Interview on BBC Wales!

Just by a quirk of fate, the local Heritage Centre in the little town of Blaenavon in South Wales informed the BBC that an American was visiting with an interesting story to tell, and the result was this online article about my genealogy quest.

There are a few factual errors, but they got the gist of it and I think the article is well done.


Corrections to the article:

The article says I’ve been tracing my ancestors since 2015, but I’ve been doing it since the 1980’s.

The article says that the photo of James Furlong and Mary Payne was taken in Northumberland, but it was taken in Finleyville, Pennsylvania.  James Furlong was born in Finleyville, and Mary Payne was born in Northumberland.  And, by the way, that is my mother, Mary Payne Furlong, in the lower left of that photo.

The article refers to my ancestor Mary Waters incorrectly as Mary Walters.

The article says that two of the sons of Thomas Furlong and Mary Waters moved to America, but there was a third son named Thomas Furlong who also emigrated.

The photo in the online video was Mary Ball, not Mary Walters.


Beast from the East

After two months in Northumberland, I prepared to set off on the 300-mile trip to Blaenavon, in South Wales, where I was scheduled to spend the month of March researching my Waters, Furlong, and Ball families.

The route from Newcastle to Blaenavon

I’d originally planned to drive straight through to Wales on the first of March, but my rental car had to be exchanged at Newcastle Airport on the last day of February, so I decided to begin my drive south directly from there, and make it a two day trip instead of one.  That decision turned out to be serendipitous.

The day before the trip, it began to snow, accumulating several inches by the morning of my departure.  I don’t drive in the snow.  I especially don’t drive in the snow on the left side of the road in a brand new rental car in a foreign country.

I did have another option.  I could have traveled the three miles to my friend Kay’s house, and waited out the storm.  But I was eager to get on my way, and I had pre-paid my lodging both at the half-way point in Nottingham, and at my destination in Wales.  So I left Northumberland as planned, hoping that the A-1 dual carriageway, the main north-south artery in England, would be sufficiently plowed that the trip to the hotel would be safe.  After all, it was just a few inches of snow and it was supposed to stop in the afternoon.

Well, it turns out that the British aren’t very prepared for big snowfalls because it just doesn’t happen that often here.  It was a dicey drive to the airport on side roads, one of which was closed off completely, and then the drive south on the A-1 was extremely stressful.

The main issue I had was that the windshield washer fluid was frozen, making it almost impossible to see when there wasn’t enough moisture to use the wipers.  I had to pull over a few times to wash the windshield at the side of the road, and I also stopped to buy some washer fluid suitable for the low temperature.  I put it in a spray bottle which I used while driving, by sticking my arm out the driver’s side window when necessary.

In addition to the problem with the windshield, the roads were slippery and the traffic moved very slowly.   Sometimes, only one lane had been plowed.  It was a 150 mile, five-hour ordeal to get to Nottingham.

That night at the hotel, I received a text from the owner of my lodging in Wales, letting me know that they were expecting a major storm the next day, which they were calling the Beast from the East.  Since it wasn’t expected until the afternoon, I decided to press on in the morning.

Once I uncovered the car from the few inches of snow that had fallen overnight, and made my way out of the unplowed hotel parking lot, the drive that morning wasn’t too bad.  I stopped for groceries in Pontypool, and arrived at the cottage in Blaenavon around noon on March first, literally sliding with relief into a parking spot on the icy hill.

And then the Beast arrived.  The pipes froze the first night, so I began using melted snow for washing the dishes, and conserved the drinks I’d brought with me.  My landlady lived in a rural area twenty miles away, so there was nothing she could do.  I saw images on the television of hundreds of people stuck on major highways for 12+ hours, and felt grateful to be warm and dry, and protected from the fierce wind I could hear outside.

A car outside my window

After the first two days, I was able to get outside – the snow was up to my knees – and walk over to the main street of the little town.  There was one shop open, where I bought some bottled water, and then trudged back to the cottage.  On the third day, the temperature went up, and my landlady was able to take care of the pipes.

She warned me that conditions were still too dangerous for me to drive – she said they had encountered roads where only one lane was plowed, so if you met a car going the other way, there was nowhere to pull over.  People were still getting stuck everywhere.  It wasn’t until the sixth day that I felt it was safe enough for me to drive to the archives and the supermarket.

So that was my first week in Wales.   They told me that they hadn’t had a storm like this in many years.  I thought about my ancestors, and what the winters must have been like for them.  I took advantage of the down time to plan my research, and I did some walking around the town as conditions improved.  And, I was very ready to get in the car and go when the right time finally came!

February in Northumberland

My good friend Agnes came to visit for the first two weeks of February.  It was such a pleasure to have a travel buddy, and to take time to do some sightseeing.  Agnes found a great round trip air fare from Newark to Leeds, so I made the two hour trek south to meet her at the airport.  We then went straight to the North York Moors National Park where we spent a few nights.

View on one of our hikes
Exploring Whitby, a little town on the Yorkshire coast

After a quick one-day break in Bedlington, we took off for Scotland, traveling up the Northumberland coast for part of the trip, where we stopped for tea and scones at a delightful little pub in Seahouses, and visited Bamburgh Castle:

The Olde Ship Inn, Seahouses
Bamburgh Castle
View from inside Bamburgh Castle

In Scotland, we very bravely tried a traditional Scottish dish called Haggis, Neeps and Tatties (uh…sheep stomach stuffed with other unmentionable parts, with turnips and potatoes), and spent a day in Edinburgh, which we loved:

Haggis, neeps and tatties – very tasty!
Part of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle
Dinner at the White Hart Inn, the oldest pub in Edinburgh

On our return to Northumberland, my friends Kay and Peter generously continued acting as tour guides, taking us on a day trip to see Washington Old Hall, which was the residence of George Washington’s ancestors, and the ancient Durham Cathedral, among other places:

Washington Old Hall
Durham Cathedral

For the last couple of nights before Agnes flew home, we stayed near Leeds, where we enjoyed a “high tea” and visited the fascinating ruins of an old castle which we could wander through to our heart’s content:

Spofforth Castle ruins

During my last couple of weeks in Northumberland, I wrapped up my research at the archives, and spent some final precious time with Kay and Peter.  They took me on two more day trips, one south to visit Beamish, a living history outdoor museum, and the other one north to visit various parish churches and towns where my ancestors lived.

A view of Beamish
Low Newton, a place on the coast where my Patterson family lived

Whew, another busy month!  I left Northumberland in a blizzard, but with lots of warm feelings, great memories, and a deeper understanding of my ancestral home.

Northumberland Research

Many of my ancestors originally came from England and Wales; 71% of my DNA is from Great Britain, according to Ancestry.  But unlike the more distant ancestors who left England for America in the 1600’s, the ones from Northumberland, who emigrated in 1881, seem almost close enough to touch.

My mother knew her grandmother, Mary Payne, very well, and we even have a photograph of Mary’s father, John Payne (born in England in 1846), holding my mother as an infant in the early 1930’s. So it feels like my connection to these people and this place easily spans the distance of time.

The family of Mary Payne’s mother, Jane Weightman, was the focus of my Northumberland research.  Jane was the oldest of three children born to Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney in coal company housing in Radcliffe Terrace, long since demolished.

The family of Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney

All three of Andrew and Mary’s children were baptized in St. Lawrence Church in Warkworth.  See my previous post “January in Northumberland” for photos of the church.

Before going to Northumblerland, I already knew the names and dates for most of my direct ancestors back to the mid-1700’s.  My goal was to confirm the vital events for all of the children of my directs so I would be able to create accurate Family Group Sheets, and also to try to solve some stubborn mysteries.  I was very successful with the former, but not so much with the latter.  Sometimes we have to accept the fact that not all family mysteries are solvable!

Andrew Weightman and Mary Tunney married in 1847 in a civil ceremony at the Register Office in Alnwick, and not in a parish church, and I wonder whether that choice had anything to do with the fact that Mary had an illegitimate son, born the year before, father unknown.  Mary was 26 when they married, whereas Andrew was only 22, definitely making me wonder about the significance, if any, of the older, more experienced woman with the younger man.

In 1851, three years after marrying Andrew and having their first two children, Mary’s five-year-old illegitimate son, John William Tunney, was enumerated in the household of his maternal grandparents.  Was this just a visit coinciding with census night, or did young John live there rather than with his mother and stepfather?

A short seven years after their wedding, Andrew, age 29, was killed in an accident at the Radcliffe Colliery.  Here’s the newspaper account of the coroner’s inquest:1

Newcastle Courant, Andrew Weightman Coroner’s Inquest, 1 Dec 1854

We can only wonder whether the three young children, all under the age of seven, witnessed this scene in their small house, and remembered it for the rest of their lives.

And how did Mary survive as a widow with three young children? Colliery company housing was only provided to working miners.  Several of Andrew’s brothers were working at the same place, so perhaps she and the children moved in temporarily with one of them.

Seven years after Andrew’s death, Mary was still living at Radcliffe Colliery, this time appearing in the census with her 15 year old son, John William Tunney (a miner), her children by Andrew Weightman (Jane, Ralph and James) and a boarder.  And, a little surprise:  a two year old son named Thomas Weightman, who couldn’t possibly be the son of Andrew.2

1861 England Census showing Mary Tunney Weightman’s household

Mary disappeared from the records after the 1861 census. One of my research projects at the Northumberland Archives was to examine the payroll records of the Radcliffe Colliery to see if they might provide any clues about the movements of the family between census years.  These original records are in huge ledger books which go back to 1860.  They were fascinating to see, but didn’t shed much light on the family’s whereabouts.

Mary’s daughter Jane Weightman married John Payne in August of 1869 in Morpeth, about 15 miles south of Radcliffe.  Jane’s half brother John William Tunney was a witness, and less than a year later, he appeared in the 1870 U.S. census in Jefferson Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, along with his half brother Ralph Weightman.  They were living there with a first cousin, also named John Tunney, who had married an American woman named Susan Brown in December of 1869.3

In 1871, Jane and John Payne’s census household in Northumberland included their first child Mary Payne, twelve-year-old Thomas (Mary Tunney’s youngest son), and Jane’s seventeen-year-old brother James.  Here again is the earliest family photograph I have, which was taken in Blyth, Northumberland around the time of the 1871 census:

John Payne, Jane Weightman (seated), James Weightman, and Thomas Weightman, with baby Mary Payne on Jane’s lap, ca 1871

The big question at this point is what happened to Mary Tunney, and why isn’t she with her children in 1871?

In the mid-1870’s, both John William Tunney and Ralph Weightman returned to Northumberland, married, and then went back to Pennsylvania. Finally, in 1881, John and Jane Payne and their five children joined them, along with their brother James Weightman and his wife and infant daughter, and their half brother Thomas Weightman, age 22.

So, all five of Mary Tunney’s children went to Pennsylvania.  Did she?  Despite thorough searches, I have NOT found any death or marriage record relating to our Mary on either continent.

I was fascinated to learn that after all the traveling back and forth between Pennsylvania and Northumberland, brothers Ralph and James Weightman returned to England with their families in 1890, and that’s where they lived out the rest of their lives.  I found their original burial records, and visited their graves at St. Paul’s church in Choppington.  Here’s James Weightman’s stone:

Gravestone of James Weightman, St. Paul’s churchyard, Choppington

I was able to get copies of the baptisms of all of the children of these two brothers as well, most of which are not available anywhere online.  But I still haven’t solved the mystery of what happened to Mary Tunney.



  1.  Newcastle Courant, 1 Dec 1854, “Coroner’s Inquests”, Andrew Weightman, p. 5, col. 6; digital image, FindMyPast ( : accessed 2 Apr 2013); citing British Library.
  2. 1861 England census, County of Northumberland, Parish of Hauxley, Enumeration District 9e, Mary Weightman household; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Mar 2018); citing the National Archives of the UK, RG9, Piece 3877,  Folio 51, p. 14.
  3. 1870 U.S census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule,  Jefferson Township, p. 232 (stamped) A, family 205; John Tunney household; digital image, ( accessed 5 Jun 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1292.