Friday, October 11, 2013

Using the Skeletons from My Family History to Plot a Novel [Part One]

I never realised when I started out tracing my family tree back in 1998 where it might lead to.  I hardly expected to find branches of my family in the US or that my genealogical research would turn into a fictional historical novel entitled, 'Black Diamonds'.

It all began with a chat to a friend who had started to trace her family tree.  I went along to the local library and met the librarian/historian there, Carolyn Jacob, who when I told her I was tracing the ‘Harman Line’, got very excited and told me there was an elderly lady at the Merthyr branch of the Glamorgan Family History Society, who had been tracing the same line for years.

It turned out after a quick phone call that this lady was belonging to me and we were from the same branch of the tree.  I ended up leaving the library with a photocopy of my family tree the lady had left there [with her permission] and a couple of photo copied chapters of local history books that contained information about my ancestors.  One was a chapter about Mormonism in Merthyr Tydfil and the other, a chapter about a very wealthy and prominent member of the community.

The site of the old Three Salmons Inn
The one in particular which was of interest to me at the time was,  Edmund Harman, who was classed as ‘A Gentleman of the Town, living off his own means’.  He was my 4 X great grandfather's brother who owned many properties in the area, including, The Three Salmons Inn, The Globe Inn, The Cross Keys Inn, The White Hart Inn in Cardiff several properties on Gillar Street,  shares in the Gas Works and the Taff Vale Railway to name but a few.  He regularly went hunting with the gentleman of the Court House which later became part of, The Merthyr Labour Club.

Edmund Harman who drowned in canal
With all my research, information given to me and attendance at various historical lectures, I was able to paint a vivid picture in my mind of what life was like during the 1800s in my home town.
There is a massive connection with my family and Mormonism, though I am not a Mormon myself.  I recently discovered that my 3 x great grandfather, Lewis Harman was excommunicated from the Church due to drunkenness.  This is something that seems to have passed down the line as his son, [also Edmund Harman] fell into the Glamorganshire Canal and drowned after getting drunk.

William Harman Mormon Pioneer
Other skeletons in the family closet have included, the bigamous marriage of William Harman, Lewis’s brother.  He was a pioneer in Merthyr Tydfil preaching about his faith on the streets.  He emigrated to Great Salt Lake, leaving his wife behind in Merthyr, as she refused to convert.  He remarried whilst out there and established a new family.

He was also involved in the building of the beautiful Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake.
Mormon Tabernacle Church
I come from a mining background, both my grandfathers were miners and so were a lot of my ancestors. My novel, ‘Black Diamonds’, contains elements of people living and working in that environment and emigration from Merthyr Tydfil to Utah during the 19th century.

An interesting fact is that rich Edmund Harman offered to leave all his money to his nephew William but William refused saying his Mormon faith was more important than any money! The S.S. Nevada, the ship that William sailed on from Liverpool to New York in 1871 to begin a new life in Utah...

Read part two here:

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