Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
Bissmire was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name; she was Mary Constance Naomah - usually Connie - born in 1900. The photos above show a glamorous young woman. She always had a ‘glass half full’ approach to life, despite, as I later discovered, some tough times, and I was keen to find out more about this family with such an unusual surname. Not surprisingly, it is frequently misspelled or misrecorded, and some families consciously changed it, most often dropping one ‘s’ to Bismire.
I cannot find an origin for the name. There are some Prussian or Flemish contenders, but there is nothing to indicate the family were incomers prior to 1750, my earliest record (apart from a recent exciting find of a London based Bismire in 1410 which I am following up).
My early research soon disabused me of the belief that they were south Londoners, as my grandmother’s immediately family were. In fact they were pretty solidly north London based, predominantly Clerkenwell and Holborn, until the 1880s.
The early family trade was silversmithing. Only three had their own mark, but essentially they were jobbing silversmiths producing small items such as scent bottle tops to order, and I have never found any marked items. The job description appears five times as late as 1901, but just once in 1911, although they diversified into related areas such as electro plating.
Many had large families; in one generation there are 133 first cousins. Like many families living in poor housing, they also suffered frequent childhood deaths. One distressing discovery was a number of infants (and others) buried in the notorious Spa Fields ground.
A few escaped the poverty of London for Canada, NZ and Australia, the latter still home to a large number of Bismires. Alongside the move south of the river, others moved along the underground line routes into Essex, where many still live. And one young man, sent to industrial school in Manchester, moved to Wales where he and his wife had eight children and established a now thriving Bissmire line.
I have a lot of records, but my real interest lies in the stories of their lives, particularly those of the women. Amongst these I have a potter whose work now sells for hundreds of pounds, a music hall entertainer and a mortuary keeper.
Some families dropped the second s and used Bismire. Other variants such as Bissmere, Bismore etc are mostly down to spelling errors.
Institutions include Colchester barracks, Fulham smallpox hospital, Mount Edgecumbe Industrial School ship, Pentonville Prison and Brixton Orphanage for Fatherless Girls.
1939 Register: 66 individuals, 37 households
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