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Nicholas Smith clue leads to immigrant ancestor by same name

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

I knew it wouldn't be easy tracing the ancestry of my 3rd great-grandmother, Catherine (Smith) McGinnis but I finally made some progress! After finding mention of Nicholas Smith attending the Smith-McGinnis family reunion in 1911, I went down a rabbit hole tracing what I thought was his family.

So, starting back at square one: Who was Nicholas Smith? With little to go in, Instead of trying Findagrave, this time I tried the census. The 1911 news clipping stated that Nicholas Smith of Newark Valley attended. With that information, I headed to FamilySearch to see what I could find. Sure enough, I found him and right away, I'm more confident with the match because this Nicholas Smith was born in New York abt. 1856 but his parents were born in Ireland. Notice, also, the "Delany" family in the entry proceeding Nicholas' family on the census. There were Delaney's who attended the reunion, too. This looks like a match!

1910 U.S. Federal Census Newark Valley, Tioga, New York

Going back a decade, to the 1900 census, we find Nicholas and Margaret in Newark Valley. He reports having been married for 18 years (est. 1882). A daughter named Mary M. Smith, age 17, was living in the home along with a laborer, Michael Ahern, age 21. Nicholas' birth date is given as Dec. 1855.

Looking back to the 1892 census (New York State Census), the only Smith living in Newark Valley who was born in Ireland was John Smith. He was born about 1823 and was 69 years old. Trying to locate him on the 1875 census in the same town found only one John E. Smith, born in Connecticut. A dead end.

Next, I decided to see if I could find Mary Delaney of Binghamton, who also attended a Smith-McGinnis reunion. I was surprised to find her easily on Findagrave and was even more surprised that she is buried at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Whitney Point, New York - the burial place of William & Catherine (Smith) McGinnis, where I visited this past summer and made a pretty thorough video tour of the entire cemetery.

Findagrave offers a useful feature, allowing you to "See more Smith memorials in: Saint Patrick's Cemetery". Clicking on that gave me an even bigger surprise. Scrolling through the results I saw Nicholas Smith among the names. He was born in 1855 in Glen Aubrey, Broome County, New York.

On the 1870 Census for Broome County, New York, I found what appears to be Nicholas' home in Nanticoke.

1870 U.S. Federal Census Nanticoke, Broome, New York

We can see where Thomas Smith's property was in 1876 on this map from Historic Map Works. You can view or buy a copy of the full map from them through their site.

Another look at St. Patrick's Cemetery shows that Thomas and his wife, Bridget were also buried there! The stone is somewhat confusing, but it contains two couples names on it.

  1. Thomas Smith (1827-1915) and his wife, Bridget Heffernon (1833-1915).

  2. William James Ryan (1858-1926) and his wife, Ann Smith (1861-1935). This appears to be the daughter of Thomas and Bridget.

This Thomas is too young to be Catherine's father, however, since she was born in 1840. I looked to the census to see what I could learn about the family.

In 1865, Thomas Joseph Smith's entry on the New York State Census was as follows. The family was living in Nanticoke, Broome County, New York. Thomas's wife, Bridget, reported having six children and they are all named on the census: Nickolas, John, Mary, Ann, Willie and Charles. Beneath Thomas' entry, however, we see an older couple - Nicholas and Bridget Smith. Who were they?? Read on and find out!

In 1865, "Nickolas Smith" was age 60. He was born in Ireland, and his wife who was reportedly the same age was also born in Ireland. They report having six children, but only three were still living at home:

  1. Charles Smith, age 36 (born abt. 1829 in Ireland)

  2. Hellen Smith, age 34 (born abt. 1831 in Ireland)

  3. John Smith, age 30 (born abt. 1835 in Ireland)

  4. (Not in the home)

  5. (Not in the home)

  6. (Not in the home)

Could these be the siblings of Catherine (Smith) McGinnis? They most certainly could! Catherine was born abt. 1840 in Ireland and was married around 1858. She was living with her husband, William McGinnis, on Fox Road in Freetown in 1865 and they already had two children, Mary Ellen McGinnis and Rosanna McGinnis:

In 1880, Thomas and Nicholas were counted on the census in Nanticoke again, but Nicholas was widowed and living in Thomas' household, confirming his relationship with Thomas in the 1865 census above. Thomas was the head of the household in 1880, and Nicholas was his "Father". Thomas' mother, Bridget* had died on April 1, 1873. (*Thomas' wife was also named Bridget (Heffernan), potentially causing confusion).

Continuing my search for records pertaining to Nicholas Smith in Broome County, I finally found what I believe provides substantial evidence that this was Catherine's family!

On the 1855 New York State census of Nanticoke, Broome County, New York, we find in Nicholas' home - Catherine Smith, age 15 - born about 1840! The family reports having been in Nanticoke for four (4) years. Both Nicholas and his son, Thomas, were naturalized citizens and landowners.

They arrived in Nanticoke in or before 1851. Where they came from before then is unknown. We know they came to America sometime after Catherine was born in 1840. Nicholas Smith's 1853 intention for naturalization is shown here.

Stay tuned as I share a few more clues and connections in my upcoming blogs!

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