David Smyth has generously provided the fruits of his extensive Smyth family research - both commissioned and personal - for inclusion on this site. David is a descendant of this Smyth family which branched at a later generation, that of his grandfather, Thomas Hutchinson Smyth. David reports that there is a fluctuating number of people over the years - currently about a dozen and a half now living - who are descended from the offspring of Thomas Hutchinson Smyth.
The Hawkesworth family can be traced back for at least another four hundred years, through seventeen generations, to a Robert de Hawkesworth who lived in Yorkshire in the early Thirteenth century. I am in contact with a member of the Hawkesworth family who says he can provide another two hundred years worth of Hawkesworth ancestors, to a few years before the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
We thus have about eight hundred to one thousand years of recorded family history. That looks impressive. But to put the matter in its proper perspective: excluding the single exception of the Hawkesworth connection, the ancestry is traced only through the male line of descent, which severely limits the scope of the inquiry. It is probably just as well, since genealogical research through both male and female lines quickly becomes buried in a mass of unmanageable data. This is due to the inescapable fact that everybody has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on back into the mists of time. If there are no overlapping ancestors along the way through intermarriage, by the time you go back five hundred years and sixteen generations (one generation being usually estimated at about thirty years) everybody alive in the year 2001 had 131,072 direct ancestors around the year 1500. And if you go back one thousand years, each person could theoretically have had more than 107 million ancestors about the year 1066, when the battle of Hastings was fought. Since the population of England at that time was probably not more than a couple of million or so, it is obvious that there must have been a lot of overlapping ancestors between the Tenth and Twentieth centuries.
It is equally obvious that a family tree which lists a single ancestor (say Robert de Hawkesworth of Hawkesworth Hall) around the year 1227 is concentrating its attention on perhaps less than a millionth part of its total gene pool. This is the inevitable result of going back only through the male line. Your father has half your genes, your grandfather one quarter, your great grandfather one eighth, your great-great-grandfather one sixteenth, and so on, back to one quadrillionth or one zillionth by the time you get all the way back to Adam. Indeed, if you go far enough back in time everybody in the world is related to everybody else. However, as my friend Santiago Ferrari used to argue, People say: Well, we are all descended from monkeys anyway. But what I say is: Yes, but not from the same monkey.
So tracing a family tree from father to son is something like boring an exploratory oil well. The earth cores that come up through the pipe for examination are only minute samples from the successive geological strata lying down there in the vast darkness of the past. But the sample cores can occasionally bring up some intriguing nuggets of information. At one point in the late 1700s it seems that our branch of the Smyths may have lost a castle in Ireland to the legal maneuvering of one Maggie Gerity and her possibly bastard son Robert Smyth. And in the 1500s, a Hawkesworth aunt and uncle appear to have murdered their niece and nephew to take over Hawkesworth Hall and the family estate. The murderous uncle was our direct ancestor. The murderous aunt and the murdered children were not.
Well, there is nothing to be done about the castle or the murders or anything else now that all those centuries have gone by. And the Smyths have branched off in all directions since the 1500s. There are 13,813 Smyth households around the world, according to the editor of a Smyth genealogical book who recently contacted me.
How Reliable is this Family Tree?
The first question that arises of course is the accuracy of the data. Just how reliable is the information in this family tree? In general terms, the more recent it is, the more reliable it looks, since much of it is supported by original documents. I have my own birth certificate (David Smyth, born in Buenos Aires City, February 7, 1929), the birth certificate of my father (Currell Hutchinson Smyth, born in Bernal, Buenos Aires Province, July 29, 1896) and the birth and baptismal records of his four brothers, Alan, Bertie, Dermot and Tom. I also have the birth record of my grandfather, if not the actual certificate (Thomas Hutchinson Smyth, born in Londonderry 13 Aug. 1851). My grandfathers birth record was located by the Ulster Historical Foundation, which also verified the marriage of his father (my great-grandfather) Edward Smyth to Elizabeth Wallace in Downpatrick May 18, 1843. This parish marriage registry appears to be the earliest original family record that we have at this time.
Going back from that date I have had to rely on other, probably less reliable, sources. The first of these is a family tree either made by my grandfather Thomas H. Smyth himself, or commissioned by him, in the early 1900s. It traces the family line back to a William Smyth of Rosedale Abbey, Yorkshire, who moved to Dundrum, Ireland, in the early 1600s. It is notably lacking in specific dates of birth, marriage and death. This made me suspect that the data probably came from wills that mentioned sons and daughters as heirs, without specifying their dates of birth or marriage or death. Or perhaps some unethical genealogist had just concocted a collection of spurious details for my grandfather and charged him a lot of money for very little work.
In late 2000 I decided to verify my grandfathers material by commissioning the Ulster Historical Foundation (UHF) to make a genealogical study of our branch of the Smyth surname. I provided their researchers with my grandfathers family tree as a basis for them to work on. The UHF made what seemed to me a remarkably thorough investigation, and the report it sent me in early 2001 came up with a lot of corroborative detail. It dug up documents I did not have - the birth record of my grandfather Thomas H. Smyth (born in Londonderry 13 August, 1851) and the actual birth certificate of his wife Emma Jane Stephens (born in Dublin November 23, 1864), as well as the marriage record of her parents (George Alexander Stephens and Selina Bell, married in Abbeyleix, November 25, 1857). The UHF also found a number of other original records that tended to confirm the general accuracy of my grandfathers family tree, including the marriage of his father Edward in 1843.
The UHF suggested, however, that the data contained in his family tree probably came not from family wills as I suspected but from published works, such as Burkes History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland and Burkes Irish Family Records. They sent me xeroxed pages of these publications, which do indeed appear to be the source of the somewhat barebones details given in my grandfathers family tree. (See Family Tree Appendix for the complete text of this document).
This is what the Oxford Companion to Irish Literature says about Burkes Irish genealogical reference works:
"Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland (1st edition. 1899), is a genealogical dictionary of Irish landowning families, published by the company established by John Burke (I787-1848), compiler of A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronage of the United Kingdom (1st edition. 1826). The sole criterion was ownership of 1,000 acres in Ireland. Most of the names listed belong to ascendancy families, though not all were Protestant and not all were titled. Following the Wyndham Land Act in 1903 the editors were forced to ask if there were still a landed gentry, as noted in the 1912 Preface. After a fourth edition in 1958 the work was reissued as Burke's Irish Family Records (1976), listing the descendants of `500 interesting dynasties', whether living in Ireland or settled abroad."
My grandfathers family tree begins with this entry:
WILLIAM SMYTH of Dundrum, County Down. Settled in Ireland from Rosedale Abbey, County York, England, in the reign of King James I (1603-1625). Married Mary, daughter of John Dowdall of Glashisbell, County Louth.
The 1899 edition of Burkes Landed Gentry of Ireland has this, almost identical, entry for the Smyth family of Gaybrook, County Westmeath:
WILLIAM SMYTH, of Dundrum, County Down, settled in Ireland from Rosedale Abbey, County York, temp. James I, 1630. He married Mary, daughter of John Dowdall, of Glaspistell, County Louth (by Anne his wife, daughter of Sir Thomas Cusack, Lord Chancellor of Ireland).
Burkes Landed Gentry then mentions a granddaughter of William, named Marjorie, who married a Richard Currell. A couple of generations later, in the early 1700s, we have a Rev. Currell Smyth listed in the family, with Currell now used as a given name as well as a surname. Currell is very unusual as a given name, and the fact that my grandfather bestowed it on my father Currell Hutchinson Smyth in 1896 makes me think that he was probably familiar with the 1890s editions of Burkes Landed Gentry of Ireland. He himself bore the middle name Hutchinson in honor of a family related by marriage to the Smyths and passed it on to all his five sons.
We must face now the matter of reliability. How trustworthy are Burkes publications as a source of genealogical data? Unfortunately, in this particular case Burke appears to start out with an error in the very first generation. The 1899 edition of The Landed Gentry of Ireland states that William Smyths second son was also called William, was also of Dundrum, and also married Mary Dowdall. It seems improbable that both father and son should have married a Mary Dowdall. And in fact this is explicitly amended in a later edition of Burkes Irish Family Records, published more than seventy years later.
According to the Irish Family Records:
WILLIAM SMYTH, came to Ireland from Rossdale (sic) Abbey circa 1630, settled first at Dundrum, County Down, but later moved to Lisburn, County Antrim. Married Ann (died ante 1630), daughter of Sir Thomas Hewley, and aunt of Sir John Hewley, Member of Parliament for Yorkshire, and died 1650.
So it turns out that Mary Dowdall was not the wife of our ancestor William Smyth, but his daughter-in-law, and in this particular generation we are descended in the female line from Hewleys rather than from Dowdalls.
How did this error come about? Burkes publications contain such a mass of genealogical data for hundreds of families over hundreds of years that it is quite evidently beyond the capabilities of the editors to research them all themselves. I would say they probably do little original research, if any at all. Instead, the editors most likely have to rely on the families themselves to volunteer whatever they have in the way of ancestral information and accept uncritically whatever is thus provided. What it comes down to then is that each family listed is the source for its own genealogy and should be looked at skeptically for any tendency to self-aggrandizement. What appears to have happened in this case is that the Smyth family of Gaybrook used the seventy-odd years after 1899 to dig a little deeper and make some corrections in the family records. Since Mary Dowdall was no longer their (and our) direct ancestress there is no longer any mention here of her being the grand-daughter of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The family record apparently benefited also from some new research that extended the Smyth history a further hundred years, from the William Smyth who moved to Ireland in 1630, back to his great-grandfather Thomas Smyth, born in West Layton, Yorkshire, in 1520.
So we know more or less where we stand as regards Burkes genealogical records. They are not all that reliable. We return now to my great-grandfather Edward Smyth, whose wedding on May 18, 1843 marks the earliest event anchored by original documentation. Everything before that event stands on a lower level of credibility. In fact, however, all the father-to-son successions recorded in my grandfathers family tree seem to be duly confirmed by the genealogy given in Burkes reference works, back to Ralph Smyth, son of the William Smyth of Rosedale Abbey, Yorkshire who moved to Dundrum, County Down. So my grandfather seems to have got all that right at least. But, as we have seen, Burke appears to have been his source material, and Burke does make mistakes. Another of these mistakes is the statement that William Smyth moved to Ireland in 1630, temp James I. King James died in 1625, and if William did settle in Ireland in 1630, it was in the reign of Charles I.
The Ulster Historical Foundation is careful to limit its research to original documents (civil and religious registers of birth, marriage and death) and other documentary sources such as biographies, government reports, newspaper articles published at the time, and other contemporary records. Unfortunately civil records of births, deaths and Catholic marriages in Ireland did not begin until 1864, and the civil registration of Protestant marriages only started in 1845. Before these dates the UHF can only provide copies of baptismal or marriage records in church registers. How far back these records go varies from parish to parish, and there is always the possibility that the UHF may perhaps not find some records that actually do exist. The parish records are scattered all over the country, and the UHF, not having the information available all in one place, may not know where to look.
Fortunately, however, the UHFs information can be supplemented by the research service of the Church of Latter Day Saints the Mormon Church. The Mormons believe that when you become a Mormon you find salvation not only for yourself, you can also save your ancestors by baptizing them posthumously into the Mormon religion. It is therefore important to Mormons to know precisely who their ancestors are, and they have embarked on a vast project of gathering the records of birth, marriage and death of ultimately everybody in the world. Much of this information is available on their website, and it is not necessary to be a Mormon to discover its usefulness in genealogical research.
For example, it was during a search of the Mormon website that I found a record of the marriage of Edward Smith (sic) and Elizabeth Wallace in Downpatrick on May 18, 1843. I passed the information on to the UHF, and they confirmed its accuracy by checking the church register. However, they might not have found it on their own. I have found other useful information on the Mormon website, as will appear further on in this report.
The reliability of the Mormon data varies widely. The information contained in their main list, the International Genealogical Index, presumably comes entirely from their actual search of original records in churches and civil registries, which are microfilmed and then catalogued. These entries may be taken as being the most reliable. They can be downloaded and taken to Mormon Family History Centers, where photocopies of the original records themselves may be ordered. I intend to order various such documents as time allows. While authenticity may be assumed, faded writing and the poor physical condition of some old documents, illegible handwriting and hard-to-read old-style script may sometimes make them hard to interpret.
The Mormon website also contains further information from other sources, including family trees and additional contributions volunteered by third parties, many of them amateur genealogists. The quality of this material fluctuates wildly and is of highly dubious reliability. One may find a father listed as being born three years before his son, a mother giving birth in her sixties, a marriage taking place in 1688 instead of 1588, and other huge discrepancies and anomalies.
There are many other sources of information to be exploited. The invention of the internet has not only made available the vast store of genealogical data on the Mormon website, it has also opened up millions of other websites for the discovery of additional information. This includes family histories, old maps, historical documents (such as the Ulster muster rolls of 1630 listing the names and number of men at arms that landowners were required to provide the King), genealogical associations and discussion groups, local histories and many other resources. It was on the website for Glasson and Portlick that I discovered that fourteen Smyth relatives disputed in the law courts the ownership of Portlick Castle, which Maggie Gerity eventually secured for her son Robert and his descendants.
So much for the documentation and the sources of information on which this family history is based. All of it allows, in varying degrees, for a large dose of skepticism. And what should be kept in mind at all times, of course, is the waywardness of human behavior. Documents are one thing, what actually happened may well be something else altogether.
It takes only one extramarital affair, one rape or one case of spouse-swapping that results in a pregnancy to wipe out an entire line of male ancestors and introduce into the picture a wholly different - and usually unknown - male line of descent. At some point, over the course of fifteen to thirty generations, such a disruptive incident, which invalidates everything that goes before, must at least be considered a possibility. How it affects the prospects of posthumous Mormon salvation I do not know. However, recent advances in DNA science do allow one to establish whether there is an actual family relationship between people now living and the bones of their presumptive ancestors. It is just a matter of digging up the bones of the dead, drawing blood from the living, and comparing their DNA. It was thus that the remains of the murdered Czar Nicholas II and his family were verified as authentic - one of the living relatives being Prince Philip of Britain. We could, I suppose, dig up an ancestor and see how our DNA compares.