James William Smith was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England in early 1888 and his birth was registered in the first quarter of that year. He was the son of James Smith and Alice Jane Sykes who were married in Southampton in 1887 before going on to have three children. James' siblings were: Arthur (b. 1886) and Alice Elizabeth (b. 1891). Little is known about James' father's background but he appears to have died between 1891 and 1901. His mother Alice was born in Southampton in 1865.
The family don't show up on the 1891 census. By the time of the 1901 census James' father has passed away and his mother is described as a charwoman with all three of her children still at school. They are living at this time at 41 Richmond Road, Shirley, Southampton. By the time of the 1911 census James is still unmarried and living with his mother, now at 5 Sir Georges Road, Freemantle and he is described as a baker. It is not indicated if James was working at sea at this time.
When James signed-on to the Titanic, on 4 April 1912, he gave his address as 5 Sir George's Road, (Southampton). His last ship had been the Olympic. As an assistant baker he received monthly wages of £4 10.
Smith died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified. His mother continued to live in Southampton and passed away in 1928.