Tuesday 23 March 2010

Do you think your surname is native to Bedfordshire?

The forthcoming BHRS volume is the WWI War Diary of the 2nd Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment and reading it (OK, proof-reading) I noticed Acting Corporal Vincent Ivory from Luton among the casualties in July 1917.  This rang a bell as the surname cropped up in another context recently - again from the Luton area, but in this instance from the early sixteenth century, when the family were playing a leading part in the pre-Reformation Luton Fraternity (a secular religious gild).

It set me thinking about the continuity of names in very small areas of the country and in particular in Bedfordshire where for example Ellingham, Docwra, Cleaver, Honor/Honour, Baldwin, German/Jarman, Mann, Pedder, Tearle, Peppiatt were prominent in south Bedfordshire in the early sixteenth century and are still there and in adjoining counties today.  How long had these families been living there before the sixteenth century?

That question may soon be answered, or at least evidence provided to assist in further research.

A far-reaching study of surnames in Britain is being undertaken by Professor Richard Coates and a team at the University of the West of England's Bristol Centre for Linguistics.  The study, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was announced at the end of last year and sounds as if it will be a major contribution to source material for population studies.  The press release includes this explanation of its purpose and aims and some of the information it will provide:

"Using published and unpublished resources, dating from as far back as the 11th century, a team of researchers will collect information about individual names such as when and where they were recorded and how they have been spelled. This information will be used to give new and detailed explanations of those names. This new knowledge will be far more reliable and up to date than that found in the books on surnames currently available. This resource will be a permanently publicly accessible database that people can use for a range of information. Each name will have separate fields which include: the meaning of the surname; the linguistic origin, the geographical origin and the distribution."
So, how will this affect Bedfordshire history? For a start, it will be a considerable aid to plotting the distribution of a surname in different periods and, consequently, the internal migration of individuals and families. Migration means contact and contact means influence, and it may be possible to extrapolate familial networks which will tie Bedfordshire people in with other areas of Britain.

It will be several years before the information will be available of course but I'm looking forward to the potential for widening research that it will provide.

1 comment:

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