Sunday, 6 September 2015

Honouring the "Action by a Farmer's Daughter"

After stumbling upon the Welsh Newspapers Online site a few years ago, I've become addicted to it - checking back often to see new editions, newspapers and content added. When I've hit roadblocks in my research or enter the research doldrums, it's a great diversion and often returns unanticipated treasures like the one I want to tell you about.

I've always wondered about the birth of William Spickett Ball, 1892-1982, the illegitimate son of Charlotte Ball, elder sister of my great-grandfather, Thomas Huxtable Ball. There also always seemed to be an air of mystery to him - at least for those of us in Canada - no name, no details. Late one night, on a whim, I entered the name of "Charlotte Ball" and hit enter and began scrolling through the list of entries.

Imagine my excitement when I came across this 15 July 1893 Cardiff Times article:

You can read the full article here.

Our Charlotte sued the father of her child for breach of promise and won in a Cardiff court in July 1893! And she was awarded a 350 GBP damages settlement, which in today's money amounted to nearly 34,600 GBP. Whether she ever received the settlement is another question and research query.

Charlotte had been living with her brother, John Ball, who farmed at Ty Gwyn in St. Andrew's Major, Glamorgan, when she met her suitor, William Howell Spickett of Cadoxton. On the 1891 census, she is shown living there with John and younger brother, Thomas.

On reading the article, I could not help but feel proud that she had taken Spickett to court. As a single mother in the late 19th century, there would have been some measure of public disapproval in her decision to keep her child. Despite the "fair damsel" description of her in court, she pursued Spickett for his breach of promise to marry her and to provide for their child.

Charlotte - you rock.

Cheers, K.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Welsh Newspapers Online - my new happy place

In searching around for information about South Wales, I happened to come across a great genealogy and history resource - Welsh Newspapers Online. Created by the National Library of Wales, the database is a free online resource. It contains over 1.1 million pages from over 120 newspapers, from 1804 to 1919. According to the introductory page on the site, it also includes the digitized content from The Welsh Experience of World War One Project.

The search page allows you to specify if you wish to search Welsh or English language content, specific newspapers, date ranges or article types.

If you like to browse, you can do so by title or by titles in a geographic region. I've found it interesting and informative to browse titles within a geographic region to get an idea of coverage, focus and publication dates. The helpful calendar of published issues makes searching for a specific event or occasion that much easier. For an example of the calendar and publication information for the Cambrian, click here.

Happy searching!
Cheers, K.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Final Day and Farewell

Our last day in Cardiff was bittersweet. I knew that our stay was coming to an end, but we were going to meet another third cousin that evening for a drink.

The clouds had cleared out and the sun was again shining. My daughter and I headed out to the Cardiff Library for a quick visit and to check out some of the shops in The Hayes, the pedestrian mall, which the Library anchors.

Cardiff Library
We had heard several stories about "Chippy Lane" and the late night adventures of my family in Cardiff in the wild days of their youths  We managed to find it - but, alas, we were there too early in the morning to sample any food. 

Still having the car, we decided to take a run out to Caerphilly to see the castle and for some lunch. Luckily for us, it is pretty much a straight drive north from downtown Cardiff, so we were able to find it.  We bought sandwiches, crisps and tea and sat underneath a canopy of trees near the castle and ate our lunch.
Caerphilly Castle
After a walk through town, we stopped by the tourism office and had a lovely chat with one of the staff members - who could tell by our accents that we were Canadian as she had family on the Prairies. She recommended stopping at Castle Coch on our return to Cardiff.

I am glad that we did take her advice as we had a wonderful afternoon exploring Lord Bute's medieval fantasy  - in another beautiful setting. The drive back to Cardiff was slow with traffic, but we didn't get lost!

Castle Coch

My cousin met us at our hotel. She was a descendant of Elizabeth (Ball) Edwards, an elder sister to my great grandfather, Thomas. We headed down to a nearby pub for a drink and spent some time sharing stories of our childhoods and families.  Again, it felt as if we knew each other for years - despite the fact that we had only recently found each other doing family history research online.  I loved her laugh and she made me think of my Dad - who had the same infectious laugh and attitude. 

As we boarded the train at the Central Station for Bath, I was so happy that we had come to Wales. I been able to meet the descendants of John, Henry and Elizabeth Ball - making the connection with my Thomas who left Penarth in the late 1890s, never to return again. As our train disappeared into the Severn tunnel, I couldn't help but think that I would return as there was so much research to be done, so many things to see and do.

Our trip continued onto Bath, London and Paris and many new adventures and memories. However, for me, Wales was the highlight of the trip.

Cheers, K.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Dinner, Driving and Discovery

After our visit to Dinas Powys, we braved the roads and returned to Cardiff  - mind you, not by the route that we had intended to take. We never seemed to take the same road twice - driving on the opposite side of the road completely turned around my sense of direction and orientation. After a few missed turns and exits, we made a hasty retreat to our hotel to change and to meet another set of my cousins and their mother for dinner in Cardiff Bay.

Luckily, we chose to walk - so my map skills were back on track.  It was a lovely, warm and sunny evening, perfect for a walk and another adventure. When we reached the forecourt of the Millenium Centre, we stood for a moment scanning the crowd milling about.
Wales Millenium Centre - Cardiff Bay
Much to my delight, I saw my cousin waving to us. We had been found! After hugs and introductions, we walked over to a  wonderful Italian restaurant  and ate dinner on a balcony overlooking Cardiff Bay. We talked like old friends and it really felt like being 'at home' again. The meal, like the company and conversation, was perfect. To this day, my husband still talks about the spaghetti carbonara that he had that night. After a drink at a nearby pub, we said our good-byes and headed back to the hotel.

Originally, we had planned on driving to South Molton and Filleigh to visit the home of my Ball ancestors in Devon as a day trip. I soon realized that there was so much to see in Wales and decided to go to the Gower for the day to explore the area where my great-grandfather had been born.  The day started out rainy and wet, but after a stop in Mumbles, the sky started to clear. I loved the windy narrow roads, but always jumped when we rounded a corner and passed vehicles going in the opposite direction. We landed at Rhossili just after lunch as the sun was coming out.

The area was, in a word, breathtaking. The view of the bay and Worm's Head was spectacular. It truly is an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty".
Worm's Head, Rhossili
We walked along the promontory taking it all in - we even got to some sheep grazing on the cliffs and hills in the park.

On the way home, we stopped in Scurlage, the birthplace of Thomas, my great-grandfather (1875-1941) and I had a quick walk around, trying to imagine what life would have been like in the late 19th century Gower.
We also passed the road to Reynoldston, the home of William James Ball (1858-1922), the eldest son of William Huxtable (1837-1927), whose life had a tragic end in the Brigend Asylum.  Every bend in the road told a story and the place names seemed all very familiar.

As we neared Swansea, we managed to get lost in rush-hour traffic, but eventually made it back to Penarth. We dropped by the home of my cousin (with whom we had dinner the night before) and he gave us a fascinating tour of the town where our family lived. The clouds had rolled in again, lending a perfect sombre backdrop to St. Augustine's Church where my 2x great-grandparents, William and Charlotte Ball are buried.

St. Augustine's Church, Penarth

We walked along the beautiful Penarth pier (which was still under renovation) and saw many more sight where family lived, worked and played. Knowing my fascination with the BBC series, Gavin & Stacey, my cousin happily pointed out several exteriors and landmarks which appeared in the show, including a church hall in which his mother's aunt had been married. Our evening ended with a quick visit with my cousin and his family and yet another unknown route back to Cardiff.
Penarth Pier

All in all, another perfect day.

Cheers, K.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Meeting Family and History - Continued

Well, that was a long break! Yes, a year away from this blog - far too long. I've missed doing my own family history research and feel the need to get back to doing something that I've loved doing... So I'll dispense with the excuses and jump back into finishing my Wales holiday story.

To pick up where I left off....

The next day we drove back out to Penarth to explore. I was particularly interested in seeing Plassey Street, where 2x great-grandfather, William Huxtable Ball, lived with his family.  The skies were clear and the sun shone overhead - an auspicious start to a new adventure. We managed to make it to the town centre, after a detour to see the marina, and headed to a pub for a bite to eat.  On our drive up, I recognized several streets that I had researched and caught a glimpse of the end of Plassey Street.

After lunch, we left the pub, rounded the corner and arrived - Plassey Street!
Plassey Street, Penarth
I recognized the former Plassey Street Tabernacle  and passed by #96, where my great-grandfather's brother, Henry had lived with his family. As we headed down the hill towards #140, I could not help but think that I was walking the road where Thomas and his  family had walked before - how life had changed for Thomas from this quiet, quaint street to the bustle of Leeds, to a transatlantic sail to Montreal and cross-country train ride to Vancouver, where he and Annie raised their family in the shadow of the mountains, the smell of cedars and the fresh sea air. When we reached #140, I couldn't resist crossing the street to take a photo (it's the house with the open door).  It was special to be there and to take it all in.
Home of Wm Huxtable Ball 1837-1927 - 140 Plassey St.

We had made arrangements to visit a relative in Dinas Powys later that afternoon so we headed along Stanwell Road to the Penarth Library.
Penarth Library
William Spickett Ball (aka Billy Ball) had been the library caretaker for about 25 years and lived in the cottage behind the library. I also wanted to thank Marcus Payne, the Branch Librarian, for all his assistance with my research.  I left my husband and daughter to explore the shops while I stopped at the library. Marcus was a most gracious host, giving me a tour of the library, including the cottage which has been incorporated into the main building. We ended our tour in the former back garden. It as a lovely treat to meet Marcus and I shall be forever grateful for his assistance in solving the mystery that was Billy.

St. Andrew's Church, St. Andrews Major
After a few missed turns, we arrived in Dinas Powys mid-afternoon and met with my second cousin, once removed (his great-grandfather was my 2x great-grandfather). He suggested a quick drive out to Ty Gwyn, John Ball's farm in St. Andrews Major, just a couple of kilometers from his home.  As we came up to the the parish church, we stopped at the graveyard where John and Ruth Ball and children, Gwen and Nelson were buried. The beautiful Norman church in its bucolic setting seemed perfect - a lovely, quiet and peaceful place.

Ty Gwyn Farm, St. Andrews Major
 We walked around the perimeter of John's farm to get a sense of his holdings and stopped by Ty Gwyn, the old farmhouse where John and his family lived.  Our afternoon ended at my cousin's house for a cup of tea - which was the perfect ending to a lovely day retracing my family roots in Penarth.

As we drove back into Cardiff, I could hardly believe all the connections, sites and people that we had encountered.  Our evening was yet to hold more treasured moments. More on that soon...

Cheers, Karen

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Meeting Family and History

Cardiff Castle - 29 July 2013
The sun was shining as our train pulled into Cardiff on July 29th.  Shortly after arriving, I received welcome emails and texts from my cousins - which were delightful and made me feel at home. One of them sent a list of pubs near our hotel that we could try - knowing my husband wanted to sample UK lagers and ales and I was on a bit of quest for the perfect pint of cider.

As we explored Cardiff and the Castle, I kept thinking about what the city would have looked like to Thomas before he left in the late 1890s. Why had he been the only one of six siblings to have left Wales? It's still a mystery, but I think that he must not have left willingly - Wales is such a  beautiful place.

We had been invited to Penarth for dinner on the day of our arrival. My cousin arranged to meet us in the lobby of our hotel that evening. As I stepped out the elevator, I instantly recognized him - the first thing I noticed was his blue eyes - a trait common to my siblings and myself. He drove us to his home, where we met his family and father.  We had a lovely meal and shared many stories of our upbringings, ancestors and life in general.  When it was discovered that my husband was originally a Nottingham lad, they forgave him for being English (actually, he's more Canadian than English as he grew up here). I have to say that it felt like family.  I brought copies of my current research and photos to share - and learned many new stories and some possible clues to mysteries yet unsolved. It was a lovely evening, made all the more special by our hosts.

A perfect first day to our Welsh adventure.

Cheers, Karen

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


After a very long break, I'm back. Work has been crazy busy - we moved the Local History collection twice and have now finally settled into our final location.  I have also launched a large WW1 volunteer project, a blog Historically Speaking and entered the Twitterverse .

Despite the busy-ness, I really missed working on my own family history and have decided to carve out time to pursue this once again. As summer rolls around again, memories of our trip to South Wales have flooded back and I'd like to share those with you.

As we landed at Gatwick on July 27th last year, the anticipation of meeting my Welsh cousins and seeing the hometowns of my great-grandfather, Thomas Huxtable Ball, was sweet.  My husband and daughter were eager to see all the sights, but for me, Cardiff was going to be the highlight of my trip.

After the overnight flight to the UK and the train ride to Oxford, we tried to soak in as much of this wonderous university town as much as we could before crashing for the night. The next day, we made the pilgrimage to the Bodleian Library and wandered through the hallowed laneways and courtyards of the University.  I even managed to have my first pint of real cider on tap - a luxury not often found at home.  However, all through the day, I could not help but wonder what it would be like rolling into Cardiff and meeting up with my third cousin Matthew and his family for dinner.

The next morning, we made the long walk with suitcases in tow to the train station and boarded the first of two trains, headed in the direction of Cardiff. We changed trains at Didcot Parkway, just outside of Oxford.  I didn't let the ominous skies dampen my excitement.

As our train pulled into Cardiff, I felt like it was a bit of a homecoming.

Stay tuned!

Cheers, K.