One of the ideas I came up with for one-place study blogging on the theme of Ten (for the Society’s tenth anniversary) was ‘the top ten surnames of your OPS.’ Having suggested it, I decided to have a go myself and chose Waters Upton, the largest of my three studies.

The first question that arose when I embarked on this quest was: “How exactly do I work out what the ‘top ten’ surnames of a particular place were?” I decided to use data from the nine censuses from 1841 to 1921 inclusive. Counting variants of any given last name (e.g. Brown and Browne, or Picken and Pickin) as a single family name, I established that 236 different surnames were recorded at Waters Upton on the nine censuses. Of those, 192 occurred less than ten times in total – including 92 which appeared only once.

Although Waters Upton is my largest OPS, it is a fairly small place. The number of people enumerated in the parish on each census from 1841 to 1921 was, on average, just 201. As a result, looking at surnames on any one census, while interesting, is unlikely to lead to meaningful conclusions. In many years a surname could get into the Top Ten by virtue of it being borne by just six people!

The method I finally arrived at for calculating the Top Ten Surnames of Waters Upton was based on counting the number of individual surname holders enumerated in the parish across the nine census years. The results (with the number of surname holders in brackets) were as follows:

1. Woolley (52)
2. Cartwright (32)
3. Morgan (31)
4. Evans (29)
5. Lloyd (29)
6. Bennett (27)
7. Davies and Jones (26 each)
9. Matthews and Tudor (25 each)

Looking at this list, one of the first things that struck me was that six out of the ten surnames – Morgan, Evans, Lloyd, Davies, Jones and Tudor – had Welsh origins. This is no great surprise given that Waters Upton lies in a county on England’s border with Wales, and these family names do of course occur at high frequencies elsewhere too. “Commonly occurring surnames dominate Top Ten” would hardly be a shocking finding – but to what extent is it true?

In checking my data to make sure that I didn’t double-count people who were recorded on more than one census, I found many who were enumerated on multiple occasions (the record being held by a William Matthews, enumerated at Waters Upton eight times from 1851 to 1921 inclusive). And it wasn’t just individuals who were ‘long-stayers’ – there were families which remained in (or returned to) the parish over two or more generations. That would certainly have an impact on the Top Ten surnames.

So, high frequency surnames occurring, erm, frequently, and ‘faithful families’ perpetuating their family names – to what extent did each of these two factors influence the final results? (In the discussion that follows, the term ‘descendants’ includes women who ‘married in.’)

At one end of the scale there were the Cartwrights and the Joneses. The 26 Joneses were comprised of a family of eight, two families of four, a married couple, a mother and her child, and six other individuals. None of the families were represented by more than two generations (i.e. parents and children). As for the Cartwrights, Sarah the widow of George Cartwright and her descendants account for 10 of 32 people bearing that surname on census returns; the rest are from four other families. Two of the families had members of three generations enumerated in Waters Upton. Jones in particular appears to have made it into my Top Ten almost entirely because it was a very high frequency surname. With Cartwright, I suspect that further research might find that two or more of the apparently separate families were in fact related.

In the middle, with around half to three quarters of their numbers represented by members of three to four generations of single families, were the surnames Morgan, Lloyd, and Davies. All fairly high-frequency family names, but with a presence in the parish strengthened by families who stayed there for a while.

Nearing the other end of the spectrum we have the Evanses, the Bennetts and the Tudors: over 80% of the holders of each of these surnames were members of single families, with four to five generations enumerated at Waters Upton.

Finally, two surnames recorded on my study’s censuses were each borne exclusively by members of a single family, spanning five generations. Down at the bottom of the Top Ten in joint ninth place, everyone with the surname Matthews was descended from William (born around 1743) and Mary (born around 1737).

The grave of Robert and Mary Woolley of Waters Upton. Photo by Steve Jackson.

The ultimate example of surname borne by a ‘faithful family’ however was Woolley, the clear leader of the Top Ten chart. All 52 of Waters Upton’s Woolleys enumerated from 1841 to 1921 were descended from, or married to men descended from, William Woolley (birth-date unknown) and Eliza, née Downes (born about 1760).

In conclusion, although the idea of compiling a ‘Top Ten Surnames of my One-Place Studies’ article seemed like a bit of fun, I found the exercise to be fascinating. It has focused my mind on my census data and made me analyse it in new ways. It has also generated a number of ideas for further study.

Steve Jackson


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