Some seriously grave research

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Back in January, Philip John from Neath rang BBC Radio Wales asking for advice regarding his grandmother, Annie Gertrude John (nee Whiskerd).

Annie had given birth to a baby girl in 1911. Baby Phyllis Whiskerd was adopted and Philip wanted to know what he could do to try and find out more about her. Researching adoption is never a simple task however Philip's research was made harder by the lack of an adoption file or any relevant paperwork since adoption was not formally introduced in the UK until 1926 under the terms of the Adoption of Children Act.

Left: Annie and Arthur. Right: Annie Gertrude Whiskerd. Images courtesy of Philip John

I remember telling Philip live on air that this would be an incredibly hard task because of the lack of evidence but he has persevered. He had already obtained a copy of Phyllis' original birth certificate, which confirmed that she was born on 10 August 1911 in Margam.

Entering this date of birth with just Phyllis' first name into the death indexes on Ancestry's website came up with a match for a Phyllis Evans who died in 1991 in the Neath district.

Determined to find more Philip visited the library to search for an obituary or death notice. Incredibly despite not having a precise date of death or location, he found an entry in the South Wales Evening Post which confirmed that Phyllis was married and mentioned the fact that she had children and grandchildren. It also provided her last address and the details of her burial at Morriston cemetery. 

Following Philip's lead I obtained a copy of the death certificate via the General Register Office for £9.25, which confirmed that Phyllis' maiden name was Whiskerd. I also sent an email to Morriston cemetery in Swansea who have very kindly provided me with all the details and also sent a photograph of Phyllis' grave.

Image courtesy of City and County of Swansea Registrar of Cemeteries and Crematorium

As we speak (or rather as I write) I am trying to trace Phyllis' children or grandchildren but searching for Evans’ in Wales is tough and I have been defeated. However one unusual method occurred to me, having heard of a similar successful story in the past.

Perhaps if Philip were to pay a visit to Phyllis' grave and lay a bunch of flowers with a (waterproof) note carefully attached then the next family member who visited the grave would be able to get in touch with him.

Someone who might just have seen this type of "tracing methodology" is Charles Sale since he spends a lot of his time ensuring that the information provided in churchyards and cemeteries is never forgotten and readily available.

Charles set up and voluntarily runs a project called the Gravestone Photographic Resource that among other things aims to photograph gravestones throughout the world!

Charles is determined to digitally photograph grave monuments worldwide that are currently legible and extract all the personal information with a view to publishing this information on an internet database. Not only that he aims to make available copies of any grave monument image free of charge to anyone requesting a copy. He's my graveyard hero!

Obviously this is neither a simple or quick task and he needs your help.

So far on his website there are 2,520 cemeteries listed with 49,900 different surnames taken from 380,000 graves across 32 countries.

St Mary Magdalene Church in Monmouthshire and a deteriorating grave in Flintshire

If you go to visit this page on his website it takes you to the Welsh page and you can see the scale of the task ahead.

And finally... as we are just a few days away from Mothering Sunday I would like to mention Bob Atkins from Newport who contacted me asking for help to find his mother... or more specifically to help trace his mother on the 1911 census. 

Eliza Reed was one of twins born in Newport on 4 December 1905. Her twin brother William, older brothers and parents George and Fanny Reed are all shown at 53 Hoskin Street on the 1911 census but there is no sign of little Eliza. We know she survived because obviously she is Bob's mother! I have spent many happy hours looking but still cannot find any trace of Eliza. Can you find her?

My best guess is simply that on the night of Sunday 2 April 1911 five-year-old Eliza was staying overnight with friends or relatives who assumed that her father would enter her details onto the household return. Meanwhile he assumed that they would put her details onto their return. Such a simple and honest mistake, and one which may never have been realised until now.

Alternatively, perhaps George Henry Reed simply got distracted (possibly after a glass of beer or two!) and forgot to mention poor Eliza... a bit like when I sent off a cheque recently without signing it after a glass of red wine!

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