9 January 2013

300 years from Spain to Wales - Beginnings blogfest

Beginnings blogfest
This is my entry for the Beginnings blogest, hosted by L.G. Keltner. This blogfest is for bloggers to talk about their beginnings of some kind; either the beginning of their blog, favourite book, career choice, anything! Take a look at the other participants and say hi!

Today is my grandfather's funeral. He suffered from Alzheimer's for a few years and passed away just before the New Year. I thought that it would be a fitting tribute to dedicate this post to him by looking at the beginnings of my family tree (as far back as I can go). Also check out my brother's photographic tribute to him.




Spanish, Romany and Welsh flags
Spanish, Romany and Welsh flags

Spanish roots

The deepest roots that I've been able to find about my lineage start in Spain, and I was surprised to learn that my surname had been changed to Gibbs from Lovell at some point in the 18-19th Century. Originally, my family were part of the Lovell tribe of Romany Gypsies who travelled around Spain. During the early 1700s my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Daniel Lovell, arrived in Cornwall with his family. They made a living as knife grinders and peddlars, and eventually travelled towards South Wales from Rutland in Central England (where my great-great-great-great-grandfather, William Lovell, was born).

The Beginnings of Welshness

My first Welsh ancestor (technically) was my great-great-great-grandfather Aladdin Lovell, born in Hereford in 1832. He was an umbrella maker and a knife grinder like his father before him. It was around this time that Aladdin changed his surname from Lovell to Gibbs, which was a common practice amongst gypsies in order to avoid racial persecution. He passed the skill of knife grinding to his son, also called Aladdin, who was born in Blackwood in the 1850s. This Aladdin (let's call him Aladdin Jr.) married a girl from West Wales, Elizabeth Hughes, the daughter of a coal miner (you can't get much more Welsh than that).

Closer to home

 Sometime between 1850 and 1880, Aladdin and Elizabeth moved to Merthyr Tydfil. There, my great-grandfather, Joseph Gibbs was born. He carried on the Hughes' family occupation as a coal miner, where his brother (another Aladdin) stuck to his Romany roots and became a harp player, which won him first prize in the Eisteddfod.
Joseph Gibbs with dog
My great-grandfather, Joseph Gibbs, with his dog


Joseph married a local girl, Rhoda Pearcey, in 1916, when Britain was in the grip of World War I. As a coal miner, Joseph wasn't conscripted as his job was essential for the war effort. Rhoda was a factory worker; another essential occupation.

My grandfather was born in 1924 and served in the RAF in World War II as a flight mechanic.

My grandpa in his RAF uniform
My grandfather in his RAF uniform
After the war had ended, he turned his hand to photography and was also a projectionist at our local cinema. You think that being able to see the newest films as often as you want all the time would be a dream job, but he told me he used to take the newspaper to work as he'd get bored watching the films!

He married my grandmother in 1951, and my father was born 4 years later. Fast forward 31 years and I enter the stage. But you already know enough about me :)

So there we have it. As much as I profess to be Welshy McWelsh (or Welshy ap Welsh if you're a stickler for accurate Celtic naming systems) I'm actually a half Romany with an adopted surname, a genetic talent for umbrella making (which has yet to manifest) and an inkling for harp playing (something I really want to take up).

Where do you consider your roots to be?

45 comments:

  1. I'm sorry for your loss. This was a fitting tribute to him. Tracing familial roots is a fascinating process. It's amazing the connections you can find, and all the circumstances it took to lead up to you.

    Thanks for participating in my blogfest!

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    1. Thanks :) I love looking back at these routes and the journey that led to who I am today :)

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  2. What an amazing story. I went to Wales when I was a boy. It was a wonderful experience visiting the place that some of my ancestors left hundreds of years before. By they way, Aladdin Lovell is a fantastic name! Like a character from a novel.

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    1. The only downside to having semi-nomadic ancestors is that it's near impossible to pinpoint a place where you can say "They came from here". I know the Lovell tribe came from Spain but I have no idea where abouts.

      And you're right - I might use it as a character :)

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  3. Could have linky my tribute post about gramps. There are more photos there aswell. He will truly be missed by all.

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    1. Good thinking; added. You could do the same from there to here :)

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  4. I'm sorry for your loss.

    You have really interesting roots. Mine are mainly Dutch and German, with some others thrown in I guess.

    :-D

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    1. I love the mix of roots and how they mash together to create people :) I've yet to find out more about the other side of my family tree, but it should make for another interesting story.

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  5. Oh wow, what an amazing post! I wish I knew that much about my roots, but I don't know anything past my grandparents.

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    1. I was lucky that I started tracing my family tree before the Alzheimer's started, so I got a few places to start my research while I could. I'm glad I've traced it as far back as I have :)

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  6. Very sorry about your grandfather.
    Fascinating that you come from Spanish Gypsies.
    What about the knife grinding? Any talent in that area yet?

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    1. Ha! No talent in knife grinding that I know of. I've sharpened a kitchen knife or two while cooking, but that's the extent of my gifts :)

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  7. I'm sorry for your loss. It must have been wonderful to discover so much information about your family roots. It's funny that your grandfather got bored watching the films. I can relate. There's a lot of boring movies out there. LOL!

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    1. He was a projectionist during the 50s and 60s; there would have been the likes of Planet of the Apes and the Time Machine to watch - no way you could get bored with those :)

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  8. I'm so sorry for your loss. What an amazing tribute this post is. Your grandfather must be smiling down at you!
    I always love old pictures, and especially love the photo of your great-grandfather and his dog. The dog looks so much like my dog I can't believe it!

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    1. I've a few photos of my great grandfather at different stages of his life; it's fascinating to see the change in the person but also the features that stay with him throughout his life.

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  9. what a beautiful tribute! you wove his history into a legacy for yourself, the harp and umbrella making, how unique! go for it!

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    1. I love how the harp is one of the traditional symbols of Wales yet it's been a part of my Spanish roots for generations. A weird coincidence :)

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  10. Jaims, the infantry photo on your brother's site without the color really struck me as bearing a tremendous likeness to you! The one on your page didn't conjure that for me as much, strangely, but when I saw your brother's photo montage, something about the jaw and the eyes, I don't know. I just saw Jamie.

    I am very sorry for your loss but I have to say that with the spirit in which you have written this tribute, I get a sense of tranquility. A sense of a whole life but also a whole spool of lives, your family, the thread of your heritage which is alive and well and articulating in you! This post made me feel wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing all of this.

    Let us know if you wake up one morning with an unconquerable urge to start building parasols.

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    1. Thanks Suze :) A lot of the earlier parts of the family line are educated guesses rather than hard facts, but I think I got the gist of it :)

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  11. Condolences on your grandfather, sir. Sharp-looking in that RAF uniform.

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  12. Beautiful tribute for your grandfather. Condolences for your loss. Harp playing and umbrella making sound like interesting past-times . . .

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    1. They must have enjoyed them since they made them their full time occupations too!

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  13. Wow. That is really interesting.
    I am sure your Grandfather would have been proud of this.

    --
    Tim Brannan
    The Other Side
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

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  14. What a lovely tribute. I'm sorry for your loss. My grandpa has alzheimer's too. It is neat finding out where you come from.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

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    1. Thanks Allison, and I'm sorry to hear that your grandpa has the same condition.

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  15. Thank you for posting the retro photos!

    My roots? Eastern European but not much is known of my family history.

    Visiting from Beginnings Blogfest.

    thriftshopcommando.blogspot.com

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  16. Sorry for your loss. I am amazed you can trace your roots so far in History. And being descendant of gypsies, that's most interesting! Nice tribute to your grandfather.

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    1. I got lucky; I'd hit a dead end and one day googled the most unusual name in the line (Aladdin). I came across a single webpage that had details matching some of the ones I already had. Huzzah!

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  17. What a cool way to remember your grandfather! I love tracing family roots. One of my ancestors died in the civil war, but was buried without his sword. No one knows why, and I've always thought there was a story there. Maybe someday I'll write it all down. ;)

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    1. I'd like to think that there is definitely a story there. Go for it, Nicole!

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  18. I'm sorry about your grandfather. This is a great way to pay tribute to him.
    My roots? Apparently I'm an odd mix of French and Scottish.

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  19. Sorry you lost your grandfather. That's great that you have traced your roots so far back. It's an interesting lesson about the racism against the 'Gypsies' and changing a family name to avoid it.
    My roots are mostly Irish and German, with a piece of Native American thrown in. The genetic soup makes me American.

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    1. That's a pretty cool mix :) I haven't read up fully on the subject of Romany racism, but only a few families actually changed their names to 'fit in' a little better. I think it was largely down to which areas of the UK they settled in.

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  20. I think it's amazing that anyone knows that much about their family background. I don't know much at all about mine because on my mum's side somebody changed his name (we think to escape the long arm of the law. heh) and on the other I'm just not sure. I need to find out more about my dad's side actually. I know I've asked before but...it's been a while.

    Very sorry to hear about your grandfather's passing. Clearly he meant a lot to you and your brother and the family. I have only really known one of my grandparents all that well. He's still alive, but both on my mum's side are gone and from what I hear, I'm very unfortunate to have never got to meet them.

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  21. I'm sorry for your loss, Jamie. Thank you for this fascinating trip through time and culture. I'd no idea Lovell was such a distinctive Romany name!

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  22. I'm sorry about your grandpa, Jamie. Wonderful tribute, though! Like the Romany gypsies, my Cherokee ancestors changed names to avoid persecution. In their cases, they changed to "white" names and claimed "Caucasian" on the census. It's very hard, at this time, to accurately track the blood line for who is Cherokee and who isn't unless they stayed part of the reservation and on the rolls. My ancestors did not.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

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  23. Sorry about your grandfather. That's always sad news, even after a very long illness. Alzheimer's and memory loss illnesses are difficult for everyone. I really liked your brother's photo tribute -- love looking at family photos.

    Family histories are always fascinating. Sounds like you have the traditional "American" mixed-immigrant-ancestry and name-changing heritage! My family's story is probably similar, as details disappear and the name-changing makes it difficult to track past a certain point.

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    1. To answer your question, "Leuck" is a german name, and the paternal line is pretty easily traced back to Germany about 6 generations back. Then my paternal grandmother was 100% Irish, and as far as anyone knows they've been in Ireland for-freaking-ever. (Murphy). On the other side, it gets a bit messy, but probably a German/British combination. So, you know, typical American.

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  24. Awesome! You're so lucky to know your family's history that far back, and even to have photos. We've only got photos going to my grandmother's generation, and all we know only goes back to about the 1830s (though before that my dad's family came from Spain too!).
    Aladdin! That's interesting.

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