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).

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