The West Family Version of the ‘17 Miracles’

By Maryellen West

People in cemetery

In 2017 my goal for visiting Wales was to discover Margaret Rowland, the sister of Job Rowland, my great-great grandfather who immigrated to the United States in 1849. I had records that indicated that her husband, Morgan Thomas, had been buried in Pant Cemetery in Merthyr Tydfil, but nothing about her, and I was determined to suss out her information. 

In March of 2017, my friend Sandra, my two brothers and their wives and I set out for a journey that would take us across the south of England, through Scotland and straight into our family's history in Wales.

The day we arrived in Merthyr Tydfil, we went to the local history centre and spent a couple of confusing hours trying to determine how to begin our search. At a loss, we decided to pick up a few pamphlets and go to the Pant cemetery where we were sure we could find the grave of Morgan Thomas, Margaret Rowland's husband, or at least find someone who could guide us to the grave.

When we arrived, we were stunned, having been used to our western American cemeteries of limited size. Pant was huge! Hill upon hill of ancient gravestones in every conceivable condition of disrepair. We all stood in disbelief as we stared at the task before us. We ultimately decided just to walk around a bit as we prayed to be guided in the right direction. After about 30 minutes of wandering we met and determined that this would be a hopeless endeavor and somewhat discouraged we left for dinner.

The next morning, we went to the Engine House (a genealogical repository and information center) in Merthyr to begin our research. It is there where the miracles began as we entered the Engine House and met miracle number one: Terry Jones.

Terry Jones

My brothers Richard and Joe, Joe's wife Eileen, and I were downstairs learning about the history of the iron industry in the town when Richard's wife Sharon and my friend Sandy went upstairs to wander and look for restrooms. There they encountered a gentleman working on a computer and began a conversation with him about our quest. When they mentioned trying to find one grave amongst the 10,000 in Pant Cemetery he realized that we really did need some help. He introduced himself as Terry Jones, and arranged for us to meet him at the cemetery office across the street where he introduced us to Deb, the keeper of records. Here we not only found Margaret's grave site number, but others who were related and resided next to her. We were able to arrange with her husband, the caretaker of the cemetery, to meet later that day to see the graves.

Miracle number two occurred when we returned to the cemetery and realized that all six of us had previously stood very near the actual site of the graves at some point as we wandered the cemetery. The reason we didn't see the graves was they were covered entirely by a huge tree that had completely swallowed them. We had previously photographed the tree because it was so immense and imposing, but for no other reason.

The imposing tree

We returned later to cut away some of the lower branches so that Sharon could crawl inside and read the writing on the headstones, and we discovered that we had many more relatives buried in this plot than we realized.

Miracle number three came with a visit to the Colly Isaf farm upon which Margaret and Morgan Thomas farmed. It is no longer in the Thomas family, but the current owners allowed us to visit and photograph the place where our family lived. We discovered the name of the farm listed on the back of a photograph found in material one of our aunts had given us.

The view from Colly Isaf

Miracle number four occurred throughout the following year as Terry continued to do research for our family and discovered many more links in the family chain, but culminated with a discovery of John Thomas, a direct descendant of Margaret Rowland and Morgan Thomas.

John currently lives on Penrhiw farm which has been in the family since 1724 and he and his wife Celia were willing to meet with us. He sent us a lineage chart of all the siblings of Job who remained in Wales, adding much needed information to connect our family to those who had died. This discovery came about through another miracle, (number five), that of Terry meeting Father Powell at St. Catwg's Episcopal Church. While looking for Edward Rowland and Ann Miles he mentioned John as a possible Thomas still living on the farm.

Miracle number six: cheap tickets to Wales even though it was at the time of the royal wedding. The window for these tickets was short, and directly after we booked them the price doubled.

Miracle number seven again involved Terry Jones who had looked for one year for the marriage of Edward Rowland and Ann Miles (Job and Margaret's grandparents). Three weeks before we returned to Merthyr in 2018, he found them.

When we arrived in Merthyr, the scene had already been set by those who had been directing our lives for the past year. It felt as though we were in a giant genealogical chess game over which we had no control. Terry was beginning to feel the same forces in action as well. Every morning he would present us with a list of places we would visit that day. One day he showed us his list, which had two sides. He said that he created one list the night before and then this morning, for some unknown reason, he changed it and added a new place: Gadfield Elm Chapel in Gloucestershire. He said he didn't know why he added it, but thought it would be interesting for us to see. Of course, we acquiesced.

Miracle number eight:

As we got to Gadfield Elm we discovered the reason. The first ownership of the chapel was given to Wilford Woodruff by the United Brethren, but it rested on or near brother Benbow's farm. Many of the early members were baptized in Benbow's pond. And Benbow was Terry's wife's maiden name. Terry was stunned. He kept saying he had no idea why he had changed the itinerary for the day, but we all knew why.

People in front of a church

The next day we visited St. Catwg's church and we were met by Father Powell and his lay reader Carolynn Corbin, who showed us around this very impressive 2000-year-old building. While chatting, my brother Richard discovered miracle number nine: that Carolynn was a Parry and quite likely a very close cousin of ours. We exchanged emails and discovered that we did indeed have a common ancestor. This led to a wonderful afternoon tea and the uniting of another branch of Welsh and American lines. After just a few minutes with this family we knew we had met before.

Miracle number ten.We discovered that we were not in charge in other ways as we went to Terry's home for juice and to collect a book of remembrance that he had found when cleaning out the Engine House. He had asked Richard and Sharon to take the book of remembrance back to Logan where they live to find its owner. He showed Sharon this photo of a family reunion taken in 2004 (he had been doing research for the person who sent it to him), and she recognized someone. She immediately texted that person, and as a result the connection was made between the photo and the owner of the book of remembrance. 

There were more miracles during our visit that involved finding graves that were hidden in cemeteries, discovering writing on tombstones that were covered in lichen and moss, and potentially uncovering ancestors of which we had no knowledge. If you ever doubt that the veil is thin or that there are others across that veil who wish their work done, let these experiences prove to you that you can be an instrument in their hands. If you allow yourself to be open to the impressions, the promptings, or urgings, as a member of this Church or not, the work of Elijah can be accomplished. Please always live so that you can be a vehicle in the work of redeeming your dead; so that when you meet them they will encircle you with their joy and gratitude.

West Family Ancestors