John Smedes, where did he come from and where did he go?

John SMEDES, my ggg grandfather, is my current brick wall obsession. I have tried over a number of years to find out where and when he was born, and where and when he died, but just keep coming up blank.

John SMEDES, or (Frederick John SMEDES depending on which record you are looking at), first appears in English records as marrying Amelia Lydia Ann NEIDERMANN in the Parish of Christ Church, Middlesex on 3 July 1836.

His next appearance is in September 1837 on the baptism record of the first born of John and Amelia, Amelia Gagena, (or Gazenia), SMEDES. On this record John is listed as a labourer and resident of Brick Lane.

I should note here that I have not obtained every single certificate of birth, marriage and death records of John and Amelia’s known children, but have managed to acquire a few of them. To my knowledge they had five: Amelia Gagena, John Frederick born in 1839, George Henry born in 1843, Ann Rosetta born in 1845 and David John (my gg grandfather) born in 1847.

The 1841 Census John SMEDES is recorded as being 30 years of age, a sugar baker by occupation, and as being from foreign parts. John lives in Thrawl Street with his wife Emilia (sic), daughter Emilia (sic) and son John.

After this, I can find no trace of him. The 1851 lists his wife Amelia as a ‘widow’, still living in Thrawl St and with the occupation of ‘shop keeper’. So what happened to John??

I have searched in many places including Ancestry and Find My Past and was very excited when London Parish Registers were added to Ancestry, but cannot find his death recorded anywhere. My searches have been both narrow and broad, taking into account the many variations in spellings I have come across for SMEDES, including SMEEDES, SMEDIS and SMEDE.

I *think* he died sometime between 1846 and 1851, primarily because his last child was born in May 1847, so 1846 allows for conception (assuming of course he was even the father, but is listed as such on David John’s birth certificate), and 1851 because he does not appear on the 1851 Census and Amelia is listed as a widow, (I am still assuming at this stage that this was the case, but it also may not be). Amelia also remarries in June 1851 to Diederich LUTJEN, so unless he ran away which he could have done, I have assumed him to have died before this date.

My next step was to browse page by page through the GRO index for those years under S to see if I could locate him, particularly as some of those records were hand written and so may not have been correctly indexed for searching. I found ZIP. Then I looked right through the Christ Church Spitalfields Burial Register from 1846 to 1851. ZIP again. Interestingly I also did not find a record for the burial of Ann Rosetta who died very young in 1846, so I was not over hopeful of finding the father. Maybe they were both simply buried elsewhere. I can find Ann Rosetta in the GRO Index though, so why not John??

Where did he come from??? I have heard a few family stories that he was from Germany, but lacking any details on that other than the 1841 Census stating he was from ‘foreign parts’, I really don’t know where to start looking for his place of origin. I had hoped that David John’s birth certificate would list his father’s place of birth but it did not, it was too early to record that information.

I have also done some searching in newspapers, thinking that if he was a sugar baker he may have met with an accident and untimely death – again there was nothing, nothing with his name anyway. There are plenty of stories about deaths associated with the sugar mills of the area.

Time to take another break from him I think. If anyone has any suggestions for me please I would love to hear from you. I am still relatively new to this and would welcome any hints. The answer is probably staring me in the face.


11 thoughts on “John Smedes, where did he come from and where did he go?

    • Funny you should suggest that. After doing this post I tried searching for Meades, Mead*, etc and still nothing. But I might also need to trawl through the indexes again.

      Thank you for sharing your idea. :)

  1. I think your problem here is his residence. Honestly, anyone who lived in “Brick Lane” is going to cause headaches! In all seriousness though, I do feel for you. Ancestors like this do my head in.

  2. This might help. I was thinking he may have anglicized his surname. For example might be originally Schmidt or Schmidtz and is going by that instead. May have returned to his country of origin. I am assuming all passenger records have been checked. The marriage records may confirm if his children have listed their father as deceased and the spelling of the surname. Also check non-conformist records, he may have been another religion. Always tricky these ones!!

    • Many thanks. These are some great alternatives to try. I have looked at shipping records and found nothing under Smedes and its variations so will try the other names. Two of his children were married after he supposedly died, but he is not listed as ‘deceased’ on either parish entry. Did they list deceased parents as such in parish registers in the 1850s and 1860s? Looks like I should buy the certificates. Many thanks. I greatly appreciate your suggestions.

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