Sunday, February 16, 2014

Henrietta Smith, Daughter of -- of course -- John & Mary Smith

Henrietta Abigail Smith Gaisford
Sept. 3, 1848 - May 23, 1932

It happens at least once in every family tree, doesn't it?  Finding the names of Henrietta Smith's parents in the IGI files at the Family History Center almost brought me to tears - John and Mary Smith.  I felt defeated even before I started.

The IGI files listing had the marriage date for John P Smith & Mary A Bliss as January 17, 1847 in Norwich, Connecticut.  Grand Island's library had the book "Vital Records of Norwich, 1659-1848, Part II", where I found that marriage record.  (The record just above theirs was for another John Smith to Isabella Stallman).  At least John P was pretty consistent about using his middle initial. Then I found the book, "Genealogy of the Bliss Family in America", compiled by Austin Tyler Bliss.  In it I found, "Mary Abigail BLISS, b. July 28, 1829, m. 1847 to John Smith of Norwich and d. June 2, 1866, daughter of Austin and Abigail (Bumsted) Bliss".  Not only one more generation back, but several!  This was the first book I had ever been able to find in a library that had so many generations of my family tree!  From that book, I learned that Mary was a descendant of Thomas Blisse, who settled in Hartford, Connecticut in the early 1600's.

So, at this point I knew that Mary had died at age 36, just a year before Henrietta was married.  I ordered a copy of her death record from the Massachusetts Archives. They send these certified copies with the information extracted from the original record, but I have since been able to get a copy from Ancestry of the actual written death register.  Her death was caused by "confinement".  Not meaning that she was confined somewhere, the term confinement was used to describe pregnancy.  She probably died of complications from pregnancy or childbirth, but there is no mention of any baby.  Notice her husband's name is not on the form, and the "Informant" is blank.  It's also missing the Undertaker's name and the place of burial, which I have yet to find.

In the dark ages before online census records, all I had immediate access to was 1850 census indexes which listed only the head of household.  There were about 250 John Smith's in Connecticut, far too many reels of microfilm to inter-library loan to look for his family's census listing.  Working on Austin & Abigail Bliss, I ran across a tree at Rootsweb World Connect created by Meri Arnett-Kremian showing in the 1850 census Mary and Henrietta were living with Austin & Abigail in Bozrah, New London County, Connecticut. The household also included Harriet, 17, William, 14, Julia, 11, and Sarah, 8. But no John, had he died?  

At about the same time, I got the idea to check on city directory listings.  I contacted the Worcester Massachusetts Public Library and they were very helpful pinpointing which John Smith I was trying to track.  I started with 1867 since I knew Henrietta was married there then.  In 2004, I submitted an "Ask a Librarian" question:
"Is there a city directory for Worcester, MA for or near the year 1867?  I'm looking for a John P. Smith of Worcester, with wife Mary and daughter Henrietta (age 18 in 1867)."  
The next day, they answered with a yes, they found a John P. Smith, Armorer, living in Northville near West Boylston St.  They wanted me to confirm.  Well, at that point I still didn't know, I said I would have to inter-library loan the 1860 census to see the household.  The librarian was kind enough to check that for me and found John with Mary, Henrietta and a younger daughter Anne and another person living with them -- Julia M. BLISS.  Mary's sister!  But the kind librarian didn't stop there.  He or she (I wish I had a name!  Messages were signed "WPLREF") then looked in more city directories.  In 1850 through 1857, John was listed as a machinist boarding at two different places.  The rest of the listings had him as an armorer, working at Allen, Thurber & Co from 1854-1856. AND THEN, the librarian checked on Anne's birth record.  She was born April 14, 1854 and the place of residence "jibes with the city directory listings".  Next this fabulous librarian proceeds to tell me that in 1870, John had remarried and had a child from this second marriage.  That was news to me.  They mailed me copies of the 1860 and 1870 census records.  The household in 1870 was John, 46, wife Emma, 27, Anna, 16, Carrie, 7, Minnie, 2 and Flora Carver, 16.  The 16 year-old girls were working in a Box Shop.  Carrie would have been the daughter of Mary.

Working on this post I finally got the idea to Google "Allen, Thurber & Co", and I learned that it was a firearms manufacturer, known for the "Pepper-box" handgun.  At the website it says, "the company moved to Worcester from Norwich, Conn in July of 1847."  That explains John's moved from Norwich to Worcester!  In 1850, his wife and daughter were with her parents probably while he worked and saved to bring them up there with him.  This also jogs my memory, I think my Grandma told me once that Henrietta's father worked making guns.  I was thinking of Smith & Wesson.

Many online trees have John P Smith's parents as Isaac Smith and Phebe Platt.  I was going right along with that for a while, but I didn't really believe that he had moved to California as some had.  After learning about his second family and working on them, I posted a message on the Genforum board for SMITH on March 2, 2006.  The next day, which happened to be my birthday, a message was posted there from Leah that said "there is a death record in Worcester for a John P Smith in 1903".  She was not related, but posted some details on Emma and the girls and who they married.  The kind of birthday gift I can't ask for!

Again, I sent to the Archives for John's death record and received the same type of certified copy as above for Mary.  He was 79 years old, his occupation was Armorer, cause of death was cerebral softening with contributing cause of cerebral embolism.  I think that means he had a stroke if I understand correctly.  But the most exciting information on here was his parents names! Aza Smith and Mehitable Potter!  Proof that Isaac Smith and Phebe Platt were the wrong line.  The bad news is for place of burial it only says Worcester.  Again no definite burial information and I have tried contacting a couple of cemeteries in town with no luck.  In 2007, a volunteer with NEHGS saw a message I had posted on the Worcester message board and sent me the copy here of the death record for John P Smith.  

Once more, I contacted the Worcester Public Library and requested a copy of an obituary for John - John Potter Smith.  This is from the Worcester Daily Spy, Dec. 23, 1903.   Argh!  Still no burial information!  
"SMITH -  In this city, December 21, John Potter Smith, age 79 years.  Funeral private".

With such a distance between Henrietta and her sisters, I doubt if they saw much of each other again after she moved to Illinois.  If any descendants of John P Smith read this, please leave me a comment and let's sort of reunite his family.  I invite those with Mary Abigail Bliss and John P Smith in their trees to contact me or the Worcester Public Library and determine for themselves who the parents of John Potter Smith are.

"THERE IS NO CRYING IN GENEALOGY!"  And there is no giving up!  Henrietta's parents were not so difficult after all.  Even the right John Smith CAN be found, I found mine! 

UPDATE 1/21/18: I've written a new post with recently found information on the parents of John Potter Smith - "Rerouting... John Potter Smith's Path"


  1. I had the date of death info for John Potter Smith, but no parents. THat his mother's maiden name was Potter makes sense. I'm descended from Mary Abigail Bliss Smith's brother, Sylvester Bliss.

  2. I had the date of death info for John Potter Smith, but no parents. THat his mother's maiden name was Potter makes sense. I'm descended from Mary Abigail Bliss Smith's brother, Sylvester Bliss.

    1. Hi Meri! It's good to hear from you. Thanks for your help and input.