Family Names

Family Names

After transcribing the Parish Records & Censuses, I have attempted to group individuals into families – a sometimes frustrating task, given the relatively small number of surnames as well as Christian names. Merriott in the 19th Century was like one giant extended family –  half of the population of around 1500 for each of the censuses shared only 10 surnames. The actual percentages for the most common surnames in the 19th century censuses are:

Top 10 surnames: 52% of the population

Top 15 surnames: 62% of the population
Top 20 surnames: 67% of the population
Top 23 surnames: 70% of the population

This started me off trying to piece together the family structure of the various Merriott families. At this point in time, I have been able to place around 7000 of the 9500 people listed on the six censuses of the 19th century onto a single tree, based on comparing census data with baptism, burial and marriage data. I believe a thorough analysis of records of surrounding villages, and of Crewkerne, will allow further data linkages. I have done a bit of research myself into surrounding villages, and other kind researchers have passed information on to me, which has helped to explain who people were.

The persistence and paucity of surnames in the parish led, by the early 17th century, to the adoption of nicknames such as curlhead, noghead and boneback, a custom which continued into the 20th century.  ( Victoria County History  )

The following is an excerpt from An Ancient English Village

“It is difficult for a stranger to equate Sammy Soldier, Sammy Pinch, Tommy Tiptoe, Hard Crib, Sammy Duchy, Sammy Alluad to the Osbornes, for instance; or Willy Wantsee, Lizzie Partridge, Jimmy Doctor, Henry Squinty to the Lawrences; or Frankie Marlem, Willie Winkle, Sammy Nameldish to the Wills, no one in the village escaped twenty, thirty, fifty years ago. The custom is dead, but some of the names linger on.  It manifested a strong clan sense.”

I wonder how many of the people in those days actually realised their family connections? Was there an oral history being passed on through the generations? Were the Osbornes of Merriott quite well aware, for instance, of their ancestor, Alexander, who came to Merriott after the Monmouth Rebellion? Or were the villagers, mostly labourers and unskilled workers, too busy surviving their daily lives to have an interest in such things?

For anyone contemplating a similar study of a village, I’d like to suggest that you start with the 19th century, as these records are bound to be less daunting and much more rewarding in their transcribing than earlier records, as you have Census records to compare with Parish Registers.  The latter were also much more informative than in previous centuries.

Mike Warry has sent a list of Wills proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury 1500 – 1858 relating to people living in Merriott.   Have a look at the list here.