Smith is the most common last name in America, so if your people have been here for awhile, there is a good chance the name belongs to someone somewhere on your family tree. But was it someone who was famous? Or infamous? That’s where Ancestry comes in.
Even though there are over a billion records on Ancestry for people with the last name Smith, narrowing them down can be a snap with some key pieces of information, like where and when they lived and their full first name. Once you’ve got that, you can start looking for anything from marriage certificates to birth and death records to census records, then begin cross-referencing them with your own family tree to see if there’s any overlaps. Of course, the more details you know about someone, the easier they are to find.
We’ll get you started with a handful of interesting Smiths from history. Are any of them on branches of your tree?
1. John Smith. Captain John Smith (a name that’s familiar from the saga of Pocahontas) was an English explorer who had an important role in the settlement of Jamestown. He’s also credited for exploring much of the Chesapeake Bay, and coining the name “New England.”
2. MacDonald Smith. Got a talent for golfing and some Scottish in your lineage? Perhaps you are related to MacDonald Smith, one of the top golfers in the world in the early part of the 20th century.
3. Ozzie Smith. Born Osborne Earl Smith in Mobile, Alabama, in 1954, this former Major League Baseball shortstop is better known as Ozzie, or “the Wizard” (for his defensive dominance on the field). His son Nikko (also born Osborne Earl Smith) was a contestant on the popular reality talent show “American Idol.”
4. Margaret Chase Smith. Born Margaret Madeline Chase, this esteemed woman was one of Maine’s members of the House of Representatives from 1940 to 1949, then a senator for the state from 1949 through 1973. She was the first woman to serve in both houses of the United States Congress and was known for being outspoken against McCarthyism.
5. Edward John Smith. This Smith is more infamous than famous — he was the captain of the RMS Titanic the night it sank in the Atlantic Ocean. He was born in Hanley, England, and was married to Sarah Eleanor Pennington in 1887. He perished alongside 1,500 other souls on April 15, 1912.
6. Joseph Smith, Jr. The founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was born in Vermont in 1805 and published the Book of Mormon at the age of 24. He had a number of devoted followers who moved to Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois with him to establish a settlement for their Mormon religion. You can find indexed records of his marriages, portraits of Smith, and even images of his grave in Illinois and a memorial in Missouri on Ancestry.
7. Harry Smith. The longtime TV journalist for CBS, who has reported on programs including “The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” and “Rock Center with Brian Williams,” was born in Lansing, Illinois, in 1951.
8. Bessie Smith. Bessie was one of the most popular female blues singers in the 1920s and ’30s and is still considered the Empress of the Blues. She was born in Tennessee in 1892 (or 1894, according to differing census records). She died in Mississippi at the age of 43.
9. Emmitt Smith. Emmitt is known as one of the best running backs in history, after playing in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals. He was born in Pensacola, Florida, in 1969 and married Patricia Southall in 2000.
To get started discovering if you have any common bonds with these (or other) famous Smiths, start a free trial on Ancestry today.
— Angel Cohn