Early Durham Surnames project

Durham Records Online is pleased to announce the Early Durham Surnames statistical database, which is being compiled as part of an ongoing research and study project. (It has actually been present for almost a year, but we had not announced it while we were continuing to tweak some problems with it.) The purpose of this project is to track the incidence of Durham surnames, to understand where and when in the county they first appeared, and to note the many spelling variations encountered during the Tudor period (1485-1603).

Entering a surname on the search form produces a response that shows the generally accepted primary spelling (and any variants found), along with the ward and parish in which the name was found and a count of how many times that name was found and in what type of event. In addition to drawing from records in parish registers, it also includes speculative birth years calculated from resource material on a “best estimate” basis. You can filter the response by specifying a ward, parish, and range of years.

At present, this unique database contains the surnames of over 50,000 individuals known to have lived during the Tudor period in what is historically County Durham. Names were extracted from manorial records, wills, surveys and parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, between 1485 and 1603, thus making an important link between the records which precede parish registers and those post-1538 when registers commenced.

A static map of Durham is available to help researchers (one-name study groups in particular) visualize where the surnames occurred. Boundaries have been highlighted to show the four wards: Chester, Darlington, Easington and Stockton, plus Durham which, although not a ward, figures prominently as it contains the earliest records.

As an example, if you enter the surname “Fenwick”, the database responds:

The result of the search for “Fenwick” tells us in the Tudor era, this surname was most prevalent in the parish of Whitburn, with a lesser presence in other areas, and it shows the variant spellings that were found during that period. A search for a more common name, such as Wilkinson, show many more name variants and produces numbers in the twenties in the various columns, showing definite areas of concentration around Ryton, Bishopwearmouth, Hart, Houghton-le-Spring, and Lanchester.

The Early Durham Surnames Project can be found on the the Local History tab, or you can go directly to it. If you have questions or comments about the project, please contact the author, Ken Coleman, at the address listed on the project’s main page or About page.