Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Origin of Surnames

I am taking a genealogy course right now called Introduction to One-Name Studies, from Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Limited. The purpose, for me at least, is to learn more about how to search for and compile information about the surnames in my family.

One can only go back so far, of course. We are restricted by the availability of records about people, usually terminating in the 1500s. We are also limited in our reviews by the way in which people spelled their names or, more to the point, how others spelled them when entering information into BMD registers or other official documents. I wrote about some of the ways my own surname was recorded in my post of May 13, 2014.

Of interest to many people, though, is how their families got their name in the first place. With my family, we can probably assume that, way back when, some ancestor was a sheep-herder. Where we got the double vowel is another question entirely.

There are many ways in which surnames came into use. In most of Europe naming systems are patronymic, that is, children are given the same surname as their father or at least named with respect to the father. For some common surnames such as Anderson or Thompson, both of which appear in my family tree, it seems obvious that a child might originally have been referenced as being the son of Andrew or Thomas. Many countries have specific endings for males or females: -sen and –datter for sons or daughters, respectively, in Denmark; -s, -se or –sen for children of either gender in the Netherlands; -wicz for sons or –ovna for daughters in Poland. Some names designated birth status. “Fitz” apparently preceded a name in France or Old England for children who were illegitimate – FitzGerald.

English names do not seem to designate between the sexes. My wife’s 4th great-grandmother’s last name, according to the parish records of the Shetland Islands, was Edwardsdaughter. a practice that may have come from the Viking settlers of the region.

Other surnames arose from: the occupation of an individual – Carpenter, Cooper or, yes, Shepherd; the location near where he lived – examples being Hill, Brook or York; or personal characteristics – Tall, Short or Smart.

The first group of people to use surnames was the nobility, mostly for describing where they were from or what lands they controlled. Surnames seem to have come into use following the Crusades or at least during the Middle Ages. Quite possibly, as population expanded significantly during this period, it became more necessary to differentiate people with the use of some description. A boy named John, whose father was William, became John, son of William or Williamson. A girl name Mary, whose father was a blacksmith, might be called Mary Smith. Her friend might be Mary Mason because her father worked as a stonecutter.

There is an interesting website called Behind the Name where one can search for the source and usage of a given surname. For example, one of my wife’s 3rd great-grandfathers was Alexander Jenkins. Jenkin is apparently “from the given name Jenkin, a medieval diminutive of Jen, itself a Middle English form of John.” So Jenkin might be Little John and Jenkins might be child of Little John? Jenkins is quite a common name – ranking number 83 out of 88,799 surnames on the 1990 USA census and 97 out of 500 on the 1991 England and Wales census.

The search for meanings and origins of family names can be both fascinating and frustrating. The farther one goes back, the more difficult it becomes to trace surnames but a real treat when you discover a new document that names a related individual.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

My Brother Jimmy and the Loss of Other Siblings of Past Ancestors

Yesterday, February 23, 2015 would have been my little brother’s 67th birthday. He never made it that far. In fact, he died in 1950 just past the age of two years and two months.

James Edwin Shepheard, named for his two grandfathers, was born on February 23rd, 1948 and passed away on May 15th, 1950. The clinical cause of death was from a pulmonary infarction due to Eisenminger’s Syndrome, a congenital heart defect. We were just told he had a hole in his heart, which is true.
James Edwin Shepheard 1949
We don’t know if surgery could have saved Jimmy. In any case the first open heart surgery to correct such defects was not accomplished until 1952. Surgeries involving a heart-lung machine were not done until much later.

I am reminded of Jimmy often, particularly around my own birthday and those of my sisters, and I often wonder how our lives might have been different if he had survived. I also think about him when I come across the deaths of other infants and children of my ancestors’ families. And, to my surprise, there have been many!

I only have snippets of memories of him, playing quietly with him in the back yard or on the living room floor. My two older sisters remember Jimmy as “a little angel who came to brighten our family . . . a happy, sweet tempered little boy . . . and so cute.” He never learned to walk – he was not strong enough – but he did talk and loved to laugh. His favorite game with our oldest sister was the nursery rhyme, “One two, buckle my shoe. . .” When they got to ten he would laugh and shout out, “Big Fot Hen!” in his growly little voice.

Some of the things that go through your mind as a surviving sibling are: If he had not been ill and we had grown up together, would we have shared similar interests? Would we have played sports or had business interests together? Might he have been my best man when I got married? There are so many scenarios that can be imagined with stories like these.
Jimmy and Wayne Shepheard 1948
My youngest sister came along after Jimmy died. She likes to tell everyone that she was the only one of us that was planned. Of course we disagree about that. She has also commented that she might not be here if Jimmy had lived. I think she would have, and that we would have been a family of five children. But her initials would probably not have been J. E.

Psychologists suggest there can be major conflicting emotions when siblings die, especially at a very young age. Some individuals will be fearful or anxious; some may feel guilt. Others may feel abandoned especially if there are no other brothers and sisters to lean on. I think most children will experience a loss of innocence or, at least, an unwanted welcome into the real world. In our family, we learned that death is a part of life, that it is not to be feared nor dwelled upon but, basically, that things often happen that are beyond our control. While we can and will be sad that someone close was lost, we do have to move on.

Perhaps because we were ourselves so young, my sisters and I did not fully appreciate the seriousness of Jimmy’s illness or how his passing would affect any of us. It’s only as we get older that we really understand death and the loss of a loved one. The more years we have together the closer we become and therefore parting with the person, and our interactions together, is so much harder. We cannot know if Jimmy’s death had any lasting effect on us as siblings since our lives unfolded in what we have come to believe was the way they were supposed to. Perhaps there were some scars that accompanied the pleasant memories.

I cannot imagine anything as devastating as a parent losing a child. In looking back now, I believe that our parents were prepared for the eventuality and were able to get on with what they had to do – raising their remaining three children. Planning for their fifth was also part of the healing process. I suspect they experienced enormous grief but hid it from us in order to protect us and to allow us to get over the loss of our brother more easily.

In decades and centuries past, childhood deaths were not uncommon. Normal childhood diseases that we have seen almost eradicated often visited communities. Without the protection of vaccines which we now take for granted, these outbreaks resulted in the deaths of many children – and adults as well. Health conditions that children were born with, many less serious than my brother’s affliction, may have been untreatable, if they were even recognized.

In assembling the history about my own ancestors, I discovered that, in every generation, babies and young children were lost. I imagine that, in each case, the parents and siblings of those children must have felt the same way we did, with a great sense of loss. In later years, they may also have wondered how their own lives might have been different if their brother or sister had lived.

Our family histories often gloss over the premature deaths of people who never grew up, married and had their own families. They were no less important members of those families and their loss must have been felt deeply by parents, siblings and others. We should try to incorporate what we know or find out about them into any narrative as they were certainly part of the overall story.

I will try to do so below, however briefly, for siblings of my direct ancestors going back just four generations. The paucity of information about them shows I still have much research to do.

·         Marion Elizabeth Shepheard (1919-1919) and Evelyn Ethel Shepheard (1926-1926) – I know very little about these two sisters of my father. They were infants when they died, perhaps even still-born.
·         Lois Ivy Miller (1896-1905) – This little girl was born in Oklahoma over twenty years before my mother so she never knew her older sister.
Lois Ivy Miller ca 1903
·         Andrew E. McDaniel (1868-1869) – My maternal grandmother’s brother was born and died in Lee County, Virginia.
·         Florence M. Thompson (1892-1892) and Eveline Thompson (1902-1902) – These were two of my paternal grandmother’s sisters. Both were born and died in Mapleton, North Dakota.
·         Charlotte Ann Shepheard (1867-1869) – This sister of one of my great-grandfathers died of rubella, complicated by pneumonia.
·         Mary Ann Pearson (1852-1854) and Thomas Pearson (1854-1854) – These siblings of one of my great-grandmothers both died in Australia. Mary Ann was born in Warwickshire, England and moved with her parents to Australia in 1853. Her death record says “Scald Mortification 11 days” which must have been a tragic and heart-rending accident. Thomas was born in Australia and died of pneumonia at the age of two months.
·         Harriet Keith (1851-1852), Martha Helen Keith (1853-1857) and infant Keith (1867-1867) –
·         A great-grandmother lost three siblings, all of whom were born and died in Jennings, Indiana.
·         Martha Anderson (1870-1870) – This sister of another of my great-grandmothers was born and died in North Dakota.
·         Infant Anderson (1821-1821), Gilbert Anderson (1840-1841) and Jane Anderson (1844-1844) – The Campsie, Scotland birth record for the first child, sibling of one of my 2nd great-grandfathers, has a note “This child is dead” indicating it was still-born. No forename was recorded for this child and there is no indication of its gender. Other siblings, Gilbert and Jane were born in Lanark County, Ontario but did not survive infancy.
·         Jane Crispin Carpenter (1835-1836) – This was a sister of one of my 2nd great-grandmothers. Her cause of death is unknown.
·         Samuel Davis (1840-1842) – This brother of another 2nd great-grandmother was born and died in Warwickshire, England.
·         Robert Emerson (1826-1826), Mary Emerson (1827-1829), George Emerson (1831-1831), William Emerson (1835-1835), Ann Emerson (1837-1837), George Emerson (1840-1840) and Phoebe Emerson (1843-1843) – Another of my 2nd great-grandmothers lost seven siblings at very young ages, the first three in Leiscestershire, England, before the family immigrated to Canada, another while crossing the Atlantic and two in Thorold, Ontario, where they were born.

There may have been more children lost to these and other direct-line families however I do not yet have complete information for all the family members to be able to confirm whether other names should be added to the list.

My maternal grand-father was a twin. His brother was still-born. I think he also always wondered what life might have been like had his brother lived, especially so since they were born on the same day. Edwin Miller was a sensitive and caring man who, on the day of his 83rd birthday wrote the following poem. It relates a sentiment that I think all of us feel who have lost a brother or sister at a very young age.

My Birthday – February 17th, 1870

In a Kansas shanty – in a form more like a toy,
Eighty three years ago today, was born a baby boy.
A Kansas blizzard raged without; within, a tiny wail
Came from the throat of that little form so frail.

You may believe it or may not; that feeble little cry
Came from that babe, that little babe – the babe that once was I,
At the same time there lay beside me on that bed
A normal child in every way except that child was dead.

And so the little weakling grew up to be a man,
They laid the strong beneath the sod as only parents can.
It seemed to me my greatest loss as I grew up alone
Was my twin baby brother whom I have never known.

Edwin died just seven months after writing this remembrance poem.

I never really knew my brother but I do still miss him. Happy Birthday Jimmy! Wish you were here.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Recognizing Notables in the Parish Records

I have occasionally observed the use of titles and honorifics in the registers of Cornwood parish, Devon. Invariably they were attached to notable people in the community who, for the most part, were major landowners. I use this example as it is the area of origin of my Shepheard ancestors and for which I have transcribed all of the parish baptism, marriage and burial records. I am sure that the same holds true for other parishes in Britain.

The heads of the Rogers family were consistently referred to with the titles of “Sir” and “Bart.” – for Baronet – in the Cornwood registers; for the women, “Lady” or “Dame” were used. John Rogers, the first of the line, made his fortune as a merchant and bought an estate and the lordship of the manor, called Blatchford, from John Hele, in 1690. He was created a Baronet in 1699. Eight Baronets from the Rogers family, including one who was created Baron, Lord Blachford, in 1871, are buried at Cornwood, and, as one might expect, all with their full titles recorded in the burial register.
1716 baptism entries for Frederick & Barbara, son & daughter of Sir J. Rogers Bart. & Mary his wife
1889 burial entry for Frederick Rogers, Lord Blachford

One term that most people are familiar with in family history records is Esquire. It originally was generally used interchangeably with “squire” although that word originated as the individual who served a knight.

Historically, in Britain, Esquire was the title used for man with a “rank next below that of Knight. Besides those Esquires who are personal attendants of Knights of Orders of Knighthood, this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign's commission being of military rank not below Captain ; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law, Masters of Arts, and Bachelors of Law and Physic” (Boutell, 1899). In the 1600s, Esquire was defined generally as the title for the eldest sons of knights or peers and their eldest sons in perpetuity, for those in positions created by the monarch or by virtue of their office, such as Justices of the Peace. In more modern times it may be attached to the name of any man in formal use or in the address of a letter where there is no prefixed title.

In the Cornwood parish registers only a few men were recorded with the term, Esquire, all of them members of the most affluent and influential families in the parish and owners of the major manors or estates – including the Hays, Hele, Maynard, Pode, Praed, Savery and Trefusis families. The burial register is most often the place one finds the title recorded. The title was almost expressly used for the eldest sons of the families, which was the norm in Britain.
1691 burial entry for Robert Savery Esquire of Slade
1692 baptism entry for Waltham Savery, son of Will. Savery Junr. Esq & Catherine his wife

Another term used for many individuals in the same families where a man was accorded the title of Esquire is Gentleman; Gentlewoman was common for the wives or daughters of these families. In the registers, the term is not used for any of those men known as Esquire, suggesting the designation was more restricted to younger siblings of those families – still “gentle” by birth but likely not in line for inheriting titles or necessarily land. Many of those recorded with the term, Gentleman, were from wealthy land-owning families but not part of the most “titled” families – knights or peers.

1685 burial entry for William Mason Gentn.
1830 baptism entry for Joshua Horton Northmore, son of Mary & Matthew Fortescue Northmore, of Hanger, Gent.
Many of those recorded in Cornwood records, with the term, Gentleman, were from wealthy land-owning families but not part of the most “titled” families – knights or peers – including the Badcock, Bunswell, Burrell, Coryton, Fortesque, Hele, Mason, Maynard, Northmore, Prideaux, Rogers, Savery, Williams and Worthington families.

More commonly, other important members of the community were identified by an honorific – Mr., Mrs. or Miss. Again, none of the individuals who were shown as Esquire or Gentleman (Gentlewoman) were referred to in this manner in the registers although the widows of some gentlemen or esquires might also be shown as Mrs. Most of the references are found on the burial register. The land tax lists also have numerous individuals shown as Mr. or Mrs. In all cases, these were individuals who also owned land in the parish.

My 5th and 6th great-grandfathers were referred to in most register entries as Mr. Both were land-owners and active in the community.

Nicholas Shepheard (ca 1675-1756) – 6th great-grandfather – was listed in the Devon Freeholders lists as “yeoman”, “gentleman” and “freeholder” between 1711 and 1733. He was an original Feoffee and Trustee for Wakeham's Rooke Charity set up in 1700 and continued to administer the fund until his death in 1756. On the baptism entries of seven of his nine children, Nicholas was shown as Mr. His burial was recorded as Mr. Nicholas Shepard and his wife’s as Mrs. Amy Shepard. The spelling of their names in the registers was done at the discretion of the Vicar but not in keeping with other documents Nicholas has signed as Shepheard.
1718 baptism entry of John Shepherd, son of Mr. Nicholas & Amy Shepherd
1723 burial entries for Ann and Amy Shepherd, daughters of Mr. Nicho. Shepherd
1751 burial entry for Mrs. Amy Shepard
1756 burial entry for Mr. Nicholas Shepard

Nicholas Shepheard (1716-1786) – 5th great-grandfather – was listed in the Devon Freeholder’s lists as “gentleman” and “freeholder” from 1762 to 1783. The designation indicates he had a fairly high position in the parish. He was shown as a co-Assessor & Collector on the Land Tax Assessment roles as well as a land owner of two major properties in the parish. He also served as the Churchwarden for St. Michael & All Angels Church in Cornwood. In that position he was primarily responsible for having the bells manufactured and installed in the church belfry in 1770. His name is cast into five of the bells (see my post of July 1, 2014). Nicholas was a Trustee of the Wakeham's Rooke Charity with brother, Richard, succeeding their father, Nicholas, in the position.

Recording the status of individuals by way of title is very much an old practice. In Cornwood parish the last time the term Esquire was used was in 1898 in the baptism register when Phyllis Cordelia Pode, daughter of Cyril Augustus & Constance Pode, of Slade manor, was baptized. In the burial register, it was for George Crawley, Esquire, a Captain in the Royal Navy, who was buried in 1810.

The last use of Gentleman was in 1896 in the baptism register when Gerard Parker, son of Mackworth Parker, of Moor Cross, was baptized. In the burial register, it was for Henry Rogers who died in 1716.

An honorific was last used in the baptism register in 1808 when Anne Roberts was baptized, her father being a servant to Mr. Pode. The last reference in the burial register was for Mrs. Anne Hayes in 1803.

Knowing the people within a parish or region and observing the titles or honorifics with which they are recorded allows one to get a sense of the hierarchy in the community at the time. Obviously, titles conferred by the Crown are at the highest level – knights, baronets, barons. Those known as Esquire appear to occupy a second level. And Gentlemen/Gentlewomen are the third. Both of these we might refer to as “gentry” or “landed aristocracy”. In past centuries, those called Mr. or Mrs., especially on official documents, were important people in the community and very likely all land-owners. In Cornwood parish we can certainly make the above connections to social position and influence.

All baptism and burial images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the rights holder, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.


Boutell, Charles. (1867). English Heraldry. London & New York: Cassell, Petter. and Galpin.