Mormons trace Welsh ancestry

BBC News/June 15, 2004

Eighty Americans are making an emotional visit to Wales this week 150 years after their ancestors left during the great Mormon migration.

The party from Utah is visiting sites of historical interest and unveiling plaques where their forefathers lived.

Many thousands of Welsh converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints crossed the Atlantic in the 1840s and 1850s.

Those now returning are on a mission to find out more about their ancestry.

There is certainly an increase in interest in family history - not just in America but also in the UK.

The visit has been organised by Ronald Dennis, a professor of Portuguese and Welsh at Brigham Young University.

He is the great great grandson of Captain Dan Jones, a Mississippi River steamboat captain who hailed from Wales and became a prolific writer and missionary who defended the church against attacks from Welsh Baptist pulpits.

Mr Dennis moved his family to Wales for six months in the 1970s so he could learn the language and has since translated more 19th Century Welsh Mormon writings than anyone else in the field.

This is the 12th and last trip across the Atlantic he is organising as he is retiring from university life after 35 years to write a biography on Dan Jones.

"The purpose is to get a better understanding of the land of our ancestors and in some cases to visit the places where they lived," he explained.

This is the final visit to Wales organised by Ronald Dennis

It is estimated that more than 20% of the population of Utah is of Welsh descent.

Later in the week plaques will be unveiled at two properties at Llanybydder in Carmarthenshire by direct descendants of immigrants who once lived there.

Before then the party will visit The National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth where Mr Dennis will present a rare volume of his ancestor's writing as a thank-you for the help he has received while conducting research over the years.

The trip will end in Cardiff where he will give a lecture at Rhiwbina Chapel on Sunday evening.

Mr Dennis hopes the visit will spark further interest in family history, not just among the his party but also residents in Wales.

"There are local family history society's springing up everywhere and every time I go onto google I find new ones which is very exciting."

His own website, Welsh Mormon History, has details of hundreds of Welsh immigrants to America and he hopes by the end of the tour he will have fresh information to expand it further.

"A lot of people in Wales will have a great great uncle or aunt who left the family for America in the 19th Century and will have lost touch.

"It's a way of sharing and exchanging information," he added.

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