Never Trust a Document…or a Gravestone

I’m tickled pink that I’ve had comments about document wrongnesses in other people’s families – Norah’s gt-gran Jane who was really ‘Mercy’; her ancestor Cornelius who apparently died at 115; MJ’s gt-gran who varied her forename AND her surname …(quite…); and Melvin, you are SO RIGHT to say “do not accept anything…without verifying the facts”. And thanks to Donna for the encouragement – since I’ve never done this before, it’s very welcome.

If you remember Martha, the mother in my first blog, I’m inviting you to follow a little more of her life as the subject of a ‘wrong’ document; and then share a few words about her mother’s ‘wrong’ gravestone.

Martha’s parents were from the far west of Wales, in St Davids, Pembrokeshire; but because her father was a gunner in the Royal Marines Artillery,  the family were settled at his home base of Portsmouth in England, where Martha’s  elder brother Felix had been born 18 months before her.

But Martha’s birth in 1852 was back home in St Davids – presumably her mother had gone there for the birth for the practical reason of family support with her toddler and the expected baby, since Martha’s father Lewis was sailing the Mediterranean  aboard HMS ‘Rodney’.

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Lewis was probably a fine husband and father, but unfortunately seemed to be in the habit of being in the Med or the Baltic or some other sea when he was really needed at home. Still, I shouldn’t be censorious of him – my own husband is missing his grandson’s birthday tomorrow because he has to build a concrete base (though, to be fair to him, he was on the way to finishing it today until his faithful helper KindMike damaged himself and had to be taken to A&E – for the tender-hearted among my readers, Mike is in some pain but basically ok, while I spent a very pleasant afternoon in the waiting area of A&E reading ‘Homes and Gardens’ and wishing I had either pots of money or some design flair, or possibly both).

So – to return to baby Martha; she has been born and the grans want her to be baptised. Baby Martha’s parents haven’t had Felix baptised yet, so both siblings would be ‘done’ at St Davids. You might imagine they would be baptised together?  Not according to the Baptism Register:


At the bottom of p187, Felix was baptised                                                    while at the top of p188, Martha was

on Tuesday 16 November 1852                                                                   baptised on Sunday 14 November 1852.


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A very simple slip of the pen, but an illustration of how easy it is to make a mistake in a date, even in a Parish Register.  I imagine the children were baptised on the Sunday, just because it seems a more convenient day. And what confused the Rev. W. Richardson, Perpetual Curate?  Dunno – but who’s to say that one or even both babies were less than well-behaved during the ceremony?

Before I move on to the gravestone of Martha’s mother, I’ll make a small digression to tell you about St Davids.  It’s a village of about 2000 souls, but ranks as a city because at the centre of the village is a truly magnificent cathedral.  And the cathedral is also the parish church of this community and the surrounding area. So a rather grand place for my ancestors, humble farmers and seamen, to be ‘hatched, matched and dispatched’.  You might hope that they were stirred within their souls to respond appropriately to this high Anglican calling.  Faint hope….mostly they responded much more readily to the call of non-conformity, especially in this generation.

And here’s what really interests me about the baptism of Felix and Martha; none of their younger siblings were baptised into the Anglican church, as far as I can see from Parish Records. So were their parents, Gunner Lewis and Sarah, already turning to non-conformity, but maybe Sarah, alone while Lewis was off on his jaunt in the ‘Rodney,’ didn’t have the courage to stand up to the urgings of the grand-parents in St Davids that the children be ‘done’ and ‘done properly’ in the cathedral, as previous generations had been? Dunno again – but I wonder?  Maybe she wasn’t the stuff of which martyrs are made.

Onto Sarah’s gravestone (mother of Martha, if you’ve lost the plot).

By the time she died, Sarah was definitely a non-conformist, worshipping at the little Independent  chapel in the hamlet of Berea, near St Davids.

Here’s her gravestone:


The inscription reads (in translation from Welsh):

In remembrance of Lewis Lewis born 8 Jan 1821 in the city of St David died 21 Sept 1891 in Abereiddi

Also Sarah his wife b 11 Sept 1828 in the city of St David died 25 May 1898 in Caerhys.

And the mistake?  Sarah wasn’t born in 1828, but in 1827 (I have her baptism in 1827, so unless her baptism pre-empted her birth…..?).  Maybe her children mistook her year of birth, or maybe she had shaved a year off. It’s a very minor error, of course, set against the other identifying information on the gravestone, but useful to remember that no written information should be taken at face value. – even if it is set in stone.

I think next time, I’ll move on to look at a couple of marriage certificates – plenty of scope for mistakes there, as many of us have discovered.

4 thoughts on “Never Trust a Document…or a Gravestone”

  1. Elaine, enjoyed reading your article, a first time for me. The story, interesting, and the humor, fun. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Oh dear, Janis – I have an idea that Iowa and Kansas are both rather larger than St Davids [or even Wales]. Why is he supposed to be buried in two states? What’s the story?
    I must blog about my Uncle Felix one day, who actually IS buried in two different graves – but that’s another story, and slightly gruesome.

  3. Great article. I have one of these except it is a ggrandfather who is supposedly buried in Iowa but also Kansas so will conitnue to work on this one.

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