Family names

By admin ~ April 3rd, 2009. Filed under: Census records, surnames.

A family name or last name is a type of surname and part of a person’s name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world. Each culture has its own rules as to how these names are applied and used.
In many cultures (notably Western, Middle Eastern, and African) the family name is normally the last part of a person’s name. In some other cultures, the family name comes first. The latter is often called the Eastern order because Europeans are most familiar with the examples of China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Because the family name is normally given last in English-speaking societies, the term last name is commonly used for family name.

Family names are most often used to refer to a stranger or in a formal setting, and are often used with a title or honorific such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr., and so on. Generally the given name, Christian name, first name, forename, or personal name is the one used by friends, family, and other intimates to address an individual. It may also be used by someone who is in some way senior to the person being addressed.


By admin ~ April 3rd, 2009. Filed under: surnames.

In Britain, hereditary surnames were adopted in the 13th and 14th centuries, initially by the aristocracy but eventually by everyone. By 1400, most English and Scottish people had acquired surnames, but many Scottish and Welsh people did not adopt surnames until the 17th century, or even later. Henry VIII (1509 – 1547) ordered that marital births be recorded under the surname of the father.
Most surnames of British origin fall into seven types:
* Occupations (e.g., Smith, Sawyer, Clark, Cooper, Cook, Carpenter, Forrester, Head, Archer, Baker, Dyer, Walker, Woodman, Taylor, Turner, Knight, Weaver, Wright)
* Personal characteristics (e.g., Short, Brown, Black, Whitehead, Long)
* Geographical features (e.g., Bridge, Camp, Hill, Lake, Lee, Wood, Forest, Fields, Stone, Morley, Head -Middle English for hed = given a person who lived at the head of a river or on a hilltop.)
* Place names (e.g., Washington, Burton, London, Leighton, Hamilton, Sutton, Flint, Laughton)
* For those descended from land-owners, the name of their holdings, manor or estate (the name Washington can also fall into this category, Old English components Hw√¶ssa-inga-tu-n “estate of the descendants of Wassa”)
* Patronymics, matronymics or ancestral, often from a person’s given name (e.g., from male name: Richardson, Williams, Thompson, Johnson) or female names Molson (from Moll for Mary), Madison (from Maud), Emmott (from Emma), Marriott (from Mary) or from a clan name (for those of Scottish origin, e.g., MacDonald, Forbes) with “Mac” Scottish Gaelic for son.
* Patronal, from patronage (Hickman meaning Hick’s man, where Hick is a pet form of the name Richard) or strong ties of religion Kilpatrick (follower of Patrick) or Kilbride (follower of Bridget). It might be worth noting that Kil may come from the Gaelic word ‘Cill’ which means Church. This would certainly support the claim that the surname is tied to the religion.

Census records

By admin ~ April 3rd, 2009. Filed under: Census records.

One of the best places to start finding out family history are the Census records. Census records for England and Wales from 1841 to 1911 are available online through the national archive and its partners. It is free to search their websites.

Other source to check are Family Bibles, and records of birth, marriage and deaths. There are at least two Birth index collections and three Marriage and Death index collections available online and more are being digitised all the time.