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Subject: [CHESHIRE-L] Frequency of Family Surnames in Britain
Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 13:41:43 EST


On March 13, 1999 Bruce Whitehead of Toronto, Canada posted the following
question to the CHESHIRE-List:

"…I wonder if anyone has tabulated the popularity of certain family names in a
particular area such as Cheshire at a particular time in history? Prior to
modern transportation families generally stayed within a small area, so there
are pockets of particular names. Knowing these areas would be like holding a
wild card in poker, providing the ability to jump into other regions to track
missing relatives. I have seen maps showing the incidence of certain names in
the UK. Any idea how these were created?"

A study of the frequency of surnames in the various counties of Great Britain
was published by Henry Brougham Guppy, M.B. Edinburgh in the year 1890.

Guppy was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal
Scottish Geographical Society, and a Member of the Victoria Institute. It
occurred to him that "English yeomen in the past were a stay-at-home people
passing uneventful lives on their own land which frequently remained in the
hands of the same families for five or six generations." According to
Guppy's theory, it was possible to determine where a particular surname
originated by identifying where the relative concentration of people bearing
each surname was greatest.

Using the Kelly's Post Office Directories for all the English counties, Guppy
attempted to determine the original "home" of the most familiar British
surnames and to identify the characteristic surnames that occurred most
frequently in each county.

Although Guppy's methodology and conclusions were seriously flawed, it is
nevertheless interesting for genealogists today to read his tabulations of the
distribution of various British surnames by county as they occurred more than
a hundred years ago.

If you are interested in how frequently your own particular surname occurred
by county in 1890, track down a copy of Guppy's book entitled "Homes of Family
Names in Great Britain", published by Harrison and Sons, 59 Pall Mall, London,
1890.

Despite the fact that this book is long ago out of print, copies can be found
in the history, geography or genealogy sections of many large reference
libraries.

For Bruce's interest, I know for a fact that there is a copy of Guppy's book
in the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library located on Yonge Street just
north of Bloor Street in Toronto.

Doug Garnett

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