either of them conclusively in 1841.

However, if Elizabeth Jones was born 1843, her parents would have been born circa 1827 at the latest, so she cannot possibly be the granddaughter of William and Jane -- either as a result of their current marriage or any potential previous marriages (they did marry unusually late in life, so may have had previous marriages).

What other possibilities exist?

It's possible that she's the illegitimate daughter of Jane, but there isn't an Elizabeth Matthews born to mother with the maiden name Matthews in Merthyr Tydfil between 1841 and 1845. She might also be a legitimate daughter of Jane by a previous marriage, but checking for an Elizabeth born to a mother with the MMN Matthews is an impossible task (especially as the GRO indices won't let you search without a surname).

It's possible that she's the daughter of William by a first marriage, and two possibilities born 1841-1845 in Merthyr Tydfil: Elizabeth Harris 1842S (MMN Roberts) and Elizabeth Harris 1842D (MMN Jones) which I have not yet tracked forward to confirm or eliminate them.

My question(s):

Why is she shown as a grand-daughter when she clearly cannot be one? What other relationship might she have to the family with which she is living? How can I confirm any hypotheses about the relationship?

  • Two problems exist with the earlier censuses: the data subjects were often illiterate and so couldn't check the entries made on their behalf; secondly, enumerators weren't all perfect. I've got an 1871 record for my ancestors that shows the mother is aged 39 and the son as 54; they were 59 and 34. This family's Christian names all changed spellings several times and their surname flipped between Brook and Brooke, seemingly at the whim of vicars and enumerators.
    – Nick
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 21:18
  • FreeBMD.org.uk lets you search without a surname. Requesting the marriage certificate from the one you are certain of would show an earlier marriage from the 'widowed' status of the participant.
    – Nick
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 21:33
  • Is "Thomas Janes" in the opening line of the question a typo for Jones?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 21:56
  • I would like to see "looking for siblings" asked as a separate question. I have examples from my research of some records where I learned the names of siblings, and others might also.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 22:02
  • 1
    @JanMurphy School registers maybe but they haven't thrown up anything when I've looked.However, I have a theory I want to run past people -- I may do that in chat as it's a complex set of data and I can't see how to formulate it into a focussed question.
    – user6485
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 8:00

1 Answer 1


I used the FAN principle to solve this, beginning with the earliest point at which I was confident I had either Thomas or Elizabeth accurately identified.

In 1891 Thomas Jones (born 1870) was living at 10 Rees Street with the family of Daniel Davies, including his wife Elizabeth Davies. Daniel was a witness at Thomas's marriage in 1893.

Researching the family of Daniel Davies, I discovered that he had married Elizabeth between 1881 and 1891 (as his wife was an Eleanor in 1881). I then tracked Daniel and Elizabeth Davies forward to 1911 and discovered them living next door to Thomas Jones and his wife Agnes. Significantly, one of Thomas's children (Mary aged about 10) was absent from home; and there was a Mary Jones aged about 10 shown as a 'niece' of Daniel and Elizabeth Davies.

As it looked probable that Elizabeth was related to Thomas, I searched for the marriage of Daniel Davies to an Elizabeth, using the 'years married' data from the 1911 census. There was a single candidate, so I ordered the certificate. This showed Daniel Davies marrying a widow Elizabeth Jones; unfortunately, Elizabeth's father was given as Daniel Williams, and I was looking for a woman with the maiden name Hughes.

I then returned to the Elizabeth Jones I had found in 1871, when she was 28, and calculated when she was likely to have married: after 1861. I next explored the hypothesis that this was my Elizabeth Thomas born Hughes.

There was a single marriage of a Thomas Jones to an Elizabeth Hughes in Merthyr Tydfil after 1861 and before 1870: in June quarter 1862. The certificate gave me the information that this Elizabeth's father was Hugh Hughes. One of the witnesses was Daniel Williams.

Searching for Hugh Hughes and his family, I found him with a daughter Elizabeth in 1851 but not 1861. There was a death recorded in 1853 that proved to be his. By 1861 his wife was married to Daniel Williams; living with the couple was Daniel's stepdaughter Eliza Hughes.

So, I was now certain that the Elizabeth Jones who married Daniel Davies was Thomas Jones's mother; but I did not have absolute proof that she was the same Elizabeth Jones living with William Harries and his wife Jane.

Using the names and birth years of the children of William Harries, and Jane, I had already learned that Jane's maiden name was Matthews and she was born circa 1818 in Carmarthenshire. Looking in more detail at the information about her birth, a light bulb went on. She was born in Llanon Carmarthenshire.

Elizabeth's mother Mary was, according to the censuses, born circa 1821 in Llanon Carmarthenshire. And the names and birth years of her children confirmed that her maiden name was Matthews.

Ordering the marriage certificates for Jane Matthews and for Mary Matthews revealed that the father of both women was Thomas Matthews, a farmer.

It seems most probable (given the ages of the two Matthews women) that Elizabeth Jones born Hughes is the niece of her mother's sister Jane Harries born Matthews, not a granddaughter.

And the Mary Jones shown as the 'Niece' of Elizabeth Davies in 1911 is a grand-daughter.

I have no explanation why this family is so confused about the names of relationships... unless they're groping in English when they talk to the enumerator for translations of words they know perfectly in Welsh.

  • That's a fine bit of detective work! I've seen "niece" used with a bit of flexibility in the 1800s but not grand-daughter. I wonder if Elizabeth was William's god-daughter, but this was mis-heard or mis-transcribed?
    – AndyW
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 11:27
  • @AndyW Unlikely -- the family seem to have been firmly 'chapel'.
    – user6485
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 11:33

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