Searching for Hannah Smith

“Who is this Miss Smith? ~Persuasion~

Okay, I admit it.  For many years I was a “Janeyphile” as my step-son Timothy John puts it.  Which means I could not get enough Jane Austen.  I read every book she wrote, some like Pride and Prejudice more than once; I took two courses on Jane Austen through Georgetown University Continuing Education;  I read multiple biographies on Jane Austen (and other English authors); I made multiple pilgrimages to the places they lived and/or wrote about…Lyme Regis. Bath, etc.; I bought every DVD the BBC produced and watched many of them over and over.

 But that was then.

I was an idealistic Romantic in my youth…probably why I kept getting involved with the wrong fellows.  Jane Austen was wiser than many of her characters, she never married. And Jane loved the Miss Smiths of this world.


Currently, I am tracking records for my own Hannah Smith, an ancestor who lived long enough to produce my second great-grandmother Ellen.  Hannah died at age 31.

Ellen’s younger sister Hezediah was three when their mother died, perhaps in childbirth.  I was interested in Hezediah because I hate that women are often overlooked in history as if they were nobody.  Inspired by Jane Austen, I decided to uncover the stories of my own nobodies.  Working backwards I have uncovered many of them.

Before Hezediah grew up, her father Warren remarried and apparently he or his new wife Rosalba, or both, had no interest in taking Hezediah with them when they moved to Minnesota where they opened a hotel and eating establishment to feed railway passengers traveling to the Dakotas on the Chicago and Northwestern line. (He was the ticket agent.) Warren and Rosalba left Hezediah with Warren’s mother’s brother and his wife who also happened to be Albert’s (her future husband) aunt and uncle.

After she grew up, Hezediah married Albert, her first cousin, and she and Albert moved to Minnesota.  Following the U. S. Civil War, Albert had remained a “horse soldier,” a saddler/blacksmith with the U.S. “Mounted Infantry,” protecting Minnesota settlers from the depredations of the Souix.

That’s incestuous…says David, when I showed him the connections.  No, says I, that’s common.  Today, some ignorant people make fun of Appalachian “Hillbillies” because they marry their cousins, but cousin marriage has been common for many centuries.  Thus when you track back you find all sorts of interesting connections, and ancestors to whom you are related once, twice, three times over.

When people migrate, these connections often continue for some time.  Demographers call these links “chain migration” where a relative moves somewhere and within a few years, if not simultaneously, other relatives follow.  I can see it in my family where family units migrated to Wisconsin and Minnesota and settled near other relatives.

These patterns of intermarriage existed for eons, only dissolving in recent times with the rise of modern cities and increased horizontal mobility. What sets many “ethnic” groups apart from mainstream Americans is that they cling to the old marriage patterns.  There are always exceptions to this, but as West Side Story told us, the old ways die hard.

Through her daughters, I have learned more about Hannah Smith.


16 thoughts on “Searching for Hannah Smith

  1. Well, sure, look at European royalty. But that’s hardly a good advertisement for intermarriage. Closest we got in my family — my uncle lost this wife, and pretty soon after that his cousin died; he went to the funeral and got to know his cousin’s wife — and they ended up getting married. Cousins … but not by blood.


  2. As somebody said, you married whom you could get and families are the nearest providers of breeding material.
    It still happens in some rural areas today, all over the world, I believe.

    Mobility, sideways or upwards, is at least keeping the breeding stock healthy.


  3. I read recently that the bicycle was an invention that totally changed society because for the first time men could ‘go courting’ more than walking distance away from home. So it really changed ;he gene pool.

    That migration pattern reminds me of the Mexican, Indian, Chinese and other ethnic restaurants … that we visit … all staffed by cousins and family members who have followed someone into this country because they have a guaranteed job.. and a chance to get ahead … and people whom they already know in a strange land.

    And then there are nail salons everywhere I’ve ever been …. always one big family usually from Thailand or VietNam.

    In earlier generations for Americans, it was just about as much of an effort an adventure to go from one side of this country to another! No wonder they followed family.


  4. Very interesting and it was quite common for Royalty to marry cousins, they wanted to keep their lineage and ‘blue blood’ within the family. Seems strange these days but it was just the way it was.


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