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Menaces, tripe dressers and the missing Fonza link

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Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 16:30 UK time, Friday, 27 January 2012

Although daylight hours have been in short supply I have spent many happy hours sitting at my kitchen table answering family history queries that are sent to me from people all around the world.

In preparation for this week's appearance on BBC Radio Wales' Jamie and Louise programme I've been busy using a magnifying glass and a dictionary, deciphering old-fashioned writing on various census returns and pre-typewriter civil registration indexes to see whether I can find answers specifically for BBC Radio Wales listeners.

Occupation: Menace

One listener, Jill, wanted to know whether her ancestor Emma Gunning could really have been a "menace", as her occupation states on the 1861 census.

A quick glance at the 1861 census makes me think that Jill was right, her 33-year-old ancestor Emma Gunning's occupation does indeed look like "menace"! But after a while your eyes come into focus and notice that her husband's occupation is absent and that in other census returns he is clearly listed as a Marine, whilst Emma is a Laundress.

While I'd love for Jill to be able to lay claim to having an ancestor who was a menace, it seems that perhaps it was a simple case of the enumerator being a little tired and not concentrating on which lines to follow.

Loop dresser or hoop dresser?

Obviously computers and especially the internet have been invaluable when it comes to family history but when Diana's PC was restored she lost all of her files. All she could remember was being intrigued by the occupation of her great,great, grandfather Joseph Davies. Aged 50 and living in Birkenhead at the time of the 1891 census it looks as if he was a loop or hoop dresser.

Images of pretty ladies in their crinoline hooped dresses strolling in the park with parasols sprung straight into my mind. This could not have been further from the truth though since the word is not hoop but tripe! He was a tripe dresser, preparing the lining of a cow's stomach for human consumption!

The missing Fonza link

The prize for this week's ancestor with the most unusual name surely must go to Ellen Fonza Sudna Maddy born in 1853 in Abergavenny. Angharad had a simple request: where do the middle names of her great grandmother's name came from? My first hunch was that Fonza sounded Spanish and so my mind leapt to the possibility that I'd uncovered a previously unknown Welsh-Patagonian link in Angharad's family history. That was short lived though once I discovered that the Welsh only set foot in Patagonia in 1862.

maddy ellen cencus

Birth entry for Ellen Fonza Sudna Maddy

But on Genes Reunited I came across Sue, whose aunt was Mary Phonzer Maddy born 1882 in Pontypridd. Mary's father was William Maddy born in Llyswen, Breconshire in 1812. On the 1861 census Ellen's father Herbert is aged 47 and his place of birth is also given as Breconshire, so it looks possible that further back they might share a common ancestor. Hopefully, reunited by their love of family history between them Angharad and Sue can find the missing "Fonza" link.


But one query has eluded me and my Mum and my sister and the archivists at Gwent Archives (in their impressive new home in the old steelworks office in Ebbw Vale, where I spent several happy warm hours this week) who have all helped me with the deciphering. On the 1891 census Kate Knowlson is aged 23 and living in Bristol. Her relationship to head of the household looks like "Ownnpsta". What is this?

Missed Cat Whiteaway on the Jamie and Louise programme on Wednesday 25 January? Catch up on the BBC iPlayer. Listen to Cat from 1 hour and 9 minutes into the programme.


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