History and Heritage

Ystalyfera and District

Ystalyfera - South Wales

A Sacred Promise

Through out history people from all walks of life have for what ever reason, sat for hours researching a specific topic, not for fame and gain but because certainly in my case, a gut feeling that it needed to be recorded. After a while when even the very reason for beginning the quest has faded, just one aim remains upper most, TO COMPLETE the assignment. That should be reward enough but especially over the last couple of years, I have had the privilege to see how my work can change a person’s peace of mind.

My daughter is buried in England and I know where she lies but what could happen when a loved one has died but the location of the site has been lost or worse still, completely omitted from all records. In a cemetery with hundred’s of graves this presents a daunting enough problem but when a marker originally laid at the place can no longer withstand the elements and is torn from its spot, the grave site inevitably reverts to a file referred to as “Unknown”. This would be a sad end for all concerned except for one very strong human quality MEMORY.

In psychology, memory is the process by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding allows information that is from the outside world to reach our senses in the forms of chemical and physical stimuli. In this first stage we must change the information so that we may put the memory into the encoding process. Storage is the second memory stage or process. This entails that we maintain information over periods of time. Finally the third process is the retrieval of information that we have stored. We must locate it and return it to our consciousness. Some retrieval attempts may be effortless due to the type of information.
  WIKIPEDIA the free encyclopedia

That sounds very much like a computer at work and when I began my data base for Holy Trinity Church yard, I had the same problems, to work out how to code my penciled drawings, which format to use to store my information and how to build a good cross reference system to enable me to retrieve my findings. Over the years I believe I have achieved my aim and although the data base is still an on going concern, it has already proved a very useful documentation of the burials performed from 1868 – 1991.

The missing link however is the MEMORY of the surviving loved one.

In May 2013 I received an email. Someone had come to the end of the line and although a long shot “was there any way I could help.” The hairs always stand up on the back of my neck when the grave they remember has no marker. In Holy Trinity I have had to make many educated guesses whether or not I was actually looking at enough ground to contain a coffin or perhaps say, round the roots of a tree would any one have been placed there bearing in mind that I had no photographs of the cemetery 145 years ago and how large would that tree have been then.

When did its roots start pushing these graves away from their original sites? Under ground water courses have played havoc with foundations as did the storm of 1989 (see article Storm Damage). Man made damage should have no excuses but as always we do cause destruction as we hurtle through this life and on a couple of times I wish we could take more care. Trees which were felled for what ever reason in 2004 fell against a beautiful white marble cross which now lies in pieces besides the grave it once so proudly looked over. The second incidence was for me personally upsetting and of a more serious nature because I had not completed recording the details from the headstones which are found in Plot 8, the section in the bottom cemetery. When the wall collapsed that runs along the boundary of the cemetery and the car park of the Band Room on the A 4067 the stones fell in to the cemetery burying the graves running along the wall. No one at that time had the presence of mind to remove the stones and the wall was rebuilt in 2005 and with a further 8 years of undergrowth I doubt if those graves will ever see light of day again.

Until the buddleia bush/come tree had been hacked away in Plot 01, I had no way of identifying the monument which had in fact been completely swallowed up by this out of control “monster”. When ever I walk past the site I am always amazed at just what a good job its branches did of hiding such a large stone structure. Unfortunately, however much hacking and clearing could be achieved today in the plots on the lower levels, I truly believe it is too late now to safe any more historical data that would, not so many decades ago, have been so easily read and recorded. The glaring example is the headstone of John Titus Newton which I first came across in the summer of 2003. My only camera then was not really up to the job and in those days it was necessary to take a torch with me just to be able to see where I was walking.

I may as well have had my eyes shut because with the vegetation over my head and so compacted; it was literally as black as the ace of spades. Then in 2005 a second camera which seemed to be coping in the daylight flashed some sort of result and I managed to transcribe the inscription:

Remembrance of
John Titus Newton J.P
Of the Limes Ystalyfera
Died March 25th 1897
Aged 74 years
Late Managing Director
Of the Ystalyfera Iron
And Tin Plate Company

When I acquired a digital camera I went back to this headstone but too late, after 113 years the face had completely crumpled and yet another inscription had turned to dust.

After all this time of transcribing and researching the local cemeteries each new grave I catalogue still demands as much care and attention to detail as the first one because eventually the file will show the occupant, his/her relationship with the other persons buried, their trade, address, age, marriage, former address, date of death and burial date and a cross reference to other members of that family buried in the same cemetery or in some cases family members in Alltygrug or Pantteg, and in my work on the Fallen of the Tawe Valley a photograph of the family grave. Where possible I have also obtained obituary and funeral reports which have been added to the persons file.

More numerous than any researcher would wish to discover, I invariable come across mistakes either in spelling or information. Dealing with people’s lives and families this, as one would expect, has the potential to create problems, and I have to be at least 99% positive in my own mind before entering details.

My greatest resource of knowledge however, is the living relative and I shall be fore ever grateful for the many people who have taken the time to contact me or the site and fill in those missing links.

Again MEMORY even faded memory, has proved over and over that the brain is a remarkable organ and spiced with a shake of determination, results can be achieved even when it would appear to be only a long shot at the end of the line.

I have had permission to enter this sequence of events and I am very happy to do so not only because at first glance it seemed to be an almost impossible task but it just goes to show what can be achieved when we all pull together. An email was sent 12th May 2013 to YEARGROUP, asking for information on the whereabouts of a grave of a sister who sadly and unexpectedly passed away whilst visiting relatives in Ystalyfera about 66 years ago. A promise to their late mother had unfortunately so far proved fruitless. Luckily the one ray of hope was that a very dark photograph of the headstone which at that time was next to the site was still in the family’s possession and although only the bottom half of the inscription was visible it was in Welsh. This had been sent on to the present Vicar of St. David’s Church Ystalyfera who although willingly translated the words could not shed light on the location because Burial Sites had not been recorded. That night I worked on what information I had been given and still by 1.00am had not pulled any thing concrete out of the bag. A second email 13th May confirmed what I had actually discovered: that the relative’s details were correct but I suspected that the sister’s surname had been originally documented incorrectly and to this day had not been corrected and because my data base had no mention of the surnames, in desperation I forwarded a plan I had made of the Plots of Holy Trinity Cemetery. By that evening “Memory” had decided to help and as told by her mother, the sisters grave should be somewhere in the section now Marked X on my plan.

Some Plots have been easier to work in than others and due to the work load, sections of notes are still awaiting my attention to enter them on to the computer data base and that is why I had not uncovered the grave the previous evening. My hand written notes gave the grave number and in that folder was the photograph taken in 2009, which was immediately scanned and sent on its way for a positive id. May 14th was a good day. The long searched for spot was now located and the next email informed me that they would be coming to Ystalyfera within a week.

Indeed, Monday 20th May 2013 lived up to every ones hopes, and I noticed as I walked through the cemetery to meet them, even the ankle deep grass, unlike last week, had now dried out.

The couple had traveled many miles that morning to place a bunch of flowers, not only for their own peace of mind but also to fulfill a promise that had been made several years ago. At last it was possible to pay their respects here IN the cemetery and not just in the place where we all know, if our loved ones can be remembered they have not left us, that special place we call our MEMORIES.