Family History. Looking at Surnames.

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It’s interesting when we start to look at our family history, one of the first things we often look for, is the meaning of our surname and this can be very surprising, many do not mean what we automatically think. Here are a few. 

Fletcher: A man who made arrows.

Blaxter: A man who bleaches cloth.

Villin: A commoner or farm servant.

Bunn: Good, from the French “Bon”.

Fuller: A man who worked in the cloth industry. 

Skipper: A man who owned a ship.

See what you can find out about the origin of your own surname and, if you find something which surprises you, let us know. My own surname could be either the person who worked as a butler, as they lived in the "Bower-House" or it could be a person who lived in the town, or "Borough". Many people took place-names as their surname, which means "extra name". The surname differentiated on John from another John, so we could have "John Butcher" and "John Winchester". They would be obviously John the butcher and John from Winchester.  

When it comes to finding where your family originated from, you may think that you will never find out because the records in the libraries don’t tell you anything. Don’t give up as some names are typically from Norfolk: Rallison, Frary, Bennefer, Cason, Gurney, Grimmer, Filby, Hipkin, Howling, Foulger, Gotts and Skipper, are all names which are very common in Norfolk. In fact, if you are a Benefer, I can guarantee that your ancestor came from King’s Lynn! My great Grandmother was a Benefer and I have not yet found any Benefer who isn’t related to me.

So, how do we find where our family name originated from? Obviously, if it is a name like Smith or Jones, it will be very difficult but if you have an unusual name, it is always worth putting the name in an early census search on a family history index site and see what comes up. If 99% of the hits are from one area, it could be a good place to start! If I put Rallison or Benefer into a search for the 1851 census, the only hits are people born in Norfolk.

I have been researching my own family history since 1977 and I have found that all of my ancestors lived within 50 miles of where I live today, even the families I have traced back to the 16th Century. Some are rare names, like Goll, Benefer and Ebdale but others are quite common like Burrows, Harvey and Claxton. How far have your ancestors travelled? 


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