Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In search of great great Smiths

I have a short attention span. So my focus has changed somewhat since the last post.* I’m still tracking Smith ancestors but I've moved back in time about 140 years.

Our forebears came, as I already knew, from Wales. The trail back to Wales begins with great grandfather George Smith, the royal reporter. In census and other records, George’s birthplace appears as Stroud in Gloucestershire, his birth date as 1863.

Online searches at and FamilySearch, an excellent free online source for genealogical information, turned up a birth record for George, dated 19 January 1863. I sent away (by snail mail) to the General Registrar Office for a certified copy of this “entry of birth.”

George's father was Thomas Smith, listed in the entry as a “Retired Inland Revenue Officer.” This is an important detail because it distinguishes him from the gazillion other Thomas Smiths in Britain. His mother was Mary, neé Jones. The family lived at Walls Quarry, Minchinhampton, a village in the Stroud district.

So far, so good. Next I went looking for more about Thomas, my great great grandfather. He appears in the censuses of 1851, 1861 and 1871, with a wealth of interesting, sometimes surprising, information.

At the time of the 1871 census, the first I found, the family was still living in Stroud, but now at 26 Church St., Avening (Tetbury today): Thomas, wife Mary and a pile of kids, including George, aged 8. Under “rank, profession or occupation,” Thomas is listed as “superannuated revenue agent.” So no question, this is our guy.

26 Church St., Avening, Stroud (Tetbury)

The real shocker is Thomas’s age. He was 72 when the census  takers came calling that year – with a family of six kids ranging in age from 12 years to 7 months! Mary is 41.

Old census records also show birthplaces of respondents, and Thomas gave his as Carmarthen, Abergwilly (Abergwili, Carmarthenshire, a village about 30 miles north west of Swansea in Wales.) With that information, I was able to find his birth listed in an online index to the Abergwili parish records, which was in turn linked to an image of the handwritten page at a third online site,

Thomas was born 21 August 1798. The entry reads, “Thomas the son of Jno. [a short form of John] Smith Excise Officer by Bridget his wife.” So his Dad was a revenuer as well.

I only recently unearthed the 1851 and 1861 census records for Thomas. In 1861, Thomas and Mary were living in Minchinhampton (where George would be born two years later) at 129 Walls Quarry (an address that no longer exists). Thomas is listed as “retired inland revenue officer,” aged 62. Mary is 32. Elizabeth, the eldest child, is 2, and baby Thomas is 11 months. No surprises, all the dates and ages jibe with what we already had from the 1871 record.

Then comes the census of 1851. We’re still in Minchinhampton, Stroud. At this point, Thomas Smith, 53, from Abergwili, was living at 58 Walls Quarry. And he was listed even then as “retired inland revenue officer.” (Apparently civil servants retired early in those days too.) The surprise is that his wife is listed as Elizabeth, also 53.

Image of page in 1851 census book

So Mary was Thomas’s second wife. Did he have a first family with Elizabeth? Given that they were 53 in 1851, their kids could easily have all grown and moved away. Or maybe they never had any. Note that Thomas’s first-born with Mary is named after his first wife.

Next task: find more about John Smith  I already have a record  for a John Smith born in Abergwili in 1761 – then push back and back…to the dawn of time! Stay tuned.

* I do have a short attention span, and my focus has changed, but I have also made a fresh enquiry with the Archives of Ontario for information about Tom Herbert Smith’s criminal conviction. And I made corrections in the previous post.

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