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25 Jul 2016

Solving a Smith puzzle... using the worst English census!

Let me begin by confirming this was a real puzzle. I had *no* clue where Catherine Smith (born 1785) originated, and judging by her early death, she'd perished long before Victoria had even glanced at her throne.  Her granddaughter another Catherine is given in the above census, but we'll get to that.

I needed to explain the origins of Catherine Smith, as it looked dangerously possible that one of my Welsh fisher-widows could be responsible*, or some other woman in England, Wales or Scotland.

The 1841 census is the worst of the UK censuses, as the image shows, with hardly any detail at all. More often it creates even more questions, that can perhaps never be answered. But I would have been glad for its help today. Sadly, Catherine's early death rules her out from even this most basic of lists.  She lies buried at Cardiff in 1829, far far too early.

Little did I know that there was a nice little trail, a useful path, which if I found it, would take me right to the place and time of her baptism. This Smith had a definite point of origin.

The beginnings of the path lay with her daughter Elizabeth Hogg who seemingly married a Cornishman, Thomas Quick. Thomas and Elizabeth Quick are living together in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in that most terrible of censuses, the 1841.  There it is: above.

I would never have found them there except for a quaint forum concerning Cornish matters, of the name Azazella. My paths first crossed with Azazella some 20 years ago in the dawn of the internet.

Azazella's elves had no clue about the Smiths, but they've sure sewn up poor Thomas Quick. His life was an open book. Although they didn't have the crucial 1841 reference in Newcastle, their notes helped me find it.  They also supplied the news that Elizabeth Hogg had her daughter baptised Catherine Smith Quick...

Listed with the Quicks at Newcastle was plain William Smith with a rough age, useless occupation and no hint of marital status. What it did offer was the initial 'S' standing for Scottish-born.

The path now led me to the very next census where searching for Smith born in Scotland showed only one William still in the town, who had very helpfully just married, a lady who helped him run a pub. The marriage record for the 1840s gives his father's name (Ralph Smith) and so I was arrived at births of all the Smith siblings in Pitlivie, County Angus, including our original Catherine (1785).

Catherine Smith baptised 1785 Pitlivie, daughter of Ralph Smith

Probably the most frustrating Smith enquiry I've dealt with, now solved.  Thanks to compelling circumstantial evidence from several British port towns, linked by a seemingly dull entry from the worst British census. 

*Catherine Rees born 1753 just outside Neath had a period unaccounted for following the death of a husband, the fisherman W Smith in the 1780s.  Because her son married a Hogg and the above Catherine married a Hogg too (living in the same small parish in Wales!), there was a real danger that my Catherine Rees could have given birth to an illegitimate Catherine in 1785, Wales.  Thankfully her dignity now remains intact.


  1. Love your sense of humor!!

    1. Ha ha. I didn't have much of a sense of humor left during this hunt. Now everything's sorted, it's big smiles all round from this researcher.


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