No Pocahontas

Week 48: #52 Ancestors – Next to Last

By Eilene Lyon

Note: This post is more about the research process than storytelling.

Yes, there really is a John Smith in my family tree. And, no, he isn’t that John Smith, of Jamestown and Pocahontas fame. Fortunately, I’ve been able to trace my mother’s paternal line back as far as John’s father, Samuel Smith (Abt. 1775 – 1834?). That makes John next-to-last on that branch – at least for now.

Just the Basics

John Smith was born in Lewis County, Kentucky, on November 19, 1800, to Samuel Smith and Mary Martin. When John was 20 years old, the Smiths headed down the Ohio River to Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, Indiana, just past the Ohio state line. On January 18, 1821, John married Nancy Dean in Lawrenceburg.1

The Smiths followed a small trail into southern Marion County (now home to Indianapolis) in 1822. John Smith purchased 80 acres in White River Township, Johnson County (just a little to the south), in July 1826. He later purchased land in other sections of the same township.2

That part of Johnson County is now called Smith Valley, but reportedly it’s named after some other Smith, not my ancestor.3 I’m skeptical, but can’t find definitive evidence. John Smith was the first and only original patent-holder named Smith in White River Township. You decide.

John Smith farmed in White River to the end of his days. He and Nancy were married over 61 years. John died on July 19, 1882. Nancy lived another seven and half years, joining her husband at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in December 1889.4

Finding John Smith

Many lists say “Smith” is the most common surname in the U.S. I haven’t researched the most common full name, but John Smith has got to be up there somewhere. This John Smith was completely unknown to me when I began my research.

According to my grandfather, Laurence Martin Smith:

“Martin Smith was my grandfather on my father’s side. I know that he was born in 1824, but I do not know where…I do know that he died there (Denver, Indiana) in 1923…When he died he was living with his son Philip Smith…When I was eight years old (1916) we went there on a visit.”5

SmithMartin 001
Martin Smith in middle age (courtesy F. Boyer)

Martin Smith is, therefore, my great-great-grandfather. At that point in my research, I knew that Martin Smith was born in 1824, that he died in Indiana in 1923, and two of his children were Philip Smith and Charles Edward Smith (Laurence’s father). Just to show that even a family account like this contains errors: Martin Smith was born in 1823 and died in 1921.6

Thanks to Martin’s longevity, he has an Indiana death certificate. P. M. Smith [Philip Martin] was the informant and he gives Martin’s birthplace and date, as well as the name of his father: John Smith. He also states that Martin’s wife was Christiana. The birthplace given is a non-existent place name in Indiana.7 We can assume that Indiana is probably his birthplace, which is supported by census records.

Martin Smith married Christiana Orme in Johnson County, Indiana, on January 2, 1845.8 That makes it highly probable that Martin and Christiana grew up in Johnson County.

Martin Smith & daughter Druzilla Smith Law bbw
Martin Smith with his daughter, Drusilla Smith Law (Ancestry.com)

D. D. Banta wrote a book about Johnson County history in 1881, which gives a detailed story about John Smith and his wife, Nancy Dean. It doesn’t name their children. I love county histories, but they must be carefully scrutinized. Because this John Smith was still living when the book was published, I feel reasonably certain that he provided first-hand information to the author (not without errors, though). The story says three of their grown children died of typhoid fever.9

The cemetery where John and Nancy were buried also contains some of their children’s graves, most of them clustered near the parents. Three of them died in 1864, presumably the ones who contracted typhoid. Some of the stones specify that they are the children of John and Nancy Smith. One child is Samuel H. Smith.10 (John’s parents are also buried in this cemetery.)

I finally located Martin Smith with his brother, Samuel H., in the 1910 census, binding Martin to this family at last.11 Unfortunately, the transcriber gave his age as 27 instead of 87, making the record hard to find. Also, the 1830 census shows that Martin’s father, John Smith, was living next to Nicholas Arme [Orme], Christiana’s father, in Johnson County.12 It’s not surprising, then, that these two next-door-neighbors eventually married.

If you have a very common name in your family tree, do not despair! Keep digging and you are certain to find the puzzle pieces to complete their life picture.

Feature image: Grave of John Smith and Nancy Dean Smith, Mountain Pleasant Cemetery, Greenwood, Indiana, by Michael at Find-a-grave.


  1. John’s birthplace, marriage place and date, and father’s name: Banta, D. D. 1881. A Historical Sketch of Johnson County, Indiana. J. H. Beers & Co., Chicago. p. 144. And, Smith, Samuel. 1820 U S Census; Census Place: Lawrenceburg, Dearborn, Indiana; Page: 102; NARA Roll: M33_13; Image: 116. Ancestry.com. 1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. 
  2. Banta gives the date as December 1823. Land patents from the General Land Office at https://glorecords.blm.gov indicate his first purchase in Johnson County was made in July 1826, giving his home as Marion County at the time. 
  3. Baker, Ronald L. 1995. From Needmore to Prosperity: Hoosier Place Names in Folklore and History. Indiana University Press. p. 304. Cited in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_Valley,_Indiana 
  4. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/107613248 and https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/107613249/nancy-smith 
  5. Smith, Laurence Martin. Personal recollections written April 15, 1992. 
  6. Smith, Martin. Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1921; Roll: 09. Ancestry.com. Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  7. Ibid. 
  8. Ancestry.com. Indiana, Compiled Marriages, 1802-1892 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. 
  9. Banta. 
  10. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/107613961/samuel-h-smith 
  11. Smith, Saml H. Year: 1910; Census Place: White River, Johnson, Indiana; Roll: T624_359; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0131; FHL microfilm: 1374372. Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. 
  12. Smith, John. 1830; Census Place: White River, Johnson, Indiana; Series: M19; Roll: 27; Page: 16; Family History Library Film: 0007716. Ancestry.com. 1830 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. 

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