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Waiting and Wondering: A Family Mystery Solved©
by Janice B. Edwards

Article and photograph, Copyright Janice Edwards - not to be downloaded or copied in any form without written permission. Funeral card property of Iwan Hughes.

     Waiting and not knowing!  Most all of us have experienced it at some time in our lives.  Waiting for an overdue child to return home from an evening of fun perhaps, or waiting for a dreaded physical examination and test results.  You know the feeling - its a horrible feeling.  But for most of us the experience comes to an end within a short period of time and the wondering ceases.  Life goes on.
        Certainly, life does in fact go on, but for one family the wondering went on for a very long time.  In this true life story, the sense of wondering went on for 113 years.

Penmachno, North Wales, 1883
        Rhys Wyn Jones, husband of Ellen Jones,* set out of the house one morning, most likely in May, never to return again, leaving Ellen to care for their two young daughters.  (*Ellen was daughter of Solomon Jones, Ffestiniog, North Wales and Anne Williams from Llanerchigwynion, Penmachno, North Wales.  Ellen's father, Solomon was son of John Williams, Hen Gapel, Ffestiniog, a well known leader in the oldest church in that place).
        For months she worried and wondered about what had happened to her husband.  In August of that year she awoke her children in the night having heard a horrible noise which she thought to be a gunshot.  Finding nothing and hearing no more commotion outside the home, Ellen and her girls went back to sleep.
        Some time later Ellen received a letter written by Rhys mailed from America from the slate producing area of New York telling her that he had met up with some men, ended up aboard a ship from Liverpool and was now working in the slate quarries in America.  Rhys wrote Ellen telling her of the prosperity of the slate business and that he would soon be sending for her and the girls to join him making a new home in America.
        About this same time, Ellen received notification of another kind from America telling her that her husband had been shot and killed.  Those two letters, a funeral card and a very old postcard of Main Street, Granville, New York were all that Ellen Jones received about her husband.
        So distressed was the family by this death that it became a taboo subject.  As life went on, the two daughters grew up, marrying and having children of their own; but the sense of wondering never went away.  But few questions were asked of their mother.
       The two letters appear to be long ago lost but the funeral card and post card remain in the possession of the family in Wales.  One hundred thirteen years later, a great portion of the family mystery has now come to an end and the lives of many people have intertwined and changed forever in its telling.

    Iwan Hughes, Ruthun, North Wales on a cold snowy February day  at the Middle Granville, New York gravesite of his ancestor, Rhys Wyn Jones
Photograph © Janice B. Edwards

Slate Valley of New York/Vermont, November 1995
        Two letters were received in the Slate Valley: one at the Washington County Historical Society in Fort Edward, New York, the second at the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, New York and eventually forwarded on to John A. and Joan Jones of Middle Granville, New York.  An additional letter arrived in Poultney to Janice B. Edwards.  (All are members of the Poultney Area St. David's Society.   Janice and John are founding officers of the Welsh-American Genealogical Society and John and Joan have both been active in the Slate Valley Museum and the Pember Museum & Library in Granville, New York.)  The letters were written by Iwan Hughes of Ruthun, Clwyd, North Wales, great-great-grandson of Rhys Wyn Jones.
        Iwan wrote telling what little he could about his ancestor and offering a plea for help.  His own interest in the story had been sparked when his grandmother recently passed away and he was given a book entitled A Sketch Of The Old Characters Of Penmachno And Miscellaneous by E.O. Roberts, Jackson, Ohio which had been in his grandmother's possession.  He was also given the funeral notice and post card of Granville, New York.  Both the Joneses and Edwards promised Iwan that they would see what they could do to help him out.
        Using the book Cemetery Inscriptions by Margaret Jenks, John Jones was able to immediately determine that Rhys Wyn Jones was indeed buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Middle Granville, NY, a stone's throw from the Jones' homestead.
        John planned to photograph the gravestone for Iwan Hughes and to check the local newspapers to see if he could find an obituary.  However, the busy Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's time was upon them all and time very limited.
        Meanwhile, back in Wales, Iwan Hughes appeared driven to find out more about his ancestor.  From the book by E.O. Roberts, Iwan found out that "Rhys Wyn Jones was regarded as" a bright, literary student as well as a sweet poet... our friend, Rhys Wyn, crossed the rolling waves of the Atlantic, settling in the quarry regions of Granville (I think), and intended to send for his genial wife at once, and his two beautiful girls, but lo, it was not to be, because he met with a fatal accident immediately upon his arrival in this country; and his little family's hopes were extinguished when the tragic word of his death was received, the death of a husband and father in a foreign land."
        After writing those two letters to the U.S., Iwan, a 32 year old English language school teacher of 11 - 18 year olds, contacted the S4C Welsh language television channel of North Wales to inquire if they might be interested in his story for a magazine series they produce.  He hoped he might also find out more of the family mystery putting an end to the "I thinks" and "I supposes" that existed for so long in his family.
        Ioan Roberts of SEIONT in Caernarfon was so fascinated by the story that a week after visiting him he got back to Iwan telling him they would be coming to film him and his family, and that they would be going to the U.S. to visit Granville to finish the story.  And - Iwan was to get his passport ready as he would be going too!

February 14, 1996.
        The lives of John and Joan Jones and Janice Edwards are now enriched after having spent three busy days with Iwan Hughes and five people associated with SEIONT: Ioan Roberts, Fiona Hughes, Keith Davies, Mick O'Rourke and Eammon Reynolds when they all descended upon our quiet Slate Valley.
        Thanks to the research efforts of John A. Jones with the assistance of his wife Joan, a large part of the mystery of Rhys Wyn Jones has ended for his surviving family in Wales.
        Digging into old newspapers in several local libraries, John learned the truth about Rhys Wyn Jones' disappearance.  John was able to locate four articles published between August 4 and August 17, 1883 in the Poultney Journal and the Glens Falls Morning Star.  Together, they told the tragic tale of an accidental shooting which killed a young Welshman and shattered the dreams of his waiting family.  In a very emotional day on February 14, 1996, John shared his discoveries with young Iwan Hughes.
                   1883 -  "A few days ago THE STAR published a brief account of the accidental shooting of a man named
                Jones near Granville.  The following additional particulars are gleaned from the SENTINEL of
                that village.  'About five o'clock Thursday afternoon Jones, accompanied by two fellow workmen
                named respectively Owens and Pritchard, left the quarry at which they were employed (Wings) and
                sat down on a knoll nearby in the hopes of seeing a woodchuck.
                    They had with them an old arm musket.  Jones, who was somewhat familiar with the use of
                firearms, sat between his companions and some three feet in front of them.  It seems that Pritchard
                who was entirely unacquainted with the workings of a musket, held the deadly weapon.  As near as
                can be learned, he was examining the trigger, and having raised the hammer let it fall with sufficient
                force to discharge the musket, which contained an ounce ball.
                    No sooner was the report heard than Jones was seen to fall from his sitting posture and his two
                comrades immediately realized that he was shot.  The unfortunate man was soon conveyed to his
                boarding house; but before half an hour had elapsed he was wrapped in the cold arms of death, the
                bullet having passed through his head.
                    The circumstances attending the death of this young man are extremely sad.  About the first of May
                he arrived in this country from Wales.  While in New York, he formed the acquaintance of Pritchard,
                and together they journeyed to this section, where they both found employment, since which time they
                have been close companions.
                    Jones leaves a wife and child in Wales, who have been notified of his death.  The deceased wrote to
                his family telling them the prosperity he was meeting within this country and the hope he entertained
                of being able before long to possess means sufficient to defray the expense connected with bringing them
                here.  Since the fatal accident Pritchard has suffered mentally beyond description, and it is believed
                some time will elapse before he will again appear rational."  (Glens Falls Morning Star, August 8, 1883,
                located at Crandall Library)
        Article published August 17, 1883 in the Poultney Journal provided information about the Coroner's inquest and there was unanimous verdict of the death being accidental.  It also tells about the funeral service of this young man, portaying that quite a large procession of townspeople were joined by the Welsh until it reached several hundred in number.  The Journal noted, "it was sad to witness the grief of the unfortunate young man who bore the gun.  Yet, sadder to think of the wife and two fatherless little girls at home in Wales, waiting in joyous anticipation, the time when the husband and father shall have earned money enough to bring them across the seas to join him here, but instead of glad tidings of great joy, wind and wave, are now bearing toward the tidings, O! how sad, how sad!"
        After this emotional discovery, Iwan Hughes, the Joneses, the SEIONT crew and Janice Edwards set out on a three day journey of family and local Welsh history events.
        At Middle Granville's Elmwood Cemetery, Iwan Hughes found Rhys Wyn Jones' grave site.  The following Englyn is engraved on the slate faced burial stone:

 "Horrific was the sudden happening - the death of a poet
Who was so pure and assiduous
It's no dishonour for anyone to compose an englyn
To place it out of affection on the grave of Rhys Wyn
Dewi Glan Dulas"
(Dewi Glan Dulas, David Morris, b. Beddgelert, Wales, 1853, d. West Pawlet, Vermont, USA September 5, 1895.)

        Iwan placed several rocks from the river bed near the family's Penmachno homestead at the base of the grave stone in Middle Granville.  Then, the group went across the roadway to the railroad depot where Rhys Wyn Jones arrived in Middle Granville, on to the Wing boarding house in Truthville, New York and finally to the hillside where Rhys Wyn Jones died.  At the accident site John Jones showed a musket similar to the one involved in the accident and explained to Iwan Hughes just how the accident could have happened.  Interspersed throughout these visits, Iwan Hughes and SEIONT also traveled throughout the Granville and Poultney area visiting many local points of interest, meeting local officials and visiting with local residents of Welsh heritage as well as members of the Poultney Area St. David's Society.  Many members of the Slate Valley community were involved in the visit and everyone enjoyed tremendously the time together.
        While Iwan Hughes' young wife Jane worried over the circumstantial similarities - she was left home in Wales with two small children while her husband was briskly snatched up by the camera crew and taken to Middle Granville, New York - the Slate Valley community took good care of them all and took great interest in Iwan's story.
        Iwan remarked on many occasions, "this is incredible - I feel as though I'm still at home in Wales, only without my dear Jane."
        The Slate Valley community's bond to Rhys Wyn Jones never died.  It now, in the 21st century, swells with pride over sharing their hearts and story with Iwan Hughes and family.

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LAST UPDATED:  Wednesday, 8 January 2003