What surnames can add to the knowledge of our beginnings

We begin our family history journey at the end. There are many logical reasons for this, for after all, what would be the beginning? The generationally oldest ancestors? I believe I know something about eighteen 12x great grandparents who lived in the 1500s but far from enough to make their life interesting and what about the other 8,174 of them (endogamy aside)? DNA? Mine simply supports what I already know – my ancestors are mostly from Yorkshire. However, there is one other angle, that of surnames which can provide an insight into ancestors much further back than we will ever be able to prove.

In this article, the numbers born refer to the period from the start of civil registration, currently transcribed on freebmd (1837 – 1992 approx). The counts for the first seven surnames were taken on 3 August 2022, for more distant ancestors on 29 November 2022.


Jesse Houseman (Grandma’s Dad)’s signature at the end of a letter to his landlord. 1920. Own collection.

Born a Houseman, like my Grandma, I plan to die as one. Although I’m resorting to changing my name back by deed poll whilst my Grandma just married a Houseman. As the subtitle to my website notes “it’s who I am.” It is, though, only my second favourite surname. Largely, I think, because it’s already been well-researched and I am forever grateful to Gary Houseman who proved the link between my two paternal grandparents.

Whilst this surname is believed to originate from an occupation, from someone working at or associated with the local “great” house, it is relatively uncommon and highly geographically concentrated. 43% of the 2,651 Housemans born in England & Wales between 1837 and 1992 (as counted on 3 August 2022) were born in Yorkshire counties and of these there is only one branch who are not directly related. I was delighted to find that the one family in Yorkshire who are not related by blood can still be connected into my tree as William Shaw Houseman (b. 1848) who’s father, Robert, was born in London, married Hannah Smith, who’s mother was a Houseman!


Grandpy’s entry in my autograph book. 1985. Own collection.

By contrast, I’ve never felt the same connection to my mother’s maiden name. It crops up too often for me to be sure I’ve found the right family. There’s even a shoe store which carries the name. Our Barretts had the audacity to originate from Gloucestershire and it’s Norman in origin. Sorry Grandpy, I love you, but it’s not a surname that holds my attention.


Nana’s Booth signature at the front of her own autograph book. c. 1939. Own collection.

Nana’s birth name.

Many years ago I spotted a beautiful seventeenth century wooden tray painted with the names of a Booth family. £400 was an awful lot of money but I was severely tempted, convinced the family would be related somehow. Whilst I still hold a slight sense of regret the chances that the tray family were in anyway related is slim to non-existent for there were nearly 50x as many Booths born as Housemans.

Booth is considered to be a northern name (over a quarter of those registered births were in Yorkshire) originating from the old Danish word “bōth” meaning a temporary shelter such as a cattle-herdsman’s hut. We were cattle keepers, probably the most appropriate of our surnames throughout my paper history. It also accounts for the 2% of Swedish & Danish ancestry in my Mum’s DNA profile.

Booth is also one of the two surnames I planned to use if I was ever to write under a pen name, which leads me onto….


Ernest Moody (Nana’s grandfather)’s autograph from Nana’s book. 1939. Own collection.

Nana’s mother’s birth name and the other pen name I would choose.

From the Middle English mody meaning ‘proud, haughty, angry, fierce, bold, brave, or rash’ not grumpy as it is now.

I broke freebmd trying to work out what percentage of people had been born in Yorkshire, but in the 2021 census, Yorkshire was home to about 9% of the population of England & Wales so essentially anything over 10% represents a northern bias and Moody, at 14% is no exception.

But as for Moodys being proud & haughty? This was the most unassuming branch of our family tree. We’d obviously not inherited those genes.


Mary (Pollie) Wellock, Grandpy’s mother. From her date book. 1907. Own collection.

Grandpy’s mother’s birth name.

I love the Wellock surname. Most recently it’s enabled a wonderful Canadian adventure. Every Wellock alive today can be traced back to just two men. They are either descendants of Henry (born in the late 1500s in Kirby Malham) or of Robert (b. c. 1546 in Linton in Craven). The two are undoubtably related but I am always disappointed when a Wellock is descended from Henry.

Common thinking is that Wellock is a derivation of de Wheelock suggesting Norman ancestry, but given that the Wellock (or Walock) name is only held by those from Craven, Yorkshire, my interest stops there.


John Scott (Grandma’s grandfather) from his will dated 1920. Own collection.

Grandma’s mother’s birth name.

Ultimately it’s a man from Scotland. Which could mean anything. Weirdly, my Mum’s DNA contains a lot of unexplained Scottish DNA whilst my paternal Uncle’s contains none. It’s also the most common surname amongst my great grandparents. Combine it with John and you’ve got a genealogical nightmare. So I just feel grateful that I’ve been able to trace this line as far back as my 6x great grandfather, John Scott, born in the early to mid 1700s in Branton Green, North Yorkshire.


Martha (Handley) Clapham (Grandad’s grandmother)’s signature from the 1911 census. Own collection.

Grandad’s mother’s birth name.

The last of my great grandparents surnames is slowly gaining my attention. Growing up there were a lot of Claphams and I thought it must be a common name. But there were under 10,000 of them born between 1837 and 1992 and of those, over 40% were born in Yorkshire. Which explains why there were a lot of them about when I was growing up.

More interestingly (for me), I have Claphams on my maternal side too – my 5x great grandmother, Elizabeth Clapham was born in Lawkland about three miles from the village of Clapham.

Given that Clapham is believed to originate from the name of a village that could suggest a connection for whilst there are Clapham villages and (different) family branches originating as far away as Bedfordshire, Surrey, Sussex and even Devon, my Grandad’s mother’s family had been slowly tracking south and east away from the original Clapham village. 

Could this be the elusive connection between my Mum & my Dad’s family trees?

Earlier generations

Going back to my 3xG grandparents adds a further twenty-four surnames. It seems I’m unlikely to ever find a familial connection to my friends Sarah Walker & Helen Cooper (being the two most popular surnames in my tree with over 300,000 of each of them born). There were fullers and coopers in almost every village from which these surnames derive.

There are some though which will be worthy of further exploration.

  • Stansfield, Furniss and Hinchcliffe are all relatively rare. They are locational surnames recognising people from Stansfield (near Todmorden), Furness (Cumberland) and Hinchliff (near Holmfirth) so it is not surprising that around 50% of these births were in Yorkshire. Each one might give me a hint as to where the families originated from. Each also has a number of different variants and the exact spelling could be useful in tracing my line.
  • I grew up surrounded by Beecrofts and they pop up on both sides of my tree so was surprised to learn how uncommon the name was both generally and in Yorkshire. It’s a locational name based on an apparently “lost” village named “beo-croft” meaning bee farm. Tracing potential locations in the region could help me bring together the two sides of my family.
  • Down to those names with fewer than 5,000 children born. Teal has my favourite origin story, as it is thought to be a nickname, meaning like a water-bird. One of my distant ancestors must have been graceful in their deportment. The Teal variant of the name is also strongly associated with Yorkshire with over half those born being from Yorkshire.
  • There were fewer Reynards born than Housemans. Reynard does not in fact mean fox-like, but rather a popular medieval story book fox character was given this name and it stuck. It’s a surname with a number of variants, but 64% of the people born carrying the surname in this form were from Yorkshire meaning I stand a good chance of bringing them together in one tree.  
  • And finally, my favourite 3xG Grandmother, Hannah Demaine, keeps on giving. Surprisingly, given it means someone from the ancient French province of Maine, it’s a surname even more rare than Wellock and just as heavily concentrated in Yorkshire. The variant Demain, which I have also seen, only adds a few hundred births. This family of agricultural labourers are about as far from a Norman knight as it is possible to be and has whetted my appetite to research further.

There are a few more ancient names I should mention as being gateway surnames that have enabled me to reach back much further than I would otherwise have done: Wigglesworth, Hebden and Swale are all locational from Yorkshire. Pettyt leads me to a cousin, William, appointed Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London in 1689, who invented a wonderful family history claiming descent from King Arthur and might provide a connection to my oldest friend, Andrea (nee Petty). Finally, there’s Inglesant is a rare example of a surname derived from a woman demonstrating the strength of my female ancestry right back into the medieval ages.   

And so it is that my beginnings reflect the end. It’s an (almost) Yorkshire story.

With much gratitude to Natalie Pithers for her two prompts, beginnings & surnames, which led to this blog and to all my ancient ancestors for picking such wonderful surnames.

The slow and painful death of Thomas Bradbury

Warning: this is a rather sad unpleasant story.

The gravestone of Thomas Bradbury showing alll the genealogical data and none of the story. Own photo.

Thomas Bradbury was a very typical and quite unremarkable example of my Victorian farmer ancestors. Born on 21 December 1820, the youngest of eleven children and the third surviving son, Thomas had been fortunate to secure his own tenancy of a twenty-acre farm within walking distance from where he was born. He married a local girl, Jane Teal, on 29 November 1845. Six healthy children arrived at regular intervals and the family continued to farm at Woodmanwray until Thomas died, aged fifty-eight, on 29 March 1879. Thomas’s gravestone in the Providence United Reformed Churchyard at Dacre had given me his date of death. What else was there left for me to learn? Nonetheless, I added his death certificate to my general registry office shopping basket before moving on to other, more interesting ancestors.

A month later my sister called. A pupil at her school had accidentally ripped the birth certificate belonging to a colleague’s son. Might I be able to help her source a replacement? (There are, it seems, practical benefits to having a family history geek as a sister). It was back to the general registry office website. I took the opportunity to add the rest of my shopping basket to the order and Thomas’s death certificate was on its way.

And right there, under cause of death, was Thomas’s story.

Thomas Bradbury’s death certificate. Cause of death: dislocation of right shoulder 23 weeks, amputation of shoulder 14 weeks. Certified by E. Warburton MRCS&LSA.

Agriculture still has the worst rate of worker fatal injury (per 100,000) of all the main industry sectors, with the annual average rate over the last five years [to 2020/2021] around twenty times as high as the all-industry rate. At primary school we watched horrifying educational videos of children crushed by machinery or drowning in slurry. Yet friends were still beset by agricultural injury (including one who lost fingers) and I particularly remember the vividly coloured bruises Grandpy received from a tussle with an unruly sheep. Stepping back a hundred years or agricultural accidents were much, much more common and medical assistance much, much less effective.

It was mid-October 1878 when Thomas dislocated his right shoulder. Perhaps he had a run-in with a cow or fell from a roof he was fixing, maybe he twisted his arm trying to manoeuvre a too-heavy stack of straw or simply got caught under an overturned wagon. A common enough occurrence, the initial accident didn’t leave a written record. Whatever the cause it would have been painful and debilitating, the sole positive being that of his family: adult children to run the farm and a wife to provide nursing care.

The dislocation must have resulted in disruption of the blood flow to his right arm. Gradually over the following couple of months, Thomas would have seen the tissue in his right arm blacken and die. Whilst it is possible that numbness would have overtaken the pain, the foul smell of infected gangrene could not have been ignored and at some point, Thomas would have called on the services of the local doctor and Medical Officer of Health for Pateley Bridge, Edward Warburton MCRS, LSA.

Thomas was fortunate to have such a qualified doctor within calling distance. Edward Warburton’s father, Joseph, had first arrived in Pateley Bridge in 1807 to act as an assistant to Dr Strother. In 1815 the law changed requiring new doctors to be licenced and whilst in earlier years Joseph’s apprenticeship and family connections would have been sufficient, he was now required to qualify. Joseph headed off to London where he studied under the esteemed Mr R. C. Headington (later a president of the Royal College of Physicians) qualifying as a surgeon-apothecary in 1816 before returning to Pateley Bridge. By 1834 he had attracted a young John Snow to act as his assistant, the same Dr John Snow who is considered to be the founding father of both modern epidemiology and the scientific use of anaesthesia. Such was Dr Snow’s reputation that it was he who administered chloroform to Queen Victoria during the delivery of two of her children. Edward himself was apprenticed to his father and qualified through practice at Leeds Royal Infirmary in 1846. Snow remained a long-standing friend of the Warburtons, and Edward would likely have been far more knowledgeable about anaesthesia than many of his rural counterparts. There have been studies too, which demonstrate that the average mortality rate after amputation in cottage hospitals was somewhat lower than that in large city institutions but it still hovered around one in five. Surprisingly in the late 1800s, living this part of rural Yorkshire put Thomas in the best possible hands.

Amputation case, mid 19th century. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Just before Christmas, Thomas underwent surgery. By 1878, anaesthetics were being used effectively and, more critically, the principles of antiseptic surgery were just starting to be accepted. Thomas may have felt hopeful. He seems to have escaped the initial dangers of shock, haemorrhage, and exhaustion. There was no early onset of septicaemia. The new growth of early spring arrived. Snowdrops were replaced by wild daffodils and garlic. However, amputation also comes with an increased risk of heart attack and deep vein thrombosis, or, more likely, if gangrene had spread beyond his arm, it would have continued to attack vital organs. In the end, nearly six months after the initial accident and three months after his amputation, Thomas died at home in Woodmanwray, his family by his side, his cause of death certified by his surgeon.  

Thomas & Jane’s eldest daughter, Amelia, married Michael Houseman. Their son, Jesse was the father of Mary Houseman, my Grandma. Grandma loved to tell a death story, but this was just a generation too far back for it to be part of the tales she told and a reminder of how important it is to track down every document.

Brief biographical details of Jane Teal and Thomas Bradbury

Jane would have been born between 17 January & 2 March 1823 at Holm House (possibly Lower Holme House according to later census records). She was the daughter of Amelia Layfield and George Teal and had five other siblings.

Jane & Layfield were twins. We don’t know whether Jane was born first, but it was Layfield, her twin brother who is listed first in the baptism record on 2 March 1823. It seems she may have been the strongest as Layfield died in November 1826 aged just three years old.

Jane’s mother died in May 1830 when Jane was seven years old.

By the time she was 18, Jane was working as a farm servant at How Gill, Stonebeck Up about 8 miles further up the valley from her family, but in close proximity to her brother William.

Thomas was born a little earlier, on 21 December 1820, the youngest of the ten children of Catherine King & Charles Bradbury. By 1841, the family had moved to Fountains Earth which bordered Stonebeck Up. Thomas’s widowed sister, Catherine, and her son, were living next door. Jane & Thomas likely met around this time.

The pair married on 29 November 1845 in Ripon cathedral. By this time, both were living in Dacre and Thomas was described as a farmer, Jane as a servant. Jane was illiterate, but Thomas could write. I wonder if Thomas had finally found a small farm of his own and Jane had taken work nearby or had even moved to be with him. It seems odd that they got married in Ripon if they had both already moved to Dacre. But equally odd they didn’t get married in Middlesmoor if they hadn’t. Dacre church had been built in 1837.

The couple had six children representing many of the family names. Charles & Catherine (paternal grandparents), Amelia & George (maternal grandparents), Teal & Layfield as middle names (Jane & her mother’s maiden names).

Charles (1848 – 1925), Amelia (1848 – 1931), George Teal (1850 – 1898), John Layfield (1853 – 1922), Catherine (1857 – 1882), William (1860 – 1926). Catherine & her husband died within six months of each other. All the children married and had children of their own.

The couple lived the remainder of their adult lives on a 20 acre farm at Woodmanwray towards the north end of Dacre. Woodmanwray old chapel, where perhaps they worshipped is now available to rent on Airbnb. There’s a lovely description of the farm when it was put up for sale on 30 June 1885. At the time the land was still farmed by Jane & Thomas’s son, George Teal.

All that compact FARM, with the recently stone-built House, together with the Plantation, Garden, Barn, Stable, Cowhouses, Piggeries and other outbuildings and 9 CLOSES OF LAND, with the allotments or enclosures of grass and unbroken-up lands…..There is a never failing stream of water running through the premises…..The situation is healthy, well sheltered, commands pleasing views of the neighbourhood and is very suitable for residential purposes…”

From the Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, Friday June 19, 1885, a description of the farm at Woodmanwray

Thomas died on 29 March 1879. Jane continued to live at Woodmanwray and expanded the farm to 35 acres with the help of her children. She died, of heart disease and exhaustion on 16 January 1891, aged just 67. They are both buried at Providence Congregational Church at Dacre.  

With particular thanks to my twitter #AncestryHour friends who helped me broaden the research, to Spence Galbraith who studied Dr John Snow and made his research on the Warburtons available online and lastly to Thomas Bradbury, my great, great, great Grandfather for enduring the long months of pain whether stoically or not.