Wednesday, December 1, 2021

An Ordinary Name Like Smith


Surnames can have a "Goldilocks" syndrome of their own. When they are too rare, it's hard to find enough records to facilitate a family history search. When they are too common, they bring on enough of an avalanche of resources that the researcher gets flooded with more results than can be handled. It's those surnames in the middle—not too rare, not too common—that become the sweet spot we love to find.

Today, however, is not one of those instances. This is the task I've been procrastinating until the very last moment: looking for someone with the surname Smith.

As we wrap up a month of pondering the family represented by a rescued stash of photographs—the collection once owned by Marilyn Sowle Bean—we now turn to consider a woman by the name of Eliza Smith. Remember that we are seeking any sign of who in the family might have carried the Marfan Syndrome which cost Marilyn her husband, her son, and several in-laws' children. It seemed apparent that the syndrome might have come from Marilyn's mother-in-law's side of the family, one of the lines leading to Maude Woodworth Bean.

So far, we've examined the lines of three of Maude's four grandparents: Woodworth, Williams, and Farrand. Now we need to touch on the fourth grandparent, a woman by the name of Eliza Smith.

Tracing that family line backwards in time, I nearly groaned when I learned that Maude's paternal grandmother had Smith for a maiden name. Fortunately, from that backwards-in-time vantage point, it was not Smith which I had to begin my research with, but Woodworth.

Eliza Smith Woodworth's most recent appearance in a U.S. Census record was at the turn of the century—that other century. There, in her residence in Los Angeles County, California, the mother of eight children now lived with only one other person: her husband of fifty four years, Lafayette. 

At the time of the 1900 census, Eliza stated that she had been born in New York in August of 1828. She indicated that, while her mother had also been born in New York, her father had come from Connecticut.

It is probably a good thing we were able to find Eliza in the 1900 census, for if she had died any earlier, we would have had to settle with finding her back in the 1880 census, at a point which provided us with even less information on this Smith descendant. By the time of Eliza's passing in 1905, thankfully a telegram home to family back in Wisconsin prompted an article in the hometown newspaper of the region where the Woodworths once lived before immigrating to California.

It's a good thing the Kenosha Evening News chose to be so informative about this woman who left town with her family back in 1886. The article gave her name as "Mrs. Eliza Smith Woodworth," and noted that this "pioneer resident" had been a daughter of a local man named Abraham Smith. Furthermore, the obituary listed the names of all eight of Eliza's children, three of whom still remained in the Kenosha County area in Wisconsin.

This detail will be helpful in my goal of examining whether any other branch of Maude's extended family might have exhibited signs of that same Marfan Syndrome which was so devastating to her own immediate family. I'm still working my way through the descendants of each of Eliza's children. However, what I'm curious about is Eliza's collateral lines: who were her siblings?

Thankfully, it was fairly easy to locate an Abraham Smith in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, just as Eliza's obituary had indicated. Though I lamented the newspaper's lack of mention of any siblings which might have survived her—especially those who might still be living in her hometown—I did find Abraham and his apparently large family in the 1850 census. Thankfully, I might add, as Abraham died only five years later.

Abraham Smith's household did indeed include a twenty two year old woman named Eliza Smith. The only problem with that discovery was that I already knew something about Eliza in the 1850 census: that by then, Eliza was married to Lafayette Woodworth, and was already listed elsewhere in the 1850 census as the mother of two children. Why would she be listed in two places?


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