English Genealogy & Surnames

english genealogy

English ancestors make up the third largest ancestral group in the United States today, making those well-known English surnames like Smith, Brown, Evans and Thomas almost as American as baseball and apple pie. The English surnames have become wonderfully integrated into United States tradition, although these distinct names have a rich history that spans well beyond the short history of the U.S.

When the first Englishmen arrived on American shores, it was primarily to escape religious persecution in their own country. In addition to a wonderful wealth of English surnames, these emigrants brought with them traditions and religious principles that were decidedly English and enriched the tapestry of ethnicities and genealogies that is a part of the United States today. Genealogists in this country will find that studies of English emigrants will enrich their research projects, as well as their understanding of American history.

If you are fortunate to have an English genealogy to trace, you may discover that your ancestors came to America as early as 1607, when the first American colony was established in 1607. Some may also find ancestors in their family tree that landed on the Plymouth shores in 1620, as some of the first Pilgrims to explore and settle in the New World. This rugged bunch braved sickness, harsh weather conditions and plenty of unknown variables to establish their own settlement in a new country.

There is a wealth of information available to those anxious to explore their English genealogy, but it helps to know the most efficient process for tracing family roots before you begin. The most effective research usually begins at the end, rather than the beginning. By tracing backward from your current generations, using valid documentation to find a link from generation to generation, use of the U.S. Census records may then prove helpful in locating ancestors that date back emigrants all the way to their home country.

Tracing English Ancestry

England was originally settled by residents of Southern Europe during the Stone Age, when inhabitants hunted mammoths and reindeer across the rugged woodland terrain of the British peninsula. As time went by, the land of England and Ireland separated, and water transformations made England into an island. Sea merchants emigrated to the area, as the Stone Age slowly evolved into the Bronze Age. At that time, building in England began booming, with the erection of Stonehenge and other temples and avenues.

The Celts formed the first major migration to England during the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ, followed by the Brythons, also known as Britons. This emigration gave Britain its modern-day name, although the Celts living in the region took on the distinction as the ruling class, and the rest of the country took on Celtic language and the Druid religion practiced by the Celts.

Battle for control over England continued for centuries, as the Romans raided and took control around 55 B.C., followed by the Anglo-Saxons who came over on pirate ships and plundered the region. In 597, the monk Augustine arrived on British shores, bringing Christianity to the country. This religion continued to grow for many years, until some British residents decided to set sail for a new country and freedom from the religious persecution that eventually followed.

Records for British Emigration in 18th and 19th Century

After the first British landed on American shores in the early part of the 17th century, an even larger emigration took place more than a century later. Around 3.5 million English arrived in America after 1776, followed by another major wave of emigration in the 1820s. During the latter wave, field hands and urban workers made up the bulk of the emigrants, shaping the development of American railroads, factories and mining.

Records During the 19th Century

Throughout the 19th century, British emigrants continued to sail to America, finding the rising industrial age to be the perfect environment for their skills. The inexpensive steamship fares made the United States an even more attractive prospect, and many who sailed over from England decided to stay in America permanently once they found they could put down productive roots in the U.S. However, a small number decided to return home to England after a short stint in the U.S., although many had left roots in the new world through their work or families.

Famous Records

The emigration trend from England to America continued throughout the 20th century, as more Brits came in search of better jobs and living situations. Throughout the history of the United States, many genealogies can be traced back to English ancestors. Even some of the founding fathers for this country, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, have family roots that trace back to England. In fact, leaders of this country through the generations can often trace their family trees back to England. If your genealogy includes English ancestors, you are in good company indeed.

English Family History Resources

English People


English Ancestry Maps

Immigration: The English

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