Saturday, January 22, 2011

John William Thomas: 1846 in Wales - 1918 in Illinois

John William Thomas
   When I arrived in Fairbury on the day of discovery, all I knew was that John W. Thomas' last known whereabouts were in 1910 at the age of 64 in Steuben, Marshall County, Illinois.  On that census he is listed as a blacksmith at the coal mine.  Since I couldn't find him anywhere else forward in time I assumed he must have died there and thought that maybe he would have been buried in that area. I went to Fairbury looking for his wife, my great great grandmother Turesa Jones Thomas, because her last known census occurred later in Livingston County, Illinois.
   When we arrived at the Dominy Public Library we looked through the local cemetery register that contained a listing of individuals interred in the Graceland Cemetery.  I started looking for Turesa's name but in addition to T.L. Thomas I couldn't believe my good luck when I found J.W. Thomas as well.  Could it be?  I began my love-hate relationship with microfilm readers and tried to see what I could discover in the town newspaper, the Fairbury Blade.  The cemetery book gave me a date so I started in on the right year for John W. Thomas barely knowing what to expect.  I couldn't believe my eyes when I scrolled to February and there he was!  J.W. Thomas!

   I was stunned;  and thrilled.  I just couldn't believe that after all the years of not knowing where the Thomases came from, I suddenly had more information than I could have guessed that I would discover.
Swansea, Wales
  My great great grandfather John *William* Thomas (William is my dad's name too!) really was from Wales after all! There were so many things here to explore--his other children, the names of the other family members at the funeral and the location of his origin in Wales.
   Where was "Swausea?"  Apparently nowhere.  But "Swansea" is definitely a known location in Wales.  After some investigation I have learned that it is a fairly common transcription error when reading handwriting to mistake a cursive "n" for a "u"; I believe this was the case in John William's obituary.
   "A man of sterling qualities" and a "peaceable citizen."  And surprisingly a Methodist; like me.  I was raised in the United Methodist Church, but all of my living paternal relatives were raised in the Catholic Church.  The patchwork of religious heritage in my family has been another welcome discovery.  With every new generation I discover that all branches of my family were a mixture of both Protestant and Catholic traditions.  I am glad they are all a part of who I am. 
   I was so satisfied to have found John William Thomas.  In a way, it felt like I had really found my family roots for the first time.

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