A Lot of Lancelots

There are a lot of Lancelots in our Smith family tree.  While this name has been useful in helping to identify the right family of Smiths to follow, it can get confusing when none of the early Lancelots was given a second forename to help distinguish one from the other.

The first mention I could find of the name Lancelot Smith in our family was in 1757 when the fifth and youngest son of John Smith Sr was baptized in Melmerby.  (John Smith Sr was my great-great-great- great-grandfather.)  The first Lancelot Smith was followed by:

  • Lancelot Smith (my great-great-grandfather), born in December 1785 in Melmerby, fourth son of John Smith Jr of Melmerby
  • Lancelot Smith (my great-grandfather), born in July 1824 in Gamblesby, second son of the above Lancelot Smith of Gamblesby;
  • Lancelot Smith (my great-grandfather’s cousin), born in April 1833 in Melmerby, fifth son of William Smith of Melmerby;
  • Lancelot Smith (my great-uncle), born in April 1863 in Cashel, eldest son of Lancelot Smith of Corballis.

In the next generation, parents added a second name which helped to distinguish between:

  • Lancelot Westgarth Smith (my cousin once removed), born in 1897, eldest son of Lancelot Smith of Beaverstown
  • Lancelot Upton Smith (my uncle), born in 1907, eldest son of William Smith of Blackhall; and
  • Lancelot Henry Smith (my cousin once removed), born in 1910, elder son of John Smith of Corballis.

Lancelot continues to be used for the sons in more recent Smith generations, sometimes as a second name, and always with at least one other name.

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Living in the Cumberland Fells

As far as I know, our Smith ancestors were farmers in Cumberland from at least the early 18th century although early parish records in England do not state the occupations of the parishioners.  They were yeomen, meaning they owned their own land and worked it themselves.  As such they would have been a step above tenant farmers and one below landlords with large estates.  The Smiths lived in Melmerby and Gamblesby, two farming communities that are only about one and a quarter miles (2 km) apart.  The countryside around there is a rugged open country of hills, which are called ‘fells’ in that part of England.  The fells are part of the North Pennines; the Hartside Fell is in Melmerby and Addingham parishes.

Melmerby and Gamblesby are in the upper part of the Eden Valley very close to the fells.  The river Eden flows north-west to Carlisle and then to the sea.  The countryside is still rural and has a small population; industrialization has largely passed it by (although there was always some industrial activity, including mining, in the area).  There are other small communities in the area where Smiths and Smith-related families lived, such as Kirkoswald and Renwick.  Some Smiths lived and worked in the market town of Penrith which is about 7 miles (12 km) from Melmerby.   Most of them seem to have stayed in the Eden Valley.  Unlike Irish families that show significant emigration from each generation, very few of the Smiths moved away – until our ancestors decided to go to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century.

You can get a good idea of what Gamblesby looks like today by going to the Visit Cumbria website.  Also you can see Melmerby and area on the same website.

We don’t know what the lives of fell farmers were like in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but we do know something of what they were like later on and they probably did not change much from earlier times.  According to the narrative written by Agnes Nicholson (nee Agnes Hannah Smith) about the lives of the Smiths in Gamblesby during the early 19th century, the farmers and their families were largely self-sufficient:

People carded and spun their own wool and had it woven into cloth by the village weaver.  The daughters of the house spun flax and had their stores of sheets woven from it and laid up against their wedding day…  Rag carpets woven by the village weaver from strips of old cloth of many colours sewn together in long lengths and resulting in a sort of Joseph’s coat … were a favourite covering for the floors…  It was the custom … to lay in a good stock of meat for the winter.  Sheep were killed and salted down and a number of geese were boiled down and kept in large jars covered with cakes of mutton fat.  

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Thomas Smith Found!

This is exciting news from my recent searches on the internet: I have finally found a picture of the tombstone for Thomas Smith of Blackhall who died in March 1873 aged 40.  He was the first Smith to live at Blackhall – and the only one to die there as far as I know.  Over a year ago, I found a copy of his death notice from an 1873 newspaper that said he was buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

I found it interesting that Mount Jerome was used as the burial place even though Thomas was an active member of the Ballymaglasson Parish Select Vestry.  Ballymaglasson would have been the nearest Anglican church to Blackhall.  Possibly the choice of Mount Jerome (which was founded as a non-denominational burial ground) was related to the Smiths’ Methodist faith or maybe there was no grave site available for him at Ballymaglasson.

When I was in Dublin in 2011 I was unable to find the gravesite at Mount Jerome.  Meanwhile an enthusiastic group of genealogists in Dublin have been assiduously transcribing and photographing all the gravestones in the cemetery (among many other cemeteries in the Dublin area).  The genealogists are part of a national effort – Ireland Genealogical Projects – designed to make available genealogical information from all the counties by posting it on the internet.  I was aware that there was a project underway to transcribe the wording of all the stones in Mount Jerome and to photograph each stone.  Very recently, when I was searching the IGP Archives again, I finally found the set of photographs that contains Thomas Smith’s tombstone.

If I have another opportunity to visit the cemetery, I think I would now have a better chance of finding the stone.

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The Farm near Cashel

When Lancelot Smith and most of his family moved to Ireland in the 1850s, they rented a farm near Cashel, County Tipperary, in the townland called Rathcoun (also written as Rathcowan, Rathcown or Rathcoon).  The townland is about 2 miles (3 km) south-west of the centre of the town of Cashel.  I expect it was possible to see the Rock of Cashel from their farm-house.  (The day I visited the townland in May 2011 it was raining so heavily it was impossible to see anything.)

Why the Smiths chose to rent this particular farm when they decided to move to Ireland is unknown.  Nor do I know why they chose to move to Tipperary although my guess is they already knew other people from Cumberland who had moved there.   Family lore says there were a number of Cumberland farmers who moved to Tipperary in the years after the Great Famine.  In the late 1840s and early 1850s there were many farms in Ireland that had lost their tenants through famine, economic disaster or emigration and landlords needed new tenants to start paying rents.

Based on the information I have found, I think the Smiths moved from Gamblesby in Cumberland to Rathcoun in 1852 or 1853.  They continued to live at the same rented farm of 242 acres in Rathcoun for a number of years.  Until 1856 their landlord was John Bayley.  In 1857 ownership of the land changed to Charles Thiebault Esq.  By 1860 Lancelot Smith was renting an additional 99 acres of farmland, also owned by Charles Thiebault Esq., in a neighbouring townland called Shanballyduff.

In late 1870 or early 1871 the younger Lancelot Smith and his family (wife Eliza Upton and six small children) moved to Corballis near Donabate, County Dublin.  The rental properties in Rathcoun and Shanballyduff were given up.  The elder Lancelot Smith may have stayed in the Cashel area and lived with his daughter Hannah Smith and her husband Joseph Backhouse.

The landscape, climate and type of farming near Cashel were all very different from what the Smiths were used to in the Cumberland Fells.  They would have had to learn a completely different way of working on the land.  Obviously they managed the transition successfully and were able to farm over 240 acres in Tipperary for almost 20 years.

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Naming Patterns

I have always been interested in the forenames that people are given by their parents.  When I started searching for information on the Smith family, I realized quickly that there were some forenames that occurred frequently.  For boys, there were the names William, Thomas, John, Joseph and Lancelot.   For girls the names were usually Mary, Hannah, Agnes, Sarah and Anne.   When I looked at the church records in Cumberland I saw these same names in many other families besides the Smiths.  Lancelot was not as common as some of the other names for boys but it wasn’t as unusual as I assumed it was.

I found there was a naming pattern that each generation of Smith parents followed closely and this pattern did not break down until the middle of the nineteenth century.  The traditional name pattern was probably common in all rural areas of England too:

  • Eldest son was named after his paternal grandfather
  • Eldest daughter was named after her maternal grandmother
  • Second son was named after his maternal grandfather
  • Second daughter was named after her paternal grandmother

After those four children were named, the parents were free to name the younger children – but still using the same restricted list of names.  Because the same forenames were used many times within the same family it can be hard sometimes to identify which John Smith or Hannah Smith is being described.  If one of the older children died young, a later sibling could be given the same name but I saw only one instance of that in the Smith family.

It was not the practice to give more than one forename to a child.  The first example I have seen in the English Smith families was George Hardy Smith, who was born in Gamblesby, Cumberland in 1852.  The first example of a Smith born in Ireland being given two names was Agnes Hannah Smith, born in Cashel, Tipperary, in 1866.

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Family Photographs

As much as possible I hope to illustrate the posts on this blog with photographs from family sources.  Of course I had some old photographs in my own home but I have been very fortunate recently in gaining access to a great many more photographs from my cousins and siblings.  Most were sent to me electronically so they are already perfect for a blog.

Two cousins shared with me their family photograph albums.  One of these cousins also shared a number of picture postcards that had belonged to our grandmother; they are a delight and some of them will show up in this blog later on.

A third cousin was kind enough to send me original photographs from the 1860s and onward that had been in the possession of a distant cousin living in London.  These originals are a wonderful resource (as well as being precious artefacts) and I will be using as many of them as I can in the blog.

A sample of the photographs I will be using is shown here:

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Information Sources

When I started on this project of putting together a family history of my Smith ancestors, I was lucky to be able to draw upon research already done.

I am indebted first of all to my Uncle Lancelot (the Rev. Lancelot Upton Smith) who developed very detailed family trees based on what he could find, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s.  His children were kind enough to share with me those trees and other charts as well as a large number of photographs and family stories.

I also appreciate the documents, notes and other help that I have received from other cousins and from my siblings.

Another source of help (and I believe she would have been pleased about this) is a great-aunt, long since dead.  She was Agnes Hannah Smith, a sister of my grandfather William Smith.  Agnes married Alex Nicholson and one of their children, Jack, became a professor of entomology in Australia.  In 1916, when Jack married an Australian girl, Agnes Nicholson sent to her new daughter-in-law Phyllis a short narrative about the Smiths and their history in Cumberland.  At the beginning of her narrative, Agnes Nicholson wrote:

I am writing this for my children, & perhaps in the dim future, who knows! some grandchild or great-grandchild might long to know, as I have often done, something about their forefathers, where & how they lived, & what sort of people they were? & might be glad to read what I can tell about them.

I am indeed very glad that Agnes Nicholson wrote her narrative even though we are not direct descendants of hers.

All the above information sources have been very useful and I have tried to substantiate or supplement them with searches in church records, civil registration records, newspaper archives, land valuation records, census records and other sources as they become available.  Of course, the Internet has made searching much easier but visits to archives and other repositories in Ireland and England have also been needed.

The search continues …..

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Welcome to my new blog on the Smiths’ family history.

This is my first attempt to create a blog and I hope it will improve in content and appearance over time.  There are only a few posts here at present.  Their numbers will increase.

Have a look around and let me know what you think of it so far.


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