JAMES MURRAY SMITHSON - Brick wall in my research for over 15 years

March 9, 2015

Even as an experienced researcher, I have been unable to penetrate this brick wall, and, unless there are other untried sources, I feel I may never be able to resolve it.

Subject: James Murray SMITHSON (great grandfather) born c 1835 in Midlothian, Scotland.  No birth entry or baptism has been found in Scottish archives but I believe that prior to 1855 there was no compulsion to do so by parents.

He first appears in the 1851 census in lodgings in 37 Back Newberry Street, Manchester, as a “cabinet maker” aged 19 born in Scotland.  He is at the household of Ellen Mackintosh and her daughter Sarah, aged 20, a Power Loom Weaver, born Manchester.

James and Sarah were married on 23 April 1853 at Manchester Cathedral Church. 

marriage James Smithson to Sarah Mackintosh

In the 1861 census, the couple are living at 17 Clayburn Street, Hulme, Manchester, and his occupation in this, and subsequent censuses, is Cabinet Maker.  They have three children: Albert, Margaret and Sarah.

In the 1871 census, James is living at 22 Greenbank Street, Salford, but not with Sarah who I assumed at one point had died as his “wife” was stated to be Hannah, and daughters Margaret and Sarah from his marriage to Sarah Mackintosh, as well as two more daughters Nelly and Hannah, and a son, James, aged seven.

I found a marriage to Hannah Whittle but not until 23 March 1873, after the census.

marriage 2

Note that James’s father is given as William SmithFIELD which could be an error. 

Hannah was born in 1836 in Manchester and by the time they eventually married in 1873, they had had a son William who was born and died in Salford in 1865, Hannah born 1866 in Salford, Ellen born 1869 in Manchester and Emma Murray who was born and died in 1871 in Salford.  Hannah, James’s wife died one month after their marriage at 20 Rodney Street, Salford, aged 37.

I had assumed that Sarah (Mackintosh) had died between the birth of her son John James in 1863 and 1873 but at the time (1871) Sarah was living as the “wife” of Samuel Pearson, a Boiler maker from Ashton under Lyne at 33 Cawdor Street, Manchester.  They had three children, Alfred born 1866, Melinda born 1867 and Amy aged 10 months all born Hulme, Manchester.  They eventually married as shown below.    

marriage 3

One of the witnesses above was Margaret Cowie, Sarah and James’s daughter. 

On 10 August 1873 James married yet again – to a widow, Mary Ann Holland (nee Philips) at St Simon’s Church, Salford.  Father was stated to be William WILSON no occupation.  In 1871 she was a widow, living with her parents and two children at 22 Rodney Street, Salford next door to No 20 where Hannah Smithson had died.  On 16 April 1876, they had a son (my grandfather) who was baptised Edward Murray Smithson although in the 1881 census he is called William E.   Mary Ann died on 17 May 1879 at 1 Bombay Street, Salford.

On 28 March 1880 James married for the fourth and final time to Primrose Rodgers, a widow, at St Luke’s Church, Weaste, Salford. 

marriage 4

The father was given as William Smithson deceased.  They had a son in 1881 called Beaconsfield Murray Smithson.  In the 1881 census Primrose and James are living at 11 Darley Street, Salford with James’s children James, Ellen, William E (Edward) and Sarah.  James Murray Smithson dies aged 46 on 8 July 1882 at this address.

It looks as if James has married bigamously as Sarah only died in 1896.

I then looked for any siblings of James Murray Smithson.  I found a William Murray Smithson who I thought could be related.

William appears firstly on the 1851 census, at 29 Rigby Street, Manchester.  His occupation was a Lithographic Printer and the census states that he was born in Liverpool in 1829.  He is living with his wife Elizabeth (Eliza) and son William aged eleven.  William junior was christened on 22 April 1860 at Manchester Cathedral.

He had married as below under the name of SMITH and his father’s name also appears as William SMITH (Commission Agent).  One of the witnesses was a Margaret Woodall.#

marriage 5

In the 1861 census, he is living at 8 Bombay Street, Salford (the street where my grandfather Edward Murray Smithson was born) with wife Eliza and son William.  William was their only child and he was born 1849 in Salford, registered under the name William Smithson.  He was baptised on 22 April 1860 at Manchester Cathedral under the name William Murray Smithson.  His father William again is under the surname of SMITH in this census and his birthplace is given as MANCHESTER.

In the 1871 census, the family are living at 34 Waterloo Place, Salford, under the surname SMITHSON and same occupation of Lithographic Printer.  Birthplace is given as LIVERPOOL.  William senior dies on 13 June 1875 at 7 Paradise Hill, Salford.  The informant was Mary Ann Smithson, sister in law of Bombay Street, Salford (James’s third wife).

# As stated earlier, a witness to the marriage of William Murray Smithson was a Margaret Woodall.  I found a Margaret Smithson  born c 1827 Liverpool, married to an Edward Woodall, Baker, on 6 December 1846 at St Mary’s, Prestwich. Father of bride is William Smithson – Traveller and witness William Smithson.  Edward Woodall died in 1859, they appear on the 1851 census living at 6 Mason Street, Manchester.  I have been unable to find Margaret in subsequent censuses.  A visitor to the household in 1851 was a John Murray born 1819 Scotland a Greenwich Pensioner.  He could possibly be a relation as Margaret’s brother’s James and William have the middle name of Murray.  

This is a really tangled web the main problems being:-

  1. As all three Smithson siblings were born before civil registration I am unable to find a birth. The OPC Lancashire has been searched for baptisms in Manchester and Liverpool to no avail.
  2. No trace in the 1841 censuses for any of them.
  3. In William Murray Smithson’s case for both father and son, the appearance of SMITH in some official documents and SMITHSON in others presents difficulties as Smith is such a common name.
  4. Why was James M Smithson born in Midlothian and the others in Lancashire? Family legend has it that there is possibly some connection with Portobello, which is near Edinburgh.
  5. No records of William Smithson, father of James, William and Margaret, in any censuses. No marriage either, but that would have been before civil registration and could have been in Scotland. His wife’s maiden name was possibly MURRAY? A very common name in Scotland. As he was listed as deceased at the time of James and Primrose’s marriage he could have died between the third and fourth marriages of his son. Made a cursory look at Trade Directories for a William Smithson, Commission Agent but not in great detail.
  6. About ten or eleven years ago a researcher in Scotland visited archives in Scotland but could not find any Smithsons at all.

I have a public tree on Ancestry called Smithson family tree but although there are several people related to this family, no-one except me have come up with any extra information, in fact they have copied details of mine.

Janet Rigby

Member 1314

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