Looking in the Right Place: A Case Study

In researching the English ancestry of Esther (Smart) Guise, 1823–1872, Arlene V. Jennings, CG, was initially directed to the wrong place. The 1923 Kansas death certificate of Esther’s daughter Marilla (Guise) Bush suggested Esther was born in London, but she was not.

Instead, it was an unsourced family tree online that first suggested to Jennings that Esther was born in Yorkshire. She didn’t take the Yorkshire claim at face value, but she did use it as a clue to explore. That exploration proved worthwhile. The baptisms of Esther and her siblings, 1821–1833, were readily found in the parish registers of North Newbald in the East Riding of Yorkshire, as was the 1820 marriage of their parents Hannah Watson and Robert Smart. The couple and their children who had survived to date all immigrated from Hull to New York in 1835.

Robert’s ancestry was fairly apparent in the same set of North Newbald records, but Hannah’s was more of a mystery. Who was her family of origin? And where did she grow up? The difficulty in answering those questions formed a significant roadblock in Jennings’s research, but critical thinking, hard work, and looking in the right place ultimately solved her problem. The process of arriving at that solution led to her 2012 NGSQ article, “The Yorkshire Origins of Hannah (Watson) Smart of LaGrange County, Indiana.”[1]

Several records suggested Hannah was born about 1792, but no baptism was found for her in North Newbald, where she was married and her children were baptized. So Jennings broadened her search area to all the parishes within a twelve-mile radius (see footnote 10 for a fascinating explanation of why Jennings chose that distance). Five candidates for Hannah emerged (in order of distance from North Newbald): one in Hotham (1.8 mi. SW), two in North Cave (2.8 mi. SSW), one in Walkington (4 mi. E), and one in Adlingfleet (10.3 miles SSW).

Two of those candidates were easily eliminated. The Hannah in Hotham was found to have died shortly after birth, and the Hannah in Walkington proved to be the Hannah See (née Watson) named in her father William Watson’s 1844 will.

The Hannah of Adlingfleet took a bit more attention. No subsequent marriage or burial record was found for her, but it was noted that the 1799 will of her father George Watson, did not name a Hannah among his children, suggesting a possible earlier death. It’s also true that Adlingfleet was nearly four times farther from North Newbald than North Cave. It’s more likely that Robert Smart would have married someone closer.

So Jennings focused on the two Hannahs of North Cave.

The first was born 10 November and baptized 11 November 1791. She was the “D[aughte]r of R[ober]t. Watson, L[aboure]r, Son of J[oh]n Watson Gardener by Jane D[aughte]r. of J[oh]n Marshall, Waller.” Her mother was Marianne D[aughte]r of R[ichar]d Tween of Kingston upon Hull, Wollendraper.

The second was born 6 August, baptized 2 September 1792. This Hannah was the daughter of W[illia]m Watson, Farmer, Son of R[ichar]d Watson of Adlingfleet farmer, and of Sarah D[aughte]r of W[illia]m Hornsea of North Newbald, Waller.[2]

Here, Jennings recalled Robert and Hannah’s 1820 marriage, at which one of the two witnesses was Elizabeth Watson. Neither of the mothers named here were Elizabeth. Did either couple also have a daughter named Elizabeth? Yes. In fact, they both did. And both Elizabeths died young. Only William and Sarah had a second daughter also named Elizabeth, who married William Fisher just nineteen days after Robert and Hannah’s marriage. At Elizabeth’s marriage to William Fisher, Robert Smart served as witness.

To add to the accumulating evidence, the 1781 marriage of William Watson and Sarah Hornsey was found in North Newbald. With this, Jennings just may have found the right place, or places. She had a solid, reasonable hypothesis suggesting a Watson migration from Adlingfleet to North Newbald to North Cave and back to North Newbald before Robert and Hannah’s emigration to the United States.

But she still had a problem. William Watson was a very common name in Yorkshire, and misidentification is an easy mistake to make. Her work to confirm her hypothesis extended to exhaustive research in land tax assessments, churchwardens’ accounts, poor rates, and probate records in her areas of interest. That additional research properly differentiated her ancestor from all the other William Watsons nearby and located more precise places of residence than the parishes already identified. It also helped explain the economic drivers behind their migration.

But Jennings could only do this because she did the work to make sure she looked in the right places.


[1] Arlene V. Jennings, “The Yorkshire Origins of Hannah (Watson) Smart of LaGrange County, Indiana,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (2012), 199–219; PDF, NGSQ Archives(https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ngsq/ngsq_archives/ : 13 October 2020).

[2] Jennings, “The Yorkshire Origins of Hannah (Watson) Smart,” 202; citing North Cave Parish, Baptisms, burials, 1781–1812 (FHL #1,702,873, item 29), p. 20, Hannah Watson baptism (1791), p. 21, Hannah Watson baptism (1792).

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