The S-Word part 2

At the end of the last instalment, I mentioned that I had a breakthrough which challenged some of what I believed about this family. The breakthrough came with Ancestry’s release of the WW1 pension records. I knew from my father that his dad, Robert Ernest Smith (junior) had served in the Army in the 1st World War and had been released early on health grounds.

Checking the pension records, I found Robert’s details and the first thing that caught my eye was his next of kin. It turned out that his mother (that I believed had died before 1901) was still alive in 1914 and she was living at No.2 Laburnum Cottages, Park Avenue in Egham. This address was new to me, so I immediately started investigating. Looking at old-maps.co.uk, I found that the road didn’t exist in 1899, but had appeared by 1914. I decided to go and have a look down that road to see if I could find Laburnum Cottages and I wasn’t disappointed, it was still there, a semidetached property with just the two houses. I decided to knock on the door and speak to the current owners, not really expecting to find much out (we are talking 93 years ago after all) but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the current owner knew more than I would have expected. It turns out that his grandfather (I think) bought both houses back in 1950, he moved, with his family, in to No. 1 Laburnum Cottages. The current owner told me that, when his family moved in, there was a Mrs Smith living at number 2 as a tenant and she stayed there until she died in the 1980s. At first I was very excited, thinking this was the wife of Robert Ernest (senior) however, when I thought about it I realised it couldn’t possibly be her as she was born c1856 but that this Mrs Smith could still be a relation.

The owner said that his mother was still alive and she would remember more, so I gave him my phone number & he said he would call me with any new info. A day or two later, he called me and gave me some more info. He told me that, when the property was purchased, there was also a Mr Smith living there but that he died somewhere in the 1950’s or 60’s and that he’d fought in the war and had been gassed. He also mentioned that living next door was a Mrs Bissett and that she was Mr Smith’s sister. Also he mentioned a Miss or Mrs George that lived with the Smiths and that she was Mrs Smith’s sister. Crucially, he also said that Mr & Mrs Smith took on the house from his parents.

I knew that Egham Museum held the Rate Books for this area, so I spent a couple of sessions poring over those and found that Robert Smith first appeared in the house (which had been built in 1907) in April 1910 and was also given as the ratepayer in 1911 (though he actually died in 1910), then Mrs Smith took over. In 1919, she was recorded as Mrs Elizabeth Smith (matching the name I had from the 1891 census) but there was a gap in Egham’s collection of Rate Books after 1930 and in the next available one (1934) there was a Miss George living there and she was still there in 1940-41. Then there was another gap and in 1943, the rate-payer was Albert George Smith who continued to appear until their rate Books ran out in 1962-63. The owner of the property changed in 1950, confirming what the present owner had told me about his ancestor buying the property.

I needed further information, so I went to the Surrey History Centre in Woking and looked through the Electoral Rolls where I found Albert George Smith first appeared (with Elizabeth Smith, his mother) in 1924 and is there until 1964 (with a gap of a few years between 1927 and 1930, I assume for his military service), Elizabeth disappeared after 1931. From these records, I also found that Miss George was actually Edith George and she appeared in 1929 and stayed there for a long time. I haven’t looked beyond 1970 but she was still there with Albert’s wife Alice E Smith.

As Elizabeth disappeared in 1931, I checked the BMD records & found that she’d died in the September quarter of 1931 (I was a little shocked to find any record as very few births, marriages or deaths seem to have been registered by this family). I ordered her death certificate and it gave her address, which matched the address I had been researching. It also said she was the widow of Robert Ernest Smith and gave the informant’s name as one W R Prangley (son-in-law). Again, a new name to me and a little searching found a marriage between Kate Smith (one of Robert Ernest Smith (senior)’s daughters that I already knew about) and a William R C Prangley in the June quarter of 1915 in Staines. A little further searching found two children born to this family, Gladys L Prangley (1916) and Bernard F Prangley (1919)

Going back to the information that the present owner of Laburnum Cottages gave me, I also checked the details of the next door neighbours and there was indeed a Mr & Mrs Bissett living next door to Mr & Mrs Smith and Mrs Bissett’s forename is given as Ellen. One of Robert Ernest Smith (senior)’s daughters was, in fact, Ellen Smith. I haven’t managed to find a marriage entry for this one as yet, but I feel confident that this is the correct Ellen.

One other clue I have to look for next is the name that I found in the Windsor Workhouse’s records. I mentioned in the last article that Robert Ernest Smith (senior) died in the workhouse infirmary in 1910 so, while I was at Berkshire Records Office, researching another branch of the tree, I ordered up the Death Register and the Inmate’s Relative’s Address Book from the workhouse. The Death Register confirmed the details I had and mentioned that he was from Egham and was buried in Egham (paid for by the Union) and the Relative’s Book gave up the name Mrs Attwell at 2 Laburnum Cottages, Park Avenue, Egham. Yet another new name to me and I believe (though I have yet to prove it) that this was one of his eldest daughters who had already married. It seems to me that, while Robert (senior) was alive, nothing was registered, after he died there definitely seems to be more registration going on. Unfortunately, I still don’t know what his wife’s maiden name is or where and when they were married, I know nothing of his parents and there is a gap after 1891 where they could have had numerous children that I have no knowledge of. I still don’t know why only the two Roberts appeared in the 1901 census (and at a different address) my best guess at the moment is that the census taker missed their house or they were out at the time, though that doesn’t explain why they were living where they were. According to the Electoral Rolls, Robert was still around the same area as they were in 1891.

I have a feeling that this family will be elusive for a long time to come, but I always hold out hope that one breakthrough could blow it all wide open!

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The S-word

Yes the Smiths! As I am a Smith, I thought I should start with them and the headache that they’ve caused me!

My paternal grandfather, Robert Ernest Smith was quite old when my dad was born (dad was the youngest of 10 kids) and some of his siblings had married, moved out & had children of their own by the time my father was born.

My parents gave me a copy of Robert Ernest Smith’s death certificate (1969) which gave his birth date as 19th Jan 1884 and place of birth as Egham, Surrey. As he was born in 1884, I went straight to the censuses of 1901 & 1891.

Working backwards, I found a Robert E Smith (of the right age) in 1901 living with another Robert E Smith at No. 73 Causeway, Egham, both as boarders in the house of one Albert W E Townsend and his family. The ages of the two Smiths were a clue to their relationship, the elder one being 31 years older than the younger.  Unfortunately, there were no other members of the Smith family at that address. Going further back, in 1891, I found Robert Smith with his family in Thorpe Road Cottages (Frogs Island) in Egham (my father had mentioned a ‘Froggy Island’ when I was getting info from him originally). Again, the father was Robert Smith, the mother, Elizabeth and also 5 sisters: Elizabeth, Alice, Kate, Ellen and Edith. Robert Smith (the elder) was given as being born in Egham in the 1891 census but as being born in Preston, Lancashire in the 1901 one. The ages matched however, so I noted the discrepancy & moved on.

I couldn’t find Robert senior in any other census, and, as I don’t know where he was born, I can’t find out who his parents were. There were no Robert Ernest Smiths born in Egham at the right time, there were a couple born in Preston but, tracing through censuses, they all seemed to stay there.

Having obtained Robert (the younger)’s marriage certificate (1916), his father was given as Robert Ernest Smith (deceased) so that helped to prove my case and also gave me a timeframe to look for his (the father’s) death. I managed to find Robert senior’s death certificate in 1910 in Windsor (just up the road from Egham). From that, I found that he died in the Workhouse infirmary, Old Windsor, aged 57 years. His occupation was given as a Gas and Water Pipe Fitter Journeyman of Egham UD, he died of Chronic Nephritis & Cardiac Failure. The occupation matched the 1901 census so that again added proof (I do like to find lots of relevant facts to prove the connections where possible)

I tried finding a marriage certificate for Robert senior but there doesn’t seem to be one, nor does there appear to be any birth certificates for ANY of their children. According to the census, some were born in Windsor and some in Egham, so I looked in both areas without success. I even ordered a few certificates that I was convinced were the right ones, but they all turned out to be from different families.

As the father & son were living on their own in 1901 (both given as single) I felt that the mother (Elizabeth) must have died between 1891 & 1901 and searched for death certificates and burial records but, again, I came up empty.

So this was how it all stood for quite some time. In fact, most of this I found in the first couple of months of my genealogical explorations and found no more for almost 2 years, even though, whenever I felt I needed a change from one of the other lines, I came back to the Smiths & dug around some more without success.

In the next enthralling episode, I find out that one of my assumptions was wrong and I find a new Smith, some marriages and a death.

First Post

OK, here goes with the first post on my new Blog. I should explain something about my research and my other interests.

When I was at school (many years ago), we were given a project to chat to our families & create a family tree from the information we got. Even then, I found it interesting. Mine was pretty large (mainly because my dad had 9 siblings) even though I only went back to my grandparents.

I started researching the tree in earnest just 2 years ago when a colleague mentioned he was tracing his family. We chatted about it & he showed me a few websites and I typed in some of the names that I knew and was immediately frustrated (as they were all born after 1910, the BMD indices weren’t (and mostly still aren’t) transcribed yet) but instead of being put off, I was intrigued & delved deeper, asked my family for more info & started getting somewhere. Two years later, I have almost 3000 names in the tree and have gone back many generations.

Obviously, along the way, I have hit some stumbling blocks but I have had some surprises & successes too, in the coming posts, I’ll outline some of the things I’ve found out, moan about some brick walls (like the Smiths) and maybe even ask for help & advice, so hopefully, you’ll keep coming back & commenting & we can learn from each other.

On a personal note, I am now 36 years old and working at a University in the Media Arts department which means I get to train people on the latest video editing & graphics packages (and play with them myself!). My real passion in life at the moment is photography and it takes up almost the same amount of my time as the family tree. I have a little photoblog too, pop over & have a look: pic-a-day