More Branches and Twigs on the Family Tree

In my original quest for information about my Smith ancestors – starting from my grandfather William Smith of Blackhall – I was most interested in tracing back the male line to the origins of the Smith family in the small village of Melmerby. For much of its existence, Melmerby was in the county of Cumberland in north-west England; in 1974, the county was absorbed into the bigger county of Cumbria.

Melmerby and the Fells: from photograph by Val Corbett

I have written numerous posts and pages on this blog about the Smith family line and do not expect to find out much more about them through traditional genealogical research. For example, in the case of two of my direct male ancestors in Melmerby – John Smith (1712-1795) and William Smith (1640-1720) – I cannot identify their wives other than by their forename. Maiden surnames were not considered important to record in parish marriage registers of the time. Maybe through DNA tests and genetic matching, I will be able to find out more about these unknown female ancestors… I would also be interested to learn more – if I could – about the younger sons and the daughters in each Smith family that I have explored.

Recently I have spent time researching the 19th-century branches of the Smith family in Cumberland who are related to my Smiths in Ireland through cousin-ship. Records for this more recent century are much better, particularly with the establishment of the census system every ten years starting in 1841 but also with civil registration of births, marriages and deaths after 1837 and the publication of probate records for wills (which were becoming more common in the family).

Much earlier on this blog, I wrote a brief post about the Melmerby Smiths after 1821 but they were not a major focus for me at that time and I did not know much about them.

The following chart shows when the Smith family lines diverged from my perspective. Both lines go back to John Smith and Hannah Huddart. (In my genealogy charts and pages I have called him John Smith Jr. to distinguish him from his father of the same name.)

While it is very nice that the Smith families of Melmerby continued – with rare exceptions – to use the forenames familiar to them, this has often made it difficult to know which William Smith, John Smith or Thomas Smith is being documented. It is also a challenge when writing about them. Although Lancelot Smiths abound in the larger family tree, they were not – in the Melmerby line – the eldest sons. Common names for the Melmerby Smith daughters were Mary, Agnes and Hannah.

My great-great-grandfather Lancelot Smith (1785-1871) was a younger son of John Smith of Melmerby and his wife Hannah Huddart of Gamblesby. Lancelot’s older brother William Smith (1781-1857) inherited the freehold farm property in Melmerby from his father while Lancelot had a small freehold property in Gamblesby as well as a small freehold property in Melmerby (inherited from his uncle Thomas). I imagine it was difficult for him to support his wife and family of eight children on the property he could farm. In the 1850s, this Lancelot Smith and most of his family, including two of his sons – Lancelot and Thomas – moved to Ireland to farm as tenants in County Tipperary. This might have been seen as a step down from being a yeoman farmer in Cumberland but I believe it represented a significant economic opportunity to manage much larger farms and, ultimately, to own them after the Irish Land Acts of the late 19th century were implemented.

After William Smith died in Melmerby in 1857, his son John Smith (1815-1884) settled into the Melmerby property. He was a first cousin of my great-grandfather, Lancelot Smith of Corballis (Corballis was the name of the farm in County Dublin where he lived for many years from the early 1870s).

John Smith died in 1884 and his heir to the Melmerby property was George Hardy Smith (1852-1928). George and his siblings were second cousins to my grandfather William Smith of Blackhall.

Having now collected more information about the 19th-century Melmerby Smiths, I will be writing several posts about them soon. The first posts will be about William Smith of Melmerby (1781-1857) and his family of eleven children.

That will be followed by a few posts about his son John Smith (1815-1884) and his family, with some focus on John’s daughters – the Misses Smith of Penrith – as well as his younger sons John and Christopher. Related to these posts will be one about the Hardys of Park Head.

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