Thursday, April 3, 2014

There might not be any information

I was talking recently to a friend about one of her brick walls.  Her ancestor, Mary Smith, had a daughter (Sarah Agnes Smith) in Yass Gaol on 22 July 1879. Sarah's birth certificate does not have a father listed.
On 16 January 1880, Sarah (listed as being aged 2, though she would have been less than 6 months old) was discharged from the Industrial School to Joseph Territt or Ferritt of Crookwell (SRNSW: NRS 14723 [5/4837]; Reel 3852, Page 25-26).  The Industrial School was where destitute children were sent at that time. She was returned to the Industrial school on 25 July as the man who adopted her had died.
From then nothing is known about Sarah until she married Thomas Fanning on 29 November 1894 when she said she was 17 (though she would have been 15). On her marriage certificate it lists her father as John Smith, deceased and she makes no mention of a mother. Also on the certificate Naomie Veness is listed as guardian. There is no connection (as far as can be found) between the Smiths and the Veness or Ferritt/Territt families.
My friend wants to know what happened to Sarah between being returned to the Industrial School and getting married.  She is also interested to know what happened to Sarah's mother, Mary.
The first thing to bear in mind is that some really good research had already been done on this person. Not only had the records of the fostering of Sarah been found, but so had and advertisement in the NSW Police Gazette that showed where Mary was before Sarah was born. 
Information is requested respecting Mary Smith, who left her service with Mrs. Oddy, of Goulburn, op the 30th ultimo, and has not since been heard of. She is 24 years of age, medium height, strong build, fair complexion, fair hair , blue or hazel eyes; dressed in black lustre dress , black hat with white feather, and red and black plaid shawl. Mary Smith is said to have been far advanced in pregnancy, and it is feared that she has committed suicide. Information to the Inspector General of Police.
NSW Police Gazette, 9 July 1879, p 263 

Mary is not in the admission records of Yass Gaol, which are held by State records. Perhaps she was just taken into the gaol to give birth. 

Sadly, sometimes we will not be able to find the answer because it is not out there to be found. And it is not out there to be found because it was not created in the first place. Record keeping was not so prevalent in the 19th century as it is in the 21st. Firstly, there was no formal adoption in NSW until 1923. Before that informal arrangement were made to foster children (with or without the involvement of government departments), or children remained at an Industrial School or Orphan school until old enough to go out to work or to become an apprentice.  So there may well be no paperwork explaining Sarah's connection to Naomie Veness.  

But the good news is that there might be a clue as to what happened to Sarah's mother, Mary.

The NSW indexes to births, deaths and marriages ( have an entry for the birth of Sarah Agnes Smith, mother Mary Agnes (note the middle name), in Yass in 1879.  And there is a marriage of Agnes Mary Smith to to James MacInerhenry or McInerhenry in Wagga Wagga in 1880.  For those who don't know NSW geography, Yass is quite close to Wagga Wagga.  It is not uncommon for people to switch around their first and middle names, so I suggest that it is worth looking at this marriage to see if it is the right person. This illustrates how important it is to make note of any middle names, and to consider all possible variations on names when looking for "missing" events.

Some brickwalls just can't be demolished, but sometimes others can with a little bit of lateral thinking.


  1. Not sure if 182 kms is that close ;) Particularly in that era over 100 miles away would have been a long way away. However, I think it would be worth exploring even though it is in the opposite direction from Crookwell and Goulburn.

    We are lucky that we have some records but sometimes we need to acknowledge as you say that some of our forebears did not leave a lot of paperwork behind them.

    I will be interested to hear if any progress is made on the brick wall.


  2. With similar research problems in Queensland, I've often found answers in Colonial Secretary's Office correspondence, and occasionally in Court of Petty Sessions records, Police Station records or mental asylum records.