Born 7 August 1860 at Llundain-fach, Llandysul, Cardiganshire, son of John William and Mary Davies. He was educated at Capel Dewi national school and at William Eilir Evans's school, Llandysul. He then worked on a farm in the district and afterwards as a collier at Mardy, Rhondda Fach. Having been gassed in the colliery explosion of 1889, he set up in business at Lampeter, selling boots and clogs. Because of his keen interest in Welsh books and in genealogy, particularly of Cardiganshire and west Wales families, he was appointed in 1908 on the staff of the newly-founded National Library of Wales, where he remained until his retirement in 1927. The extensive information on genealogical and bibliographical matters which he, although entirely self-trained, had accumulated, enabled him in the earlier years to render valued assistance to research workers in these fields. He also assisted Sir John Williams, Bt., Principal J. H. Davies, and others, whose libraries are among the National Library's foundation collections, to acquire valuable printed books, often buying them himself at country sales. Later he scheduled many thousands of deeds and documents in the National Library's collections.
John Davies m., in 1890, Margaret, daughter of John Thomas, Glantroiddyn, Caeo, Carmarthenshire, and had one son and one daughter. He was a member of the Anglican Church. He died at Aberystwyth, 23 June 1939, and was buried in Aberystwyth cemetery.
He was the author of Rhestr o Lyfrau Argraffedig yng Nghaerfyrddin gan John Ross rhwng y blynyddoedd 1763 a 1807 (Caerfyrddin, 1916). In collaboration with Mrs. Lucy E. Lloyd Theakston he compiled and edited Some Pedigrees of the Lloyds of Allt yr Odyn, Castell Hywel, Ffos y Bleiddiaid, Gilfach Wen, Llan Llyr, and Waun Ifor (Oxford, 1912). He also arranged for publication the contents of Rhestr Eisteddfodau hyd y Flwyddyn 1901 gyda nodiadau ar amryw ohonynt (Llandyssul, 1914), material which D. M. Richards of Aberdare had accumulated over many years but had been unable to arrange and publish before his death in 1913. In 1927 he issued a reprint (fifty copies, printed at Aberystwyth by John Jones) of Myfyrdod ar Einioes ac Angeu (Caerfyrddin, 1798), the translation by David Davis, Castell Hywel, of Gray's Elegy.
A number of his manuscripts are preserved in the National Library. They include an authorindex to Cymru (O.M.E.) (N.L.W. MS. 6042); an essay (successful at the National Eisteddfod, Aberystwyth, 1916) on ‘Llenorion Sir Aberteifi: braslun o'u hanes a rhestr gyflawn o'u gweithiau cyhoeddedig rhwng 1600 a 1900’ (N.L.W. MS. 8705); essays entitled ‘Ymchwiliad Hynafiaethol a Thraddodiadol am Ellen Wyn o Ddyffrynllynod ynghyd a Theuly y Wyniaid Plwyf Llandyssul,’ 1900, and ‘Hen Feirdd Plwyf Llandyssul,’ 1906 (N.L.W. MS. 8710); ‘Casgliad o Enwau Lleoedd yn y Gymydogaeth [Llandysul] ynghyd a'u hystyron,’ 1908 (N.L.W. MS. 8710); transcripts of the parish registers of Lampeter, Cellan, Llanddewi-brefi, and Llanddewi Abergwesin (N.L.W. MSS. 704-7); a collection of pseudonyms not included in the appendix to Cardiff Free Libraries: Catalogue of Printed Literature in the Welsh Department, 1898 (N.L.W. MS. 8714); and numerous pedigrees and genealogical notes.
Published date: 1959
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