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Family History research presents many challenges but looking as Smith families must be the most difficult in England. I have done little work on this line but present what little I have below in case I don't have the opportunity to pursue the story further in the near future.

1.1    The Starting Point

Family information came from my father, and in particular from my great Aunt Helen (Nelly), the younger sister of my grandmother.  She recounted that her father was Benjamin Smith, whom she believed to have been born in 1857.  He had a brother Joe and a sister Eliza.  Benjamin’s mother died when he was about 8 years old.

Benjamin Smith married Susannah Crabtree the daughter of Thomas Crabtree a blacksmith of Harle Syke.  Susannah was known to have brothers called Steven, Laurence and Harry.  Susannah’s mother was German, and was said to speak poor English. 

Benjamin and Susannah lived initially at Guy Syke, Colne, where Benjamin was a gardener as his father had been.  Later, in the 1890’s they moved to a new house, Rose Hill, next to Alkincoates Park in Colne and had a horticultural nursery next to the house and a flower shop in the town.  Benjamin’s business included looking after the gardens of large houses on the outskirts of the town/

The eldest child of Benjamin and Susannah was Maria, born in 1877, who married Ernest Turner but had no surviving children.  Alice, the second daughter, thought to be born in 1879, married Frederick James Thornber and had two children.  Benjamin and Susannah Smith had one son, Thomas, born in 1882 and he married Sarah Ellen Windle.  They had three sons, Edwin, Joseph and Benjamin.  Benjamin and Susannah’s two youngest children were Ellen, usually known as Nelly, who never married, and Annie who married late in life but had no children.

2.  The Family of Benjamin Smith and Susannah Crabtree

The obvious starting point for the research was to seek the birth record of my grandmother Alice Smith.  This presented some problems as the name was not uncommon and there was more than one entry per quarter for the Burnley Registration District.  In addition there was some uncertainty about her year of birth with 1879 the suggested year.  Eventually the correct record was identified and a certificate obtained which had an unusual feature.  She had been named Minnie when first registered but this had subsequently been changed to Alice using a certificate of naming

Certificate of Birth: Alice(Minnie) Smith, born 19 December 1878 at 11 Guy Syke Colne, the daughter of Benjamin Smith, gardener, and Susannah Smith, formerly Crabtree.  She was registered by her father on 28 January 1879.

Using the knowledge that Maria was about two years older than Alice, the marriage of Benjamin and Susannah was sought in the period 1874 to 1877 and a suitable entry found in the first quarter of 1877 for Burnley.

Certificate of Marriage: Benjamin Smith, aged 23, bachelor, gardener, of Nelson, the son of Thomas Smith, gardener, married Susannah Crabtree, aged 21, spinster, weaver, the daughter of Thomas Crabtree, blacksmith, of Burnley Lane, on 4 March 1877 at St. Andrew’s Burnley.  The witnesses were Joseph Smith and Elizabeth Crabtree.

All the information on this record is consistent with that known at the outset.  The witness Joseph Smith was probably Benjamin’s brother.  The information that Benjamin’s father was called Thomas was new but not unexpected in that he called his only son Thomas.

Information on Benjamin and Susannah was sought in the census of 1891 and the following record found, confirming that the move to Rose Hill did not take place until the middle of the 1890’s.  Property numbers on the census are not the same as postal address house numbers.

Census of 1891: Colne, property 114 at Guy Syke (fiche 3380, Folio 43 page 18)
Name Status Occupation Born
Benjamin Smith Head of household, 36 Gardener Lancs. Haggate
Susannah wife, 34 born abt. 1857   Lancs. Haggate
Maria dau, 13, born abt. 1878 Cotton Weaver Colne
Alice dau, 12, born abt 1877 Cotton Weaver Colne
Thomas son, 9, born abt. 1882 Scholar Colne

The census returns for 1901 (Source Citation: Class: RG13; Piece: 3886; Folio: 26; Page: 43.) shows Benjamin 37, Susannahh 45, Alice 22, Thomas 19, Ellen 6 and Annie 3 all at 20, Queen Street.  Benjamin was said to be born in Nelson, Susannah in Briercliffe and all the children in Colne.

By 1911 they are at Rosehill, Haverholt, Colne and down as Benjamin aged 57, Susannah as 55, Thomas still at home aged 29, Ellen aged 16 and Annie aged 13.  By this stage Alice and Maria have left home and Alice is married.  Benjamin and Thomas were described as a jobbing gardeners and Ellen was a flower shop assistant.  Susannah had given birth to five children and all were still alive.  Annie is not shown as employed or as a scholar.

According to Great Aunt Nelly, Thomas Crabtree, father of Susannah knew of Thomas Mason of Alkincoats Hall and Benjamin Smith was his head gardener.  Thomas Mason is said to have put up money for Rose Hill and provided furniture including a mahogany harpsichord kept in the hall, chairs and a round table in the lounge.  There was a jug in the house with the name Thomas Mason on it when I was small in the early 1950s. 

3. The Family of Benjamin Smith

Ages on marriage certificates are often inaccurate; those under age added years to appear old enough to marry without parental consent and those who were a little vain often reduced their age for cosmetic reasons.  As a result it is always advisable to allow two or three years of latitude in any such age.  However, Benjamin would appear to have been born in 1853 or 1854 and Susannah in 1855 or 1856.

A search of the period 1853/54 revealed a Benjamin born in the 2nd quarter of 1854 and produced the following record.

Certificate of Birth: Benjamin Smith, born 4 March 1854, at Marsden Chapel, Marsden, the son of Thomas Smith, weaver, and Maria Smith, formerly Jackson.  The birth was registered by the mother, who made her mark, in the Sub District of Colne.

Given the dates and the name of the father this is believed to be the correct record.  The fact that the mother was called Maria is also not too surprising in that Benjamin called his first daughter Maria.  The fact that Thomas was a weaver is not a major cause of concern.  It was suspected that Thomas had begun the gardening business as a part time occupation but the dates for this were not known. As emerges later, his father and grandfather were also gardeners.   The information allowed a search for the family to be made in the census of 1861 when Benjamin would be a small boy.

Note that Benjamin’s marriage birth certificate and the census of 1861 show that he was born in Marsden whereas in the census for 1891 he put his birthplace as Haggate, the same as that of his wife Susannah.

Census of 1861: Little Marsden, Property 98, The Square.
Name Status Occupation Born
Thomas Smith head, 38 gardener Marsden
Maria Smith wife, 35, born abt.   ditto
Joseph Smith son, 10, born abt 1851 scholar ditto
Benjamin Smith son, 8, born abt. 1853 scholar ditto
Ellen Smith dau, 3, born abt 1858   ditto
Edward Smith son, 1, born abt 1860   ditto

Here the whole picture comes together, showing Thomas as a gardener and Benjamin having the known siblings Joe and Eliza (Elizabeth) together with other brothers and sisters.  In addition we have clues to the age and birth place of Thomas Smith and Maria Jackson for later research.  Note that at the time of the census Benjamin was only 7 years one month not 8.  A search of the 1871 census would be useful knowing that Benjamin’s mother is believed to have died when he was only about 8.

From the information above it was possible to guess that Thomas Smith and Maria Jackson had married some time prior to 1851 and a suitable match was found for 1848.  This may mean that they had another child prior to Joseph who did not survive.

Certificate of Marriage:

Thomas Smith, full age, bachelor, gardener, of Bradley Lane Head, the son of Robert Smith, gardener, married Maria Jackson, of full age, spinster, of Marsden Chapel, the daughter of Abel Jackson, weaver, on 9 July 1848, at the Parochial Chapel of Colne after Banns.  Thomas and Maria both made their mark as did the witnesses, James Varley and Rachael Bannister.  The minister was J Henderson.

From this we see that Thomas had been a gardener when he first married and his father too was a gardener.  Further information was sought in the census and the family of Robert Smith was identified in 1841.  The address of Bradley Lane head and occupation of Robert are good evidence that the correct record has been found.  From it we learn that Robert’s wife was called Hannah.  This does not necessarily mean that she was the mother of all the children; she may have been Robert’s second wife.

Census of 1851: Great Marsden, Bradley Lane Head, Bowling Row.

Name Status Occupation Born
Robert Smith Head, 50 Gardener Marsden
Hannah Smith 51   Marsden
William Smith son, 23 Power loom weaver Marsden
Betty Smith dau. 21 Hand loom weaver Marsden
Margaret Smith dau. 19 Hand loom weaver Marsden
Richard Smith son, 17 Shoemaker's apprentice Marsden
John Watson nephew, 7 scholar Marsden

From this we see that Robert was born about 1800/1801 and Hannah 1799/1800.  As Robert’s son Thomas had already married by 1851, the family was sought in the census of 1841.  This was the first census that recorded names.  The ages of those over 15 were usually rounded down to the nearest multiple of five and places of birth were given only as within the county or outside.  Relationships to the head of household were not stated.

Census of 1841: Great Marsden, Walk Mill
Name Age Occupation Born in Lancashire
Robert Smith 40 Gardener Yes
Hannah Smith 40 Cotton Weaver Yes
John Smith 15   Yes
Thomas Smith 15   Yes
William Smith 14   Yes
Betty Smith 12   Yes
Margaret Smith 9   Yes
Richard Smith 7   Yes

Thomas was found to be living at home at the time and a further brother John was identified.  John could have been as old as 19 and had his age rounded down to 15 as this was common practice in the 1841 census.  Robert and Hannah probably were married about 1821/1822 when Robert was about 21.  As this was before General Registration, the record of the marriage has to be sought in church registers.  At this period Colne and Burnley had parish churches; Nelson had yet to develop.  In the Colne Parish Church baptism registers there are many records for the name Robert Smith.  The most plausible given the likely birth years of 1800/1801 is Robert Smith, born 12 May and baptised 7 July 1800, the son of Thomas Smith, a carpenter, and Margaret Smith, of Catlow.  Much more work would be needed to examine further possibilities before this record could be accepted as correct.  First one needs to check Burnley records.  By 1800 there were many Nonconformist Chapels, particularly Methodists and Baptists, where baptisms could take place but marriage in Nonconformist Chapels was not possible prior to 1837.  The work is likely to present many problems because Smith is one of the most common names.

The information now available on the Smith family is drawn together below but much still needs to be done to consolidate this tree.


abt. about
C51 Census of 1851
Marr Cert. Marriage Certificate
Birth Cert. Birth Certificate

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