The Welsh Ancestry Mystery of Manhattan

When researching your family’s lineage, there may be instances where you might stumble across stories or people that you never knew existed but are part of your heritage. There is one such fascinating story that has gripped generations of the Edwards family for over a century. It pertains to one man who is said to be the rightful owner of 77 acres of prime land in New York, an area which is now a significant part of Manhattan and home to Wall Street, Broadway and The Stock Exchange.

Robert Edwards was a Welsh buccaneer who was given 77 acres of largely unsettled land for his services in disrupting Spanish sea lanes. On June 1st 1778, Edwards leased the land for 99 years to John and George Cruger, on the agreement that the land and all improvements thereon were to revert to the descendants of Edwards and his siblings at the expiration of the lease on May 31st 1877. Though the lease expired, the land was never handed back to Edwards’ descendants; instead, it ended up in the hands of Trinity Church, of which the Crugers were wardens.

The Edwards family claim that when the property, pastureland at the time, was leased to the brothers, the terms stated the lease would expire in 99 years. The Cruger brothers in turn allowed the Catholic church to use the land as it saw fit. The church has controlled the land ever since, building upon it themselves and renting it to other parties. The rent for this use is stored in a vault in Manhattan itself, now estimated at over $650,000,000,000!

Subsequently, all attempts by Edwards’ heirs to file a claim to the land have proved fruitless, with the case eventually being defeated by New York state’s Statute of Limitations.

Genealogically speaking, the problem of proving descent stems from the fact that there were no standard spellings of surnames in Wales at the relevant period. Thus, the surname was eventually standardised as ‘Edwards’, deriving from the Christian name Edward, but the name can appear interchangeably in documents of the period as Edward, Edwards or even Edwardes. When the members of one family use these spellings interchangeably, and when a number of families favour the same Christian names, it is virtually impossible to differentiate between them.

A document held at the Glamorgan Record Office in Cardiff, entitled “The Edwards Millions” outlines the case as it stood in 2002, with claims and counterclaims further complicating the issue.

The Welsh patronymic naming system in common use during the 18th and preceding centuries – whereby a son or daughter takes as a surname the Christian name of his or her father – further compounds the problem by providing us with numerous unrelated Edwards families.

Another major problem is the scarcity of information available from such records of the period. Parish register entries are sparse, giving little more than that a particular person was baptised, married or buried on a particular date. Few families have records detailed enough to supplement these entries, and those which do find even this information difficult to verify officially.

If you are interested in researching your own ancestry, our previous blog ‘Ancestry Research: Tips and tricks on where to begin’ aims to give you an initial jumping-off point. We have also recently created our own ancestry chart template that is downloadable, which you can access here.

At My Story Told, we hope to turn your personal history into a written document for future generations to share, enjoy, and celebrate your life. For more information on our process, contact us here.

Ancestry is a subject that intrigues many across the world, and with more ancestry TV shows, access to genealogy services, and online databases available, creating a full picture of your lineage is easier than it’s ever been.

Our previous blog was designed to give you a starting point when undertaking research, including some tips and tricks and advice on how to begin, which you can access here.

One way to aid your ancestry journey is to create a family tree diagram or pedigree chart as it is sometimes known. Here are the basics when it comes to creating a family chart, and how this may help you organise your lineage whilst you find out more about your family.

A pedigree chart or ancestral chart tracks your family history back through time typically going back six or seven generations, but it can be extended as far as the individual sees fit. It tracks those directly related to you as the focused individual. The charts allow you to record your ancestral lineage and help form a correct and easy-to-follow family unit. Typically, each person is numbered on the chart and is allocated a unique number, in case of relatives sharing the same name.

There are also a variety of styles that you can use, for example:

An ancestral or pedigree chart is the most recognisable, which starts with the focus individual on the left of the page, and descending generations are displayed as you move to the right of the chart.

A fan chart is ideal for beginners as it is easily digestible. The focus individual is at the base of the chart, with subsequent generations presented in a fan-like or semi-circular shape.

The Family Group Sheet is another common type of descendant report. It carries data covering three generations of a family (parents, their children and the parents’ parents), so is ideal for data capture, but is also good for display because:

  • A researcher can quickly see what information is in hand and what is missing.
  • Information can be exchanged easily with other researchers.
  • It is more flexible and contains more information than graphical charts or trees.

Common conventions on charts and reports

  • An = mark denotes a married couple. Example: William Blount = Julia Herrick
  • Proved ancestral links are shown with a line, and those that are conjectural are shown with a dotted line.
  • Illegitimate children are often shown by dashed lines descending from the known parent or parents. Dashed lines – – – are also often used to show ‘non-marriage’ relationships. Example: William Blount – – – – Elizabeth Wonder
  • Question marks are used to show that the information is in question. Example: born 1846?
  • Use b. for born, c. or bp. for christened or baptized and bur. for buried. Example: bp. 6 November 1945.

At My Story Told, ancestry is a huge part of what we do, as learning about your lineage and family history goes hand in hand with writing your personal story. Our monthly newsletter contains tips and tricks for those looking to research ancestry, which you can sign up for here: https://mailchi.mp/8397dbf57fce/news-and-offers, or download your FREE ancestry chart template here.

The personal biographies we write often include a chapter on the subjects’ family origins, and having a well-rounded perspective on your ancestry is not only fulfilling but also helps ensure that this part of your story is accurate and informative for future generations.  

For those who are interested in learning about their family history, beginning the research into your lineage can seem like a huge task. There are often some discrepancies, errors and uncertainty when it comes to family trees, including misspelt family names or erroneous family stories.  

Ancestry has become a popular hobby and interest in recent years, with the rise of ancestry shows and at-home testing kits and services. For more information on this, read our previous blog that answers the question: why is ancestry so popular? 

Here, we take a look at some of the initial steps you can follow to begin your ancestry research.
 

1. Start with what you know 

Get started by mapping what knowledge you already have about your family tree. This information is readily available to you, so it is a great place to start. Organise your immediate family tree, your parents’ names, dates, locations and key facts about their lives.  

Once you have done this for your immediate family, document the same information about your grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. This gives you a great starting point and a way to cross-reference any further information you find out later.
 

2. Use alternative research 

Information is readily available to us at the click of a button, but although historical records and archives are now digitally stored, there are more traditional avenues that can be used to gain access to particular records. For example, family information is often displayed on tombstones and may serve as a way to confirm your family tree.  

You can also find similar information in:  

  • Obituaries 
  • Newspaper databases 
  • Military records 

The above information may be available at your local library, and utilising these alternatives could be a cost-efficient way to access information.  

 

3. Contact your family members  

In order to gain a complete picture of your lineage, talk to your siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins etc., they may be treasure troves of information and could lead to discovering more great information.  

Follow the same pattern as outlined in the above step, firstly so you can confirm what you know is correct, and ask the right questions to unveil some great stories and nuggets of information.  

In addition, by speaking with family members, you may discover that they have kept certain documents as keepsakes like letters, obituaries, and birth certificates, which will aid with forming your family history further. 

 

4. Identify maiden names and all previous names 

Maiden names are a crucial element in your quest to find out about the matriarchal side of your ancestry. For example, your grandmother may not have become “Mrs Jones” until she married your grandfather, so make sure to record all maiden names where you can, so that you are looking for the relevant names while accessing historical records and to help populate your family tree. 

This also goes for any other previous names, for example, those who have changed their name or had multiple marriages, and could lead to another branch of lineage. 

Maiden names are typically shown within census records, birth certificates and obituaries, and will be the link within historical records up until the legal date of name change.  

 

5. Create records based on your findings 

Creating records of your research makes it easier to organise and share with others, for example, if you choose to write your life story, we can use this to form the background elements, or to add context.  

Information can be recorded on forms called pedigree charts, which are similarly used within biology, and show genetic history over several generations with male and female family members represented as different shapes.  

Additionally, keeping certain information or documents organised alphabetically by surname, makes the information easier to digest and navigate through to find specific individuals within your records.  

Once you have your records in place, you may want to preserve your family history to share with future generations. That’s where we come in, our storytelling team will conduct several interviews with you to help you tell your story, your way, and document this in a personal keepsake so your family legacy lives on.  

Contact us to start your storytelling journey.  

In recent years, ancestry has become a focus of intrigue for many, with the increased use of at-home ancestry analysis kits and the huge popularity of ancestry shows. More than ever, people are learning about the history of their families, and where they fit into the big picture of humanity’s family tree. 

In 2019, a study showed that more than 26 million consumers took part in at-home DNA tests and predicted that number would reach 100 million in 2021, with additional ancestry companies emerging in that time. But why are we so interested in our lineage?  

As humans, we have an innate connection to our ancestors and strive to care for those who we share our genetics with. This process is called kin selection and is a primal and evolutionary notion that involves preserving genetic lineage to aid with the survival of the species. So, could it be said that we are genetically programmed to be concerned with our ancestors? 

In historian Francois Weil’s book Family Trees, he documents an alternative origin of tracing our ancestry and says that our impulse to seek this information out relates to proof of class and stature. According to Weil via lithub.com, “the idea of establishing one’s family line was associated with the British aristocracy’s obsession with social rank”.  

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the period Weil is referring to, class meant access to better services, resources and a standard of living, so proving that you were of higher regard was important. This diminished over time as class became less of a defining factor, and people also began moving all over the globe, settling and making new families which made it harder to trace family trees.  

Fast forward to today, and genealogy has been made easier due to the ease of access to information. Records are now digitally stored, increasing the ability to trace family lineage at the touch of a button. High-speed indexes and transcripts are available as publicly accessible information, meaning people can do their own research from the comfort of their own homes. This has accelerated the growth of interest in ancestry in parallel with the ease of accessibility to this information.  

An additional reason for the rise in the popularity of genealogy could be down to television programs such as ITV’s ‘Long Lost Family and the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, which garners around 5.9 million average viewers per episode. In an interview with Wall to Wall, Richard Klein, Director of Factual at ITV, said that shows like Long Lost Family resonate with people from any background, as most people have complicated family stories and these shows “show how important the family is in the hearts of the British people.” Long Lost Family is in its fourth series and features unique stories that are deeply personal, yet we can all identify with them.  

At My Story Told, we help individuals preserve their life stories in their own words. The aim is to produce a family heirloom that will be handed down to generations to come, creating a family treasure that will both preserve your legacy and offer a unique insight into what life was like during your lifetime. 

What do you wish you knew about your family that ancestry searches can’t show?

The internet can provide some amazing facts to document our family history, but what these searches don’t show is the real person, or the emotions behind these moments.

The My Story Told team came up with a list of some of the biggest questions they would like to ask their grandparents or older relatives, if they had had the opportunity.

  1. My great grandparents emigrated to the UK, and I have always wondered if they found it difficult to adapt to life in a new country, and how they were treated when they first arrived. Was it difficult to learn a new language?

  2. Music is such a big part of my life, and I often think about the types of music my relatives enjoyed in the past, whether they played any musical instruments or attended any live concerts.

  3. Until very recent generations my ancestors were a farming family, and I would love to know more about the ins and outs of how they operated the farm, their personal stresses and enjoyments of the lifestyle. I think it would inspire me in my own personal struggles.

  4. My father was in the military and travelled all over the world, he told us lots about his life, but it was so long ago now that I can’t remember the details. I wish I could remember where his favourite place he visited had been, or places he would have liked to have explored himself.

In the future, our younger generations and their children will ponder these same questions. They will also want to know more about where they came from, and how their ancestors lived and experienced things in a different time.

Through the services at My Story Told, you can give your children and future generations the most personal piece of history that can be passed down for centuries to come – your own personal biography.

Or, perhaps you have a parent, grandparent or loved one who you would like to remember in their own words? Give them the gift of sharing their story with My Story Told.

Contact us today to learn more about the book-writing process and we can match you with one of our skilled writers.