Slate Valley Museum staff back from Wales

More than 3,000 miles from home, Kate Weller and Amy Mincher found people who knew all about Granville, Poultney and the rest of the Slate Valley.

“The connection was very strong,” said Mincher, assistant director at the Slate Valley Museum. “It made us very proud of the community here.”

Mincher and museum director Kate Weller traveled to Wales late last month to present a program on the Slate Valley’s recently completed project that saw many of the museum’s photos and record put digitized onto to computers and is continuing with the material being put on the Internet.

“For a lot of people, the history is still alive,” Weller said of the visit to the North American Association for the Study of Welsh Culture and History conference in Bangor, Wales, last month. “Everyone knew of the connection to the slate industry.

“We met so many people whose families came to America, not just to the Slate Valley,” Weller said. “People found it fascinating, we talked about how we could connect our records to people trying to access genealogical records.”

The two Slate Valley staff members received a grant from the National Welsh-American Foundation to attend the conference.

“It’s so important that we thank them, because there is no way we could have funded this, and it’s going to be so important for us,” Weller said. “And we cannot thank the board members and other volunteers nearly enough. They are the reason we were able to keep the museum open that week.”

Weller pointed out a series of other connections made during the trip, which included visiting the National Slate Museum of Wales in Llanberis, seeing a working slate quarry and talking with the curator at the Penrhyn Castle.

“We are discussing grants and funding for possible translations of our records from Welsh to English,” Weller said. “Even after two or three generations, there were still people over here still using Welsh. It’s like a hidden treasure for us,” she said. “We have all this information, but we cannot reach it.”

Perhaps the most exciting discovery, in Weller’s view, was discovering the Penrhyn Castle has been digitizing its records, including letters from Hugh Napier Douglas-Pennant, Lord Penrhyn, who oversaw the estate and the neighboring quarry.

“We saw his letters, complaining about the people involved in the strike in 1904 that led a lot of the Welsh to come to America,” said Weller, who noted that Penrhyn was particularly harsh on choral groups who protested against him both in Wales and in London.

“Two of those people were John and Mary Davies, and they are the ones we build our trunk display around,” Weller said. “We have the trunk they traveled here with and a lot of material and information from them.

“But now we have the other side,” she added. “We found something we never had; the other side of the story. Before, it was like talking about a battle, but only knowing about one side.”

Mincher was impressed with the chance to visit a working underground mine and see the kind of challenges the Welsh faced before they came to America.

“Here we have open pits, and in some parts of Wales, they have terraced mines in the sides of mountains, and they have the underground mines.

“They worked 12 hours a day. They never saw sunlight in the winter,” she said, noting she found it hard to be six stories underground. “It put it in context about why they would have come here to have the opportunity.”

Weller appreciated the national museum, partly, because it still had operating steam engines. “It was a total experience. You could smell things and hear things. That may be something we want to do here.”

Finally, Weller said, the visit gives her a vision for the future.

“We can collaborate and create a network to make it easier for researchers around the world.”

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