Saturday, 6 August 2016

John Smith – Generation 2

Having established that my Smith ancestors came from Bicester, Oxfordshire, as described in my previous blog post, my next challenge was to work back a few generations.  Luckily for my research, many of the branches of the Smith tree are less common names and so are easier to trace. However, for this story, I will stick with my one of my John Smith ancestors.

This John Smith was born around 1799, the fourth of six children of John Smith and Ann Bowden, and baptised 29 September 1799, in the parish church in Bicester.  There were actually three John Smith’s baptised in Bicester in 1799.  So, how do I know that I have the right one?  The first time I looked at the Bicester registers, I noted that one of the John Smiths was a twin.  I know, sadly, that the survival rate for twins was not good at a time when infant mortality was high, anyway.  

Something I learned while doing my anthropology degree was that until the 20th century in the western world (and still in some places), one of life’s biggest challenges was to get to the age of five.  Those who made it to five had a reasonable chance of reaching old age, if they avoided the risks of violence (for men) and child birth (for women).  So, I checked the burial records for the few years after the 1799 baptisms.  Unfortunately for the families concerned, two of the three John Smiths died very young and the logical conclusion is that the survivor must have been my ancestor.

Having survived the trials of childhood, John Smith trained as a plumber and glazier; plumber, at that time, being someone worked with lead (plumbum being Latin for lead), rather than the modern trade of working with copper and plastic water pipes.  I haven’t found a record of his apprenticeship yet.  Records from the later part of his life say that he was also a painter.

On 31 March 1823, John Smith married Elizabeth Ellston* in Bicester parish church, by banns.  They had nine children, including my ancestor John Smith.  Their oldest son, James, was born in September 1823.  I will leave the reader to do the maths but will say that it was quite a common occurrence...  Their last child, Ann, was born about twenty years later.

John, Elizabeth and their family can be followed through the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses.  For all that time they lived in Newbuildings, Sheep Street, Market End, in Bicester.  Sheep Street is the main street through the town and is now a pedestrianised shopping area but many of the old buildings are still there.  In the nineteenth century, as well as being a market town, hence Market End, Bicester was famous for hunting, although the Smith family did not belong to the hunting upper class.

John Smith died on 19 October 1870, age 71.  His death was announced in births, deaths and marriages column in the Oxford Times.  His death certificate says that he died of a diseased heart, congestion of the lungs and softening of the brain.  In modern medical terms, this probably translates to congestive heart failure and dementia.

Once again, I am pleased to have been able to discover so much about my ancestor in spite of his common name.

*There are various spellings of Ellston.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Harry Smith > John Smith > John Smith

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