The Life and Works of A. C. Michael

Welsh roots – Michael’s grandparents

I’ve been looking at Welsh newspapers from the fantastic free resource at the National Library Wales. I’m going to get some help translating these, but here are a few gleanings so far.

Arthur’s paternal grandfather was Owen Michael, born 1807 in Amlwch, a town on the northern shore of Anglesey. He had a younger brother, John, born in 1812. Their parents may have been a John and Anne Michael, but this is poorly sourced so far, given the gap between 1807 and the first extant census in 1841.

It was John and Michael who left Anglesey and gradually travelled to south Wales. Both pursued the calling as Baptist ministers, so the best search term in the Welsh newspapers is ‘Parch. Owen Michael’ or ‘Parch. John Michael’, where ‘parch.’ is short for ‘parchedig,’ the Welsh term for ‘reverend.’

What I know about John’s life so far comes from Owen’s obituary of his brother, published in Seren Cymru on his death in 1878. The most interesting episode concerns John’s short ministry in a village which had just built a new chapel. This chapel had a graveyard that was also new, and seemed destined to stay that way for a while, as anyone who died in the village wanted to be buried in the existing churchyard next to their family, regardless of any change of faith they’d had in the intervening years. (Baptists are unusual by the way, in not baptising their children; adults are baptised when they decide to join the church themselves.) So John had a shiny new church, surrounded by pristine grounds and an untouched shovel. He also had some seed potatoes.

We should gloss over the brainfart that came next, but his own brother didn’t, so what the hell … John dug up a patch of the churchyard and planted some potatoes. The locals were outraged, and were not even mollified by John’s promise to not dig the potatoes up again. After all, no one wants to see anything rising from the ground in a graveyard! The translation is unclear as to whether John packed his bags or they were packed for him.

John married twice but I couldn’t decipher the circumstances (something about a wealthy widow?), so I may have to pass the article onto a Welsh-speaking friend. He died in 1878 and was buried at Penhow chapel, Llanfaches, Monmouthshire.

Owen went from Anglesey first to Denbighshire and ended up in Bridgend (Pen-y-bont). Although both John and Owen were regarded as powerful preachers (I get a sense of sincerity rather than hell-fire types, from the recollections of people who saw them), it seems that Owen was the writer of the two, the real artist. He not only wrote some hymns, but when the baptists took over the struggling periodical Seren Gomer in the early 1850s, Owen was either one of the editors, or chair of the editorial committee (not quite deciphered yet). Owen died in 1881, so Arthur never met him, and is buried in the grounds of Bethel chapel, Laleston (Welsh: Trelales), a village just outside Bridgend. His headstone incorporates a kind of poem called an “englyn”, which I had never heard of before. It is possible that Owen wrote it himself.

Coming from Anglesey, John and Owen were Welsh speakers. The question of languages wasn’t on the Welsh census until 1881, by which time John had been with the potatoes for three years and Owen missed by a matter of weeks. However, Owen’s son Ben (Arthur’s father) spoke English and Welsh. Ben’s second wife Laurina (Arthur’s mum) was English, so I don’t think any of their children learned Welsh.