Exploring Family History - a Quest for Identity?

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Byline: DAFYDD WIGLEY Former Caernarfon MP and ex-National Assembly Member

'MY family came from mid-Wales" , said the amiable American lady proudly, while visiting Caernarfon this week. I started telling her about our National Library's Family History section at Aberystwyth, when she stopped me. "I know", she said;, "they've already traced my family to the late 1600's. They came from Wales to America with the Quakers!" Exploring family history is growing in popularity. In today's world, people move and settle in areas where they have no family. There's a clear urge to re-establish family roots so as to keep a grasp on identity.

The internet enables research into 19th century census records and thereby establish family connections. Local family history societies abound. Gwynedd Family History Society, has over 1,200 members, of whom 400 live outside Wales.

I was lucky. My father's sister, Auntie Mair received a remarkable 21st birthday present - a family tree drawn up by Richard Bennett, a notable Montgomeryshire family historian.

This went back four generations comprehensively, all in Montgomeryshire. He identified full details of thirteen of my father's sixteen great-great-grandparents, with two lines going back centuries.

The three he failed to trace included the parents of Joshua Wigley (b. 1768) - my great-great grandfather. So how did this unusual name arrive in Llanbrynmair? Richard Bennett quoted a family belief that the original Wigley came from Cornwall to work in Ceredigion's lead-mines, before moving to Montgomeryshire. Allegedly, Joshua's father drowned in the River Teifi.

However "Wigley" isn't a Cornish name. It is most prevalent in Derbyshire - from where many English surnames came to Montgomeryshire. …