Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chester County Historical Society

Yesterday I went to the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, PA. It's in a lovely building that also contains a museum. I was really surprised to see that they still use card catalogs and for a moment I stood there like a dork wondering uh, what am I supposed to do? I'm so used to doing searches in databases online or otherwise that it actually took a second for my brain to switch into using paper search techniques. Geez, shame on me for not being in a local historical society in a really long time!

I'm researching a family with the surname of Tompkins (sometimes spelled Thompkins). From what I can tell, this is a Welsh family that lived in an area of southeastern Pennsylvania that we call Great Valley. To us locals, Great Valley = corporate centers, route 202 and traffic that makes me want to gnaw my own arm off. But in the olden days, as in the late 1600s and onward, this area saw a big influx of Welsh immigrants. It was mostly farming, and in the late 1800s, the railroad came through and the Tompkins family had a lot of railroad employees. This area contains Valley Forge park, so there was a lot of British and American troops in and around.

The Tompkins family I'm researching is not for me, but for some friends. I really appreciate them letting me get all up in their business by researching their family, sometimes you just need a break from your own research!

So I've been learning a lot about Welsh placenames in this area that I had no idea about. This family mostly lived in Tredyffrin Township which apparently (according to my internet translation skills) means "big valley". Huh, how about that, it makes sense! We also have other Welsh placenames in the area like Radnor, Bala Cynwyd, Uwchlan, Gwynedd and Merion.

Bala Cynwyd may look scary, but locally we pronounce it "bala" with the "a" pronunced as it is in "pal" and "cynwyd" is pronounced "kinwood". "Uwchlan" we pronounce as "uke" (like in puke [sorry that's all I could come up with] and "lan" as in "pan".

Of course, this is nothing to real placenames in Wales which I happened upon. Here's a couple that caught my eye, and I'm not even making them up:


Intimidating? Uh, yeah, to me at least! I admit that I love studying the english language and its history but Welsh is a world unto itself. I think the two "D"s together actually sound like a "th" but I could be wrong. One of these days I'd like to become more familiar with it. Right after I finish my genealogy research. Yeah, right after that.

But back to the historical society. I found some great newspaper clippings from the 19th and 20th centuries that weren't on any newspaper archive sites yet. Other than that, not too much. My oldest Tompkins is a John Tompkins born March 1797 in Pennsylvania. I suspect that his father may have been an Isaac Tompkins but I just don't know for sure anything else about him right now. And other than the newspaper clippings, I couldn't find too much else. So I'll take a break and come back with a fresh eye later, that seems to do the trick for me!

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Leah, I awarded you with the Puckerbrush Award, you deserve it, congratulations! Please stop by and pick it up when you get a chance my friend.