Thursday, 16 July 2015

George and Julia Smith - Where did you appear from?

I’d hit a family history brick wall and then this little snippet turned up.
"Mother of German extract family name changed by poll from Schmidt" -30/6/76 Grace  Gadsby
Great Auntie Grace had written this comment when relating some of the family details to her niece, Airdrie shortly before she died. 

She was referring her mother, Selina Smith born 1869 in England. Selina had married Thomas Gadsby and had immigrated with her  9 children to Sydney in 1912.  Selina and Thomas were my great grandparents. Prior to arriving in Australia they had lived with their children in a not so salubrious, poor immigrant part of London. Having previously researched the names and occupations of their neighbours in the 1911 census I was not really surprised that there might have been “some German extract”.

My brick wall had stemmed from the fact that I couldn't trace her parents, known to be Julia Baker b 1834 to 1914 and George Smith b 1832 to 1915 before 1861. Certain knowledge that one or both of them were part German immigrants gave me something else to go on and the motivation to look for them more closely.

After all what was Selina's background? Did she have siblings? Had she appeared in earlier census documents prior to her marriage?

Bit by bit the picture of the family fell into place.

In 1871 the family is found with father, George a gas lighter living with his wife Julia and four of their children
Julia 10
George 9
Thomas 6
Selina 1. 

The three latter children were born in Marylebone Middlesex. Interestingly Julia's place of birth is listed as Brewers Green which is near Westminster in London. 

Ten years earlier in the 1861 census her parents and older sister Julia appear in the census living at 17 Great Titchfield Street. George is a horsehair weaver aged 29, Julia is 28 and little Julia is 11 months old. Both parents are identified as born in Islington Middlesex and Julia in Shoreditch.

This allowed the family to be found in 1881. The two older girls had obviously left home, George and Thomas were working and two more siblings had come along Louisa 9 and William 6. Everyone was listed as having been born in London except George Snr a general labourer was listed as being born in Islington.

In 1881 young Julia was a servant living at Finsbury market and working for the Gripson family. Mr Gripson was a catering provider. Selina was most likely boarding away as a Scholar, companion or servant as there are several likely suspects.

So far... everyone born in England and not much to suggest a foreign background.
George's change of occupation to painter in the 1891 census could have certainly thrown us off the scent particularly with the comment in his place of birth as “unknown"! However, various marriages of his children at this time confirmed that this lamplighter/painter/decorator was one and the same man.
 So far... everyone born in England and not much to suggest a foreign background.
1911 census document gave so much information and enabled the eventual confirmation of his and Julia's deaths and details of the children. This is the first census completed personally by the occupant. Filled out by 80 year old George or more likely 79 year old Julia (as she is literate) the document bears the confusion of the elderly when it is incorrectly filled out in several places. Still at age 80 this is the first time George has been more specific about his place of birth claiming to be British and born at Ward's Place Islington which was known as a Poorhouse around the time of his birth.

From this information I deduced:
  • ·         George (still alive) had married Lydia Eaton and lived around the Bethnal Green/ Barking area of Essex with their 10 children.
  • ·         Selina (still alive) had married Thomas Gadsby and had 13 children.
  • ·         Julia (deceased) had married with two children but was deceased by 1887.
  • ·         Louisa (still alive) had married a German – John Christian Steinle and had 10 children.
  • ·         William (still alive) had an unknown spouse and family
  • ·         Thomas and two other unknown siblings deceased

Thus we have the family tree for the Smith Family. A fuller version of the extended family is included in the Strutt and Pierpoint 2010 tree on

I feel chuffed this whole process has resulted in Selina's siblings and their extended family branches have been reunited on a single tree.

By now this tree  is looking healthier and full of Ancestry “hint” leaves. We have a clear picture of Selina’s parents and siblings for the first time. It’s incredible that all this has come about from the mistakes made by George and Julia in the 1911 census. Amazingly when Aunty Grace’s letter resurfaces and is passed to me in 2013 and this tantalising mystery gets me looking through the records again but with the added emphasis on the “foreign” side of things. Still nothing can be found before the 1861- no marriage of George and Julia, no birth of little Julia, no previous definitive 1841 or 1851 census for either George or Julia or corresponding births.
Could they indeed have emigrated, changed their name, adopted British places of births and carried on as British citizens from 1861?

I am my father's daughter- obsession and lateral thinking run in the family. Keep digging Robyn!! Try more angles.

Working backwards through the births, baptisms and marriages there are so many George Smith's and almost as many George Schmitz on the German ancestry. I do find a young Julia Baker in the early days living with two siblings. Perhaps she was orphaned and may not be the German I am looking for. There are too many George, Thomas and William Smiths to make any definitive determinations of their births either as Smith or Schmidt. Selina, Louisa and Julia should be an easier find as they are not such common names or so you might think.

We know Selina and older brother Thomas are baptised as Smith in 1869. I look for all sorts of combinations of Smith and a follow-up the hints on Ancestry, following up possibilities from earlier census and revisit other research sites to start removing bricks from that wall. Remember this has been annoying me for years. Every six months or so I revisit this part of the tree.

Perhaps Julia the orphan has married George Schmidt. Finally a chance search on Family Search website throws up a Julia Smith nee Baker marrying not a Schmidt but a Greedus in 1859. I follow up excitedly. 

This marriage of George Greedus and Julia Smith nee Baker in 1859 looks like a good fit

George Greedus is a Horsehair Weaver. His father was William Greedus and his grandparents, Issac and Hannah look a likely ethnic fit-a family of horsehair weaver's and manufacturers with German sounding names. He appaears in the 1841and1851 census. Add to that- a Julia Greedus born in Shoreditch,1860. The penny drops George Smith married to my Julia with daughter Julia 11 months in the 1861 census is a horsehair manufacturer!!! What are the chances? Is the family below the Greedus family.
1861 census - George and the two Julias have changed their name!
The marriage certificate Julia Baker nee Smith has signed upon her marriage to George Greedus has Julia signing her own name. A marriage certificate signed a few years earlier showing a Julia Baker marrying Samuel Smith's also has a signature and the “Julia's” are remarkably similar and both have a father Thomas.

Julia’s signature when married to Samuel

Julia’s signature when married to George-Similar formation of “i “and “a”     
This is possibly Julia’s writing in 1911 –still some similarities but 50 + years later

There is a discrepancy between the professions of the father, Thomas, in the marriage certificates but I’m guessing he has retired from the Cold Stream Guards and changed employment. The short lived marriage to the gun maker, Samuel Smith leaves Julia a widow and in 1859 she marries George Greedus. Julia Greedus is born in Shoreditch in 1960. Could they have changed their name from Greedus to Smith by the time of the 1861 census when their little Julia Smith is listed as 11 months old?

 I think I've smashed my brick wall.

Aunty Grace you might be onto something even if you have lead me a merry chase. You knew your mother was Selina Smith and you could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking they had changed their name from Schmidt to Smith. I think I've smashed my brick wall.

My theory is that Julia Smith nee Baker, a widow married George Greedus and had a child, Julia Greedus. For whatever reason they changed their name by the 1861 census and from then on were known as Julia and George Smith and little Julia was known as Julia Smith.

Now for some background to the Greedus family and the plight of the weavers. The Greedus family appear to have been silk weavers initially. Given they lived in Spitalfields more likely they were Huguenots (Protestants).The bulk of Huguenot émigrés relocated to Protestant nations such as England. settling in  Spitalfields, London, where they re-established their trade.

The Huguenot weavers brought skills and technology previously unavailable to the British silk industry which then blossomed. While silk-weaving became popular in Coventry, Nuneaton and other parts of England the industry remained centred in Spitalfields where our Greedus family hails from. Many family descendants stayed in the area.

Greedus is a rare surname. Issac Greedus, George’s grandfather b 1753 appears to be the patriarch of the Greedus family in the area but could well have had several siblings. Many were employed as silk weavers or in Horse hair manufacture in Shoreditch/Spitalfields area up to the 1860s. Horsehair fabrics are woven with tail hair from live horses and cotton or silk warps. Horsehair fabrics are sought for their lustre, durability and care properties and are mainly used for upholstery and interiors.

Incidentally the Gadsby family (Selina married into the Gadsbys) were silk ribbon weavers from the town of Nuneaton and later Coventry. 

The silk weaving industry began to decline from the 1830s to about the time of George and Julia’s marriage in 1859. Changes to legislation regarding tariffs came in about 1860. Hence George who was also a horse hair weaver by this time had a change of profession to lamp lighter, painter and decorator. Peter Jardine who has been researching Greedus relations for some time said he has a number of Greedus people who just disappear which could well indicate name changes to something less indentifiable as Huegonet. I rest my case.

Cheers Robyn
Selina’s Great Granddaughter July 2015

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