Posted by: Christine | August 12, 2014

Looking for Smiths

I’ve just noticed it has been nearly three months since I last posted here. Like a lot of family historians I have been busy with the First World War. In my case, Rugby Family History Group is celebrating its 30th Anniversary. We realized this coincided with the centenary of the start of WW1 and so, as a special project, we would try to find out more about the names of the men on the local Memorial Gates. It turned out there were more than 400 men and the list gave just a surname and initials. My job was to find a name and date of death of each, so that our members could pick a name (or names) to research. This research would be published online on the centenary of each man’s death. (If you are interested you can see the result at https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com No-one has actually died yet, although I’m feeling a bit tired!).

A big job, and there is still a handful of names we haven’t found yet. When I needed a break from this, and with my newly acquired expertise in WW1 research, I decided I should try to find out more about my own relatives who died. I started with Alfred Smith.

I would have had no chance in finding anything about this man if I didn’t already have a valuable source of information – my great grandfather’s  grave stone. Henry Madder lived in Springfield, near Chelmsford in Essex and called himself Henry Smith. I had already found Henry’s grave in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church in Springfield (in the shadow of Chelmsford Prison). Apart from details of himself and his wife, it mentioned their two sons who had died in the war. Alfred died in Alexandria (Egypt) and Joseph was killed in France.

Grave of Henry (Madder) Smith mentioning his deceased sons.

Grave of Henry (Madder) Smith mentioning his deceased sons.

With a date and place I had manged to find Alfred’s entry on the CWGC website and had purchased a death certificate – very informative.

Death Certificate of Alfred Smith, died 1915

Death Certificate of Alfred Smith, died 1915

I had his birth, as Alfred Madder, in 1881 and he was in the 1891 census aged 10 with the rest of the family (all Smith) in Randolph Terrace, Springfield. I had also come across a possible Alfred Smith in the army in 1901. Apart from his death, that was all I had. You try looking for an Alfred Smith!

Henry had 15 children and most left the area. The elder ones especially used the Smith name thereafter. My grandfather was in the middle and stayed in Chelmsford and his descendants, including me,  ended up Madder-Smith. This name is the reason I started family history research – I wonder what I would be doing now if I had been born a Smith?

I started by looking for Alfred’s service record. It turned out to be one of the few that survived the bombs of WW2 remarkably unscathed. He was a driver in the Army Service Corps. The first page gave me an address for him, 7 Park Road, Plumstead and an occupation, Grocers Carman. It also stated he had previously spent 6 months in the 19th Hussars (which just happened to coincide with the 1901 census!)

First page of Alfred Smith's service record, Feb 1915

First page of Alfred Smith’s service record, Feb 1915

The second page gave me a brief description and details of his marriage to Ethel Mary Partridge and dates of birth of their six children.

Second page of Alfred Smiths service record

Second page of Alfred Smiths service record

With this information I could find then on the 1911 census:

Alfred Smith and family in Plumstead in 1911

Alfred Smith and family in Plumstead in 1911

The address was 74 Princes Road, Plumstead and Alfred was a carman for a Furniture Remover. by the time he signed up in 1915 he was working as a grocer’s carman. Not surprising he ended up as a Horse Transport Driver. Judging by the date, he was transporting supplies for the Gallipoli Campaign.

This wasn’t the end of the interesting documents in the service record. There was an envelope that had contained some coins in his possession at death, with a note of their return to Woolwich.

Envelope that contained coins belonging to Alfred Smith.

Envelope that contained coins belonging to Alfred Smith.

… And the letter from Alfred’s wife acknowledging receipt of them.

Letter from Ethel Mary Smith on receipt of coins.

Letter from Ethel Mary Smith on receipt of coins.

The other important document was a report from the hospital in Alexandria about his death.

Report on the death of Alfred Smith

Report on the death of Alfred Smith

Not a very pleasant death, but he had done his bit for the war effort. He had served for about six months.

I decided to see if there was any record of his previous military service. All the previous records had been found on Ancestry, but earlier service records can be found on Findmypast (British Army Service Records 1760-1915). I found Alfred’s record there.

Attestation of Alfred Smith, Jan 1901

Attestation of Alfred Smith, Jan 1901

His place of birth confirmed I had the right man, and I discovered that his occupation had been as a fishmonger. I also got a full description.

Description of Alfred Smith.

Description of Alfred Smith.

The later service record mentions the “Mole Right Shoulder Blade” but not the “Scars Right Groin” – perhaps the medical wasn’t as thorough!

The record also includes his discharge, after six months, stating that he was “Medically unfit for further service”

Medically Unfit in 1901

Medically Unfit in 1901

His conduct and character had been “Very Good” though!

This is not quite the end of the riches I found in this document. Details of next of kin were required.

Details of Alfred Smith's next of kin in 1901

Details of Alfred Smith’s next of kin in 1901

His father I knew about. Brother Charles I had also come across – he was also a Smith but I had been contacted by one of his descendants and had been given information about his family. But I had nothing about Henry (another Smith!). Apparently in 1901 he was also living in Plumstead. I quickly found him boarding at 61 High Street, he was single and working as a General Labourer, Arsenal. I was then able to find him in 1911.

Henry Smith in 1911

Henry Smith in 1911

Henry was now a conductor for Erith Council Tramways and living in Belvedere, Kent with one daughter Doris Olive, aged 8. He says he has been married nine years and has had five children, three who survive. Where is his wife? Where are the other children? Of course they are Smiths and difficult to track down. If anyone knows them, please let me know.

Returning to Alfred, I have been unable to find out what happened to his wife and children. I did a search of the family trees on Ancestry and found a match. It turned out to be a website researching the Chelmsford War Memorials. Alfred is mentioned on the site but is not on the memorial in Chelmsford or in Springfield – his brother Joseph is! As far as I can tell Alfred is not on one in Plumstead. There is an Alfred Smith buried in Plumstead Cemetery, but he won a V.C. and died in 1932 – definitely not mine.

This post will have to act as his memorial.

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