Gwenllian Walters - the case of the disappearing great grandmother

by Gareth de Walters

On 22 September 1888, a young woman gave birth to her illegitimate son in the Llanelly Union Workhouse, South Wales. A month and a half later Gwenllian registered the birth —and with that bureaucratic step completed— she then disappeared from the historical record.

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The civil birth registration details for Gwenllian Walters Image credit: Private collection.

I’ve researched my family history for many years. Much of the time, money and effort I’ve devoted to the exercise has been focused on resolving the mystery of what happened to my Great Grandmother Gwenllian. Unfortunately, I’m no nearer to discovering where she went after registering the birth of her son (my paternal grandfather).

I wrote this biography for Gwenllian in the (slim) hope the details might sound familiar to someone. If that someone is you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Gwenllian Walters

Gwenllian Walters was a Welsh domestic servant who lived in Llanelly, Carmarthenshire in the late 1800s. After giving birth to her son David Lewis Walters in 1888 she fostered him with her sister Margaret. Gwenllian then disappears from the historical record.

Early years

Gwenllian - gwen (gwyn) "fair, blessed, white" and llian (llinaidd) "flaxen" - Walters was born at home at an address on Constant [Row] in Margam, Glamorganshire, Wales on 6 September 1867. She was the fourth child and second daughter of Lewis Walter(s) a coal miner and his wife Ann (née John).

Gwenllian’s mother Ann died sometime between her daughter's birth and Gwenllian’s first appearance in the historical record on 2 April 1871. On that day, Gwenllian as living at 3 Greenfield Row, Margam, Glamorganshire the the household of her paternal grandparents, Lewis and Margaret Walters, with her father, her three older siblings (David, Margaret and WIlliam) and her maternal grandmother Gwenllian John (née Morgan).

It’s my speculation that the elder Gwenllian might have moved into the household to help care for the children after her own daughter’s death.

Gwenllian very likely spoke Welsh and English like her sister.

There is no record of Gwenllian or her immediate family in the 1881 census.

Birth of her son

By 1888 Gwenllian lived at an unknown address on Llanelli’s Market Street and worked as a domestic servant at Mount Pleasant, Llanelli. A distance of about 500 metres between home and work.

As an unmarried mother-to-be, Gwenllian was probably disowned by her family. Unable to work and with no support from her family she had no option but to enter the Llanelly Union Workhouse to have her child.

On 22 July 1888 Gwenllian gave birth to a boy named David Lewis Walters. There was no father listed on his birth certificate.

The boy’s middle name might refer back to Gwenllian’s father’s name, or it could signal something of the child’s parentage. Unmarried mothers sometimes gave their baby their biological father’s last name as their middle name.

The evidence from my genetic genealogy research indicates the last name of the father might have been Thomas.

After the birth

There is no record of Gwenllian following the registration of her son’s birth. She probably spent a few weeks recovering and working in the Llanelly Union Workhouse before discharging herself to look for employment.

Her son David was fostered with her sister’s family - Margaret Ann Samuel - and grew up known as ‘Dai Sam’.

Possible record matches

A ‘G. Walters’ appears in the 1891 census. This person worked as a house maid at the Thomas Arms Hotel, Mount Pleasant, Llanelli. A pub operates under the same name to this day.

This person is the right age to be Gwenllian, but gave their birth place Aberavon - a locality about 10 kms distant from Margam. This doesn't rule this person out. People weren't always consistent when reporting their place of birth - sometimes giving to general administrative location and at other times giving the specific town or village.

Family tree

The family tree of Gwenllian Walters, born 1867, Margam, Glamorganshire, Wales.