Answers to Questions


John SMITH marriage, Hemel Hempstead area, late 18th century

January, 2005



Hemel Hempstead

Derek SMITH (dereksmith34 @t of Brompton on Swale, North Yorkshire, writes: I have traced my "tree" from the present to my Gt Gt Grandfather John [Job] Smith born 24/10/1794 baptised 30/11/1794 at Hemel Hempstead, parents John & Elizabeth Smith (copy of baptism record for John [Job]). The IGI also gives Sister Elizabeth born 5/12/1792 baptised 6/1/1793 and possible brother Edward born 16/3/1797 baptised 30/7/1797, both at Hemel Hempstead.

Now this where I need help The Baptism Record gives parents names of John & Elizabeth SMITH. Working via HALS and Allen Marriage Indexes [which I have not seen you mention B/4] I find 4 John & Eliz Smith that fit the time period.

1) 1/11/1784 Eliz Wells Gt Berkhampstead.
2) 3/5/1788 Eliz. Groom St. Mich. St Albans
3) 21/4/1790 Eliz. Lewin [Newin] Abbots. Langley.
4] 1/12/1791 Eliz Howard Gt Gaddesden.

I am interrupting the question at this point to add what appears to be another possibility from the IGI.

5 4/11/1783 Elizabeth Attwood, Abbey Parish, St Albans 

While this is the kind of problem one expects with the surname Smith - and it took me many years to solve the problems associated with John Smith, father of my ancestor Dolphin Smith. (In my case the brick wall was due to my overlooking an entry in the notebook in which I had recorded possible memorial inscriptions - and if I had kept my notes better I would have been able to identify John very quickly!)

I am afraid the only answer is hard work ... following all leads and trying to build a picture of what each candidate did, and try to find evidence to eliminate candidates - or at least slant the probabilities.

For instance in marriage (1) John Smith is from Hemel Hempstead (Phillimore's Hertfordshire Parish Registers - Marriages - Volume 1) while you say the parish register for (4) says both bride and groom were from Great Gaddesden. While the places are too close for this to prove anything on its own, if you can get a number of such indicators you may find they are sufficient to select or eliminate some of the possibilities. 

Another for instance (and I have not checked the records) is if 1 year after a marriage a couple started having children baptised at 1-2 year intervals in the same church that they married the children probably belong to that couple.

So what should you look out for? If there are not any quickie solutions (such as some helpful wills) I think if I was doing it I would start with a data base of possible descendants in the 1851 census - which should also give possible relevant occupations and more precise addresses. I would then relate these to the 1841 census and the tithe maps (circa 1840, at HALS) which links owner/occupier names to actual houses on a very large scale map. Hopefully by this stage, and with the help of parish registers, you may be able to link most of the early 19th century Smiths to one or other of the marriages - and at least eliminate that branch and marriage from further consideration.

It is important to realise that when you are collecting information you will not always know what piece of evidence is important. For instance it is obvious that the parishes recorded in a marriage register are important. However it may later prove useful to know that the groom was sufficiently educated to be able to write his name (and you might even get the opportunity to compare signatures). If a marriage was by licence this could either indicate that one of the parties was under 21 - or that the family was rich enough to pay for the extra privacy of not having the banns called. If an item is on the Allen Index (I believe virtually all entries on on the IGI but I don't know the batch number) it is important to note where the information came from. Some entries are from Banns in one church referring to another, and the marriage may never have taken place, or there may be other special factors that could be relevant.

Derek mentioned some other supporting evidence he had collected and commented that the IGI shows that Wm. & Eliz. Smith's 5 children were bt. at Hemel Hempstead all on the same day 7/4/1774 at ages of 1 to 16 years. I have the bapt. record for this. Why would this have happened?

Baptisms were not compulsory and there could be many reasons for delay. A few are:

In such cases you can only be thankful that they did get baptised C of E - as in West Hertfordshire there a no records of the birth/baptism of the children of a significant number of non-conformist families.

The research may establish a link to SMITH, Hemel Hempstead, mid 19th Century

If you can add to the information given above tell me.