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  1. Surnames & The Norman Conquest

    I was recently interviewed for the BBC’s The One Show  regarding the introduction of surnames into England at the time of the Norman Conquest. Here I expand on the short interview to give you a better idea of the complexities of this subject.

    At the time of the Norman Invasion, surnames were a new concept; unknown in England and in their infancy on the continent.  A very small minority of the Norman knights who came to England at this time actually had what we would term ‘surnames’; that is a hereditary name to be passed on to successive generations. All of these made reference to the name of the estates they came from in Normandy

    Today, surnames are one of the main ways by which we identify ourselves, but in the 11th century people in England were known by their first names and then a ‘byname’.  Bynames and surnames were very similar, but a byname was not passed down to the next generation. Both were based on similar ideas; identifying someone by the way he or she looked, their personality, occupation or the place where they lived, for example, a feature in the landscape or the name of an inn.

    Although William 1 was victorious at Hastings in October 1066 he was then faced by the arduous task of bringing the rest of the country under his control: no easy feat. One way of doing this was to re-distribute all the land in the country. From this point onwards all land technically belonged to the King and he in turn granted use of the land to men he believed would be loyal to him. These vassals did homage to their king and provided military service when required. In return the lords would require homage and services from those people who lived on their estates. Despite the fact that the new ruling classes were Norman, experts believe that one reason for the growing use of surnames among them was to strengthen their association with the land which they had been given. These were uncertain times and no-one felt secure!

    Surnames did not suddenly come into use overnight! While we can pinpoint their origin among the landed classes at this time, it was not until the 13th century that surnames started to come into general use. By the end of the 14th century most people had one, but the rate at which the practice of using a surname became the norm differed around the country and many surnames from this time did not remain stable. There are many examples of different ‘surnames’ being passed down to siblings throughout the ensuing centuries.

    The Normans did not just introduce surnames to England; they also brought a new pool of Norman-French personal names. If you have ever sighed in frustration over the plethora of people you find with the same name first and last name when researching your family history, you may thank the Normans! Over time, the wide-ranging stock of Old English and Anglo-Norse names such as Egbert, Wulfric, Harold, Ulf, Alfred and Edgar gradually fell out of favour with a few exceptions. They were replaced by the much more limited range of Anglo-Norman names such as Robert, Henry, Richard and William and later popular saints’ names such as John and Thomas. This had a knock-on effect on surnames since many surnames were to derive from Christian names spawning names such as  Roberts, Dickinson, Williamson, Johnson and the like.

    It is fascinating to study the names of the knights who came over with William both before and after the Battle of Hastings. It’s easy to see links between the names borne by those men and our modern-day surnames, but we must remember that in most cases the surnames we bear today would not have evolved for another 200 years or more. If your surname is Warren or Warrener, for example, you are likely to be descended from someone whose job it was to look after the rabbit warrens on the local lord’s estate, rather than from William de Warenne the companion of William the Conqueror! Many surnames appear to be of ‘French’ origin but they can be deceptive. My own surname, Heritage, is a good example. Most surname dictionaries define it as referring to someone who inherited land from an ancestor, rather than holding land from the lord. Most give its origin as ‘Old French’. Yet there is no similar surname on the continent, which is strange. A more likely interpretation is that it derives from the Old English word heretoga which originally meant a war leader, but by the time the surname evolved probably referred to a local community leader.

    Surnames in Ireland, Wales and Scotland have different histories and I will look at them another time. For more on the evolution of surnames and how to interpret them, my recommended reading is George Redmond’s book Surnames and Genealogy: An Introduction available second hand or in good libraries.

     

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  2. Donation of Hackney, Undertaker’s Records: James Recknell

     

    Recknell books

     

    I am delighted to have received a wonderful donation to my collection of death records! This is a set of undertaker’s records for the firm James Recknell & Co. This company operated from 46 Dalston Lane, Hackney for many years.  My initial read through these fascinating records shows that, while the business ran under the name of James Recknell & Co from 1886 to 1973, it was taken over by Albert Thomas Camfield in 1939. Albert later went into partnership with William Arthur Marr. William took over the business after Albert’s death in 1952 finally closing it in 1973. The site is now occupied by the undertakers’ business T. Cribbs.

    The freehold of the property at 46 Dalston Lane was owned by the family of Cecil Rhodes (founder of Rhodesia) and deeds show transfers of leases from Cecil’s brothers, Arthur Montague Rhodes and Bernard Maitland Rhodes, and later his nieces Georgia and Violet Rhodes, to James Recknell in 1932, Albert Camfield in 1939 and to William Marr in 1953.

    Of all the books in the collection, most fascinating are the undertakers’ order books and accounts giving details of funeral arrangements for hundreds of people, not just from Hackney but from places much further afield too. These also provide a useful insight into the work of an undertaker.

    You can read more about funeral records and also gravestones, burials and cemeteries in Chapters 2, 3 and 7 of my book Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records

    As I work my way through these precious records I will report further!

     

     

  3. Farewell to Cumbria

     

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    Appleby St Lawrence

    For the last week my husband and I have been relaxing on holiday post-WDYTYA! Our favourite place is Cumbria, where we both have long established roots and, although we were staying in Appleby-in-Westmorland, as usual we ended up roaming all over the county from East to West, North to South (Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North of the Sands – with bit of Lancashire proper too!) – walking, relaxing and exploring churches and churchyards. Just what I needed after after all the work involved in preparing for WDYTYA.

    Celia

    Celia Heritage

    I also spend time in both Kendal and Carlisle Record Offices searching for my own ancestors in manorial records. My visit to Carlisle RO was my first since its relocation and I was very impressed! A lovely purpose built, yet tasteful, building with efficient knowledgeable staff and even car parking! A rare treat these days. My only gripe with Cumbria Archives is that if they had to reduce opening hours to four days a week why must all the record offices shut on the same day (Monday)? A real pain if you are visiting for a week and want to carry out some serious research. At least closing some on Mondays and some on Fridays, for example, would give the non-local researcher a better opportunity to utilise all his or her time.

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    Lamplugh churchyard

    Some other highlights of our holiday were churchyards at Lamplugh where many of the older gravestones are wonderfully preserved such as the one shown here for Margaret Burnyeat who died, aged 72, in 1724 ; also Moresby on the West Coast – an impressive church standing near the cliff edge looking across to Scotland and surrounded again by many well-preserved graves, many marking those killed in the local mines.

    We took our fond farewell of Cumbria a couple of days ago to return home to Kent. Hopefully we will be back ‘up North’ before too long.

    Moresby

    Moresby churchyard

  4. WDYTYA – A week on and the first set of photos!

    My eight talks over and now just over a week on from WDYTYA Live 2015 I am now pleasantly relaxed after several days off! Here are some mementos of three very enjoyable and successful days.

    Apart from some acoustic problems in my talk How Far Did Your Ancestor Travel on Thursday (caused by the fact that the NEC microphone headset in SOG 2 did not adjust down small enough to fit my head!) all my talks ran smoothly, were well-attended and very well-received.

    Tweet-up

    Tweet-up No 1!

    The highlights of the exhibition for me were my final talk on the Saturday in SOG 1, which was packed with over 270 people, and catching up with friends and colleagues in our many ‘tweet-ups’ and evening ‘genie’ gatherings. Also the fact that my health is now so greatly improved from a year ago. Last year I had to take regular breaks back at my hotel in order to carry out all my commitments and during my seventh talk on day three I can remember wondering  whether I would make it to the end with out passing out! At that time I had just been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a disease of the connective tissues, which was leaving me increasingly exhausted and in almost constant pain. Thankfully, following my diagnosis, I was lucky to receive some very supportive treatment from a great physio and also CBT pain therapy. A year later, following an intensive exercise routine,I find myself so much fitter and stronger –  and by talk number eight this year I was still enjoying myself! I could not have been more pleased!

    Genie Meal!

    If you could not make the NEC, I will be giving my talks I’ve Lost My Ancestor Before 1837 and How Far Did your Ancestor Travel again on 30 May in Petersfield, Hampshire as part of a one day seminar with Les Mitchinson. For further details see http://www.mitchinsongenealogy.com/tuition/course-dates.Handouts for all my talks are also now available: those for TheGenealogist at www.thegenealogist.co.uk/celia and those for the Society of Genealogists (along with handouts from many other speakers) at www.sog.org.uk.