SMITH, Aston, end 18th century

October, 2010


Marian Rochester (md.rochester @t of Dumfries and Galloway, writes: Robert Smith (my great great great grandfather) married Elizabeth Taylor in Aston Parish Church in April 1789.(Parish records) I suspect he was a farmer but is there any further source I can go to to find out more about the family at this time?  Robert's grandson Thomas became the postmaster at Stevenage in 1860s

I had a quick check of the Hertfordshire Militia Ballot Lists (available on CD). It contains a number of references to members of the Smith family in Aston including two to a Robert Smith which could well be your ancestor. In 1782 a Robert Smith was described as a "Miller's servant" and in 1785 as a "Farmer's servant". (1785 is the lat list surviving. As your Robert married in 1789 these could well refer to him as a young man who became eligible for military service in 1782.) One cannot be certain that the different occupations in the two record are significant - he may have worked for a miller who also had a farm! Earlier Smith records may relate to Robert's father  There is no one with the name Taylor listed for Aston - although in Hertfordshire as a whole there are 97 towns or villages with a combined total of 1875 Taylors.

This evidence immediately suggests there could be a difficulty. There was no standardisation of occupation names on the militia lists and what was recorded depended on the individual constable who drew up the list. However "Farmer's servant" suggest to me that Robert was a hired farm worker who lived in the farm house with the farmer (quite a common situation), People in such situations are the hardest to trace as (apart from parish register entries) there may be no surviving records that mention them. People who were either very poor (or criminal), or who were tenants or owners of property are far more likely to get a mention in the records. Of course, once he was married he might have moved into a cottage property.

There are several sets of documents I would look at initially to glean for any evidence of Robert Smith (and possible relatives):

  1. Microfilms of the parish registers (available through your neatest LDS Family History Centres) to see what they actually said - as they may contain additional information, or relevant entries may not have been correctly indexed.

  2. Selected years of the Land Tax (HALS hold the tax from 1746-1832 for Aston) to see if Robert Smith is listed as a tenant or land owner. These are manuscript documents, un-indexed, with a separate return for each year.

  3. The Manorial Court Book for Aston (covering 1764-1894) to see if Robert Smith is mentioned. For instance it could record whether he succeeded his father as tenant of a property when his father died. This is a manuscript document held at HALS. (I might skip this if this if I found nothing in the Land Tax. (I am not sure whether this has been microfilmed.)

  4. Church Records (Churchwardens Accounts, vestry minutes and charity accounts 1828-1919 are available on microfilm at the LDS Family History Centres.)

This will all mean a lot of time spent looking at microfilms and/or old manuscripts, whith no name index and often with difficult writing. For some this will mean coming to HALS or commissioning an agent. There is no guarantee that you will find anything - and even if you find a Robert Smith they may be no easy way to be sure that he is your Robert Smith.

My advice would be to take a short holiday in Hertfordshire to see where your ancestors lived - and allocate a day at HALS to find out more about the documents they have - and carry out a spot check on them. If something turns up you know it is worth coming back for more.

You will find the book Tracing Your Family History in Hertfordshire gives you a good idea of the types of material available.

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

October 2010   Page created