Interest in his Family History
James was very interested in his family history and exchanged letters with a researcher in America, Cass Knight Shelby, of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Cass was one of many Shelbys who shared a common ancestry with James. He had conducted extensive research into the Shelby family and extracts from some of James's letters were sent to me after Cass’s death by a subsequent researcher, Judy A. Trollinger; they explain why James changed his name:
The following, which are extracts from two letters written by J. Prichard Selby of Highfield Park, Abergele, Denbigh, North Wales, to C.K. Shelby, 534 Hickory Street, Hollidaysburg, Penn'a., came as a result of inquiry made at Miss Davies's [NB ‘Miss Davies’ was Margaret L Davies, a schoolteacher in PA, whose mother, Annie, was the daughter of David Shelby, a miner, who had emigrated to the United states in 1862.]:
May 10, 1927. "Sometime ago, last January to be exact, you wrote to my sister asking if she could give you information on the ancestors of 'Evan Shelby' who left Wales about 1730 odd.----- In the first place 'Shelby' is a corruption of 'Selby.' The explanation is easy, especially among the very illiterate, or only fairly well educated. I speak from experience, having as a teacher taught in some of the extreme Welsh districts. Here the people do not care for the soft sibilant sounds and would pronounce the softer sound of 's' into the harsher 'sh.' ------ When I was only a wee kiddie my father always told me that our name was 'Selby' and not 'Shelby' We were however known and called by the latter. Since attaining the dignity of manhood, 43 years ago, I called and signed myself ------ by the name 'Selby'. The other members of the family answer to this name and that of Shelby, but use and sign the latter much more than the former. ------- My father used to tell me that the father of Evan Shelby was a brother of his great-grandfather. The David Shelby you mention in your letter was my father's brother. He left home when quite a young man for America."