“I’ve never been to Wales,” I told my cousin Daphne and her daughter Mo when I visited them July 2019 in Whitchurch, nestled against the border of Wales. When they drove me to catch my train, Mo veered slightly and said “Now you are in Wales.”
A sign indicated that Wrexham could be reached along that road, and I wished I had more time to explore since my gr-gr grandfather Samuel Jones was born in Wrexham in 1834 where the family worked in the coal mines. Chances are that Samuel started working in the mining industry when he was as young as nine. “Girls and boys would work 18 hours a day as beast of burden in mines with no ventilation, both sexes would work naked well into their teens, in breathless hot dusty conditions with little or no ventilation. Other children were dressed in heavy wet sack cloth and given a long pole with a naked flame to place in a gas filled area to burn out the gas,” relates a man who refers to himself as an ‘ex pit lad.’
However, by time Samuel married Mary Bloor at age 18, the family was living in Stoke-upon-Trent in Staffordshire, England about forty miles to the east where the burgeoning coal mines supported the pottery industry, where the Bloor family worked. Their migration from Wales was enabled when Wrexham was connected to the rest of the UK by rail.
By time my Gr. Grandfather, Thomas Jones was born when Samuel was 22, the family had moved almost 50 miles north to Wigan, Lancashire. (Thomas’s older sister, Eliza Ann also was born in Wigan) Four years later the family was in Durham.
Their movement characterizes their willingness to move to improve their opportunities – a trait that would continue to be played out, generation after generation.
The history of the Jones family in the last half of the 19th century was linked to the coal mining industry. The owners of coal mines needed a work force that would produce coal as cheaply as possible. According to the National Coal Mining Museum, a miner was paid according to how much coal he produced, not how many hours he worked. Some miners would take their whole families underground to try to get as much coal as possible, so they could earn more money. Each member of the family would be given a different job to do which would help the miner to get as much coal as possible. Many families worked for up to 12 hours each day, and for 6 days a week
Legislation was first put in place to provide protections for miners in 1842. It prohibited women and boys under eight from working in the mines. In 1855, legislation was passed laying out basic rules about ventilation, air shafts, and the mandatory fencing off of unused pits. It also established higher standards for signaling from the mine to the surface, adequate breaks for the steam-powered elevators, and safety rules for steam engines. Legislation enacted in 1860 banned children under twelve from working underground and required regular inspections of the weighing systems. Unions were allowed to grow. Further legislation in 1872 increased the number of inspectors, and made sure the inspectors actually had some experience in mining before they began.
The miners and their families lived in colliery, or pit, villages owned by the mine company. On our first trip to the UK in 2000, we visited the Beamish Living History Museum and had the opportunity to see a typical two-room home provided to a miner.
It wasn’t until 1880 that school became mandatory for children five to ten, but didn’t become free until 1891. Between 1880 and 1891, parents had to pay a fee for schooling and truancy was a big problem.
Workers moved from colliery to colliery to try and improve their working and living conditions. Until 1872, all miners were employed under the ‘Bond System.’ They contracted for a year to a ‘Pit Master’ in return for a small bounty, similar to a current signing bonus. Miners who broke the bond were liable to arrest, trial and imprisonment. The bond at all of the mines expired on the same day, causing families to ‘take to the road’ to sign on at a different pit with perhaps a higher bounty. As a result, each of Thomas Jones children was born in a different colliery town.
Samuel and Mary had seven children. The names of most of their children –Thomas, Solomon, Henry, Eliza, and Samuel were then used by their children following the naming conventions of the time, making identifying and tracing subsequent generations difficult.
ELIZA JANE JONES AND MATHEW MASON:
In 2008, Chris and I gathered in the living room of one of our Jones cousins along with several other descendants of Samuel Jones’s daughter, Eliza Ann.
Eliza, b. 1855 was the older sister of our gr. Gr. Grandfather Thomas. Eliza married Matthew Mason and they had nine children.
I discovered one of the descendants through a genealogy site, where one of my ‘Hot Matches’ led me to Donna Graham who was helping her mother-in-law with her family tree. Her mother-in-law, June Pearson Graham, was one of Eliza’s descendants from her daughter, Charlotte.
About the same time, Chis had an inquiry from Bill Hewitt through Ancestry about Eliza Ann. He is descended from Eliza Ann’s oldest daughter, Mary Jane. Both of these contacts happened during 2007, and when they found out that we would be in the area, they wanted to get together. Donna, her husband and mother-in-law drove up from south Durham County, and Bill contacted his brother, Gordon and his cousin Harry, also descendants of Eliza. Fourteen of us met at Bill’s house to get to know each other and exchange information.
Chris brought along two photos. One was a photo that had been in our Gram’s belongings and was of a man and his wife. We wondered whether it was her father and mother. It turned out to be Eliza Ann and her husband Matthew Mason. Bill’s sister-in-law Joyce remembers the photo hanging on her husband’s grandparent’s wall, and was told that it was the grandmother’s parents. She thinks it was a wedding photo, possibly taken on Mary Jane’s (a daughter) wedding day.
Chris passed around a photo of a girl that Gram referred to as her niece’s daughter. She was briefly Chris’s pen pal in the late 50’s. (The Girl in the Polka Dot Skirt)
Gordon said, “I have seen the picture before,” but nobody could remember her name.
When we left, June promised to send us information about ‘your 2nd cousin in Australia.’
Four years later, we were thrilled when Dianne Salmon, the Australian 2nd cousin- and descendant of Dora Pearson (daughter of Charlotte Mason), visited us in Albuquerque. Dora left Northumberland for Australia in 1928 when she was 27, one of the last years Australia was recruiting settlers for West Australia.
Since our 2008 visit, we have connected with two other descendants of Samuel and Mary through DNA matches: 1) Denise Durham, descended from Charlotte Mason and Martin Pearson. 2) Marilyn Peacock is descended from Samuel and Mary’s son youngest son, also named Samuel. She still lives in the Gateshead area.
THOMAS JONES AND CHRISTIANA GRAHAM:
Thomas Jones, our Gr. Grandfather – and Samuel and Mary’s oldest son, married Christiana Graham in 1875. They had eight children. The only picture we have of them was taken about the time of our grandparents wedding in 1907. They are sitting in the backyard of their house on Tosson Terrace with their grandchild Christiana Graham Annison.
In 1880 Thomas took his wife, and we presume young daughter Mary Jane, to Hazelton, Pennsylvania where they lived and worked for almost 5 years. The coal industry was expanding in the U.S. and there was a constant need for new workers. Two of their children, Henry and Catherine, were born there. It us unknown why the family decided to return to England. Thomas and Christiana returned to Durham in time for Samuel to be born.
Interestingly, both Henry and Catherine and their children both returned to the North America several times. While Henry died in Durham, Catherine spent the later years of her life in Canada and died in Ontario.
Five years after they returned to Durham, Thomas’s brother Solomon (Samuel and Mary’s third child) took his wife, Mary, and daughter to South Fork, Pennsylvania where three of their children were born. Mary died the same year their third child, Elizabeth, was born. Solomon stayed in Pennsylvania for two years before returning with his children to England. When they returned they lived on the same street as Thomas and Christiana.
Samuel married Mary Short when he was 19 and she was 17. They had one daughter, Mary Foster Stead Jones two years later. Family lore talks about Samuel being severely wounded in WWI, changing his last name to Graham (his mother’s maiden name) and immigrating to Canada after the war. In the 1911 British census, Mary Short Jones and her daughter were living with her parents. When our mother and grandparents moved from California to Vancouver in 1929 they were surprised when a man got out of his car at the family’s gas station and store and proclaimed “My God, Bess!” Our mother’s recollection in her memoirs was that ‘he and mother looked enough alike to have been twins.’ He married in Canada and had two children, Ronald (Ronnie) and Lena that our mother spent time with while they were in Canada. Even with the assistance of a professional family researcher from Canada, it has been difficult to trace Samuel’s military record and other records. Our mother lost contact with the family when they moved back to California.
Two years after Samuel was born, Thomas and Christiana’s daughter Eliza was born. Our Stage cousin Alan was able to do the leg-work to track down information on Eliza, initially finding her marriage to Robert Walker in 1908, where her occupation was listed as a milliner. He then tracked down the marriage of their daughter Constance to William Charlton, followed by the birth of Carolyn Charlton and Carolyn’s marriage. From there, he checked out polling registers and located Carolyn’s current address through one of the witnesses at their wedding.
On May 31, 2002 Chris and I received an email from Carolyn relaying her surprise and delight at being found:
“This has all come as a great surprise out of the blue to me. My husband had a phone call from a stranger on Monday evening giving him lots of information about my family. At first he thought he might be selling something, but he had too much information that was true and factual…After talking to Alan for some time I knew this was not a joke or sales pitch…My mother sadly died in October 1999, but would have been delighted this news where she here…I looked in my mother’s old address book and found the name Stage in Yucaipa, CA.”
After six years of communicating by email, Chris and I were able to visit Lyn and her husband in their home in 2008.
As we shared pictures and stories, we realized the family resemblances between our two families. Her grandmother and ours looked a lot alike,
and Chris really resembled both Lyn and her mother!
She took us to the cemetery where her mother and grandmother were buried. Also in the plot are our mutual great grandparents – Thomas and Christiana (the person Chris is named after) Jones.
Alan served as chauffeur as the four of us toured locations in Northumberland.
We learned that Constance Charlton had a brother, Wallace James, or Uncle Jimmy as the family referred to him. He, like our mother, who would have been his cousin, were professional accordionists!
Following Eliza is our grandmother Elizabeth, born October 16, 1888 in North Brancepeth Colliery. She married Joseph Bell Stage in 1907. They had two children, Joseph Colling Graham Stage, our uncle, and Christiana Margaret Stage, our mother. (At some point our mother added Graham to her middle name because she felt miffed that her brother had the designation and she didn’t).
Three years later, Margaret was born. We don’t have much information about her except that she married John Flood when she was 23 and had a daughter that appears to have died at the time of birth.
Frank was born in 1891. When he was 21, he married Nellie Nesbit. When he was 34, he and Nellie and their two children, Frank and Alma immigrated to British Columbia, Canada. Our grandparents and Mom were in Vancouver, British Columbia between 1929 and 30, but our Mom’s memoirs doesn’t mention any contact with Frank and his family. Frank died in Nanaimo, BC in 1960.
The youngest child was Christiana (she went by Chrissie), born 1895. She married Lawrence Annison when she was 18. Her daughter, Christiana Graham Annison was born a year later. That same year, Lawrence, a driver in the Army Service Corp, was killed in action. Christiana and her daughter moved to London and we have no additional information.
From their hard-scrabble life as miners, each of the members of the Jones family and their descendants took advantage of opportunities for education and to improve themselves.