#10 George Smith of Exeter, Devon

9 March 2014

Sometimes family history research brings more than its fair share of challenges when another really common name pops up in your ancestry. Evans marrying Evans, Williams, Smith, Day and trying to keep up with several Jones branches certainly isn’t easy. On many occasions I would just like to go back and say, ‘Could you be a little more creative with the first names of your children, please?’ to those with the more regularly occurring surnames.

I wouldn’t need to make that suggestion to Arscott Sillifant’s parents but George Smith – father of William Henry Bird, featured a few weeks ago – was just recorded on his son’s birth certificate as George Smith. Oh joy! He did not marry William’s mother, Eleanor Bird, so to work out the ancestral line, I cannot even use the information on a marriage certificate for the pair to find out his father’s name. Where to start….?

William Henry Bird was born in Albert Street in 1861, just a few months after the census was recorded. At 10 Albert Street were William and Hannah Bird (both aged 57), boot and shoe maker and boot binder respectively (RG9/1394/93/19). George Smith was referred to as a journeyman boot and shoe maker and it would seem a remarkable coincidence for this couple not to be Eleanor’s parents, though she isn’t at their address on the night of the census itself. Before checking this family back in 1851, a Smith family leapt off the census schedule, on the same street at No. 9. William G. Smith, a 29 year old joiner, his wife Mary and their daughter, Mary Ann…. Not the right age to be George Smith’s parents, but perhaps a brother?

Looking around the parish of St Sidwell, Exeter in 1861, there are – unsurprisingly – several Smith families, one with a son, George Thomas, listed as aged 24 but as a linen draper’s clerk, residing at 2 Victoria Cottages. This George Thomas was baptised at St Sidwell on Christmas Day in 1832 of William Hewett and Mary Gorford Smith.

The connection with William and Hannah (sometimes Anna) Bird is clear as William Henry Bird is recorded as their grandson at Silver Street, Black Boy Road in 1871 (RG10/2062/90/52). However, the Smith ancestral line is not ‘water tight’ in my eyes.

In 1851, the Smith family – headed up by William H. Smith – lived at St James Cottage, St Sidwell. George aged 17, a scholar….:


All fits but doesn’t strongly connect with fathering William Henry Bird in the same parish, ten years later. Any thoughts from readers about records which might help to definitively confirm the identity of ‘my’ George would be greatly appreciated!

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