Surnames

This blog pretty much started with the statement that under every stone is an Ashworth and that is pretty much true. There are other surnames regarded as the ‘usual Valley suspects’: Hargreaves, Greenwood, Taylor, Howarth (or Haworth), Ormerod and so on. Most of these are present in my ancestry, marking me out as ‘Valley folk’ whose link with Rossendale goes back 5 generations or so.

Interestingly when I looked at the Clitheroe Court Rolls for the Valley, many of these names were well represented even in the early days. the first entry in Farrer’s transcript of the Court Rolls for Rossendale mentions Ashworth (of course) and Tailor in 1509. Other early entrants are Pickup, Nuttall, Holt, Duerden, Heap, Lord…all names present in Rossendale in significant numbers today. Since it is estimated (almost certainly inaccurately) that there were only 16 families in Rossendale on deforestation in 1507, the persistence of these initial ‘founding father’ names is remarkable.

There are some names which appear not to have make it through time, the most noticeable of which is Bridge (or Brigg). There was a prominent family of Bridges in the C16 who were party to the usual misdemeanours of failing to maintain highways, blocking rights of way, causing an affray and the like. Later, there is a couple of Bridges buried in the graveyard of Sion Baptist in the 1800s. Yet I don’t know of any Bridges in Rossendale today though of course they may be there.

To complement this one-place study I have joined the Surname Society and have registered two studies. The first, and possibly most stupid, is the Ashworths of Rossendale. The second is the Bridges/Briggs of Deadwenclough, the old name for the area containing Springhill. I am a newbie at surname studies so it will be interesting to give it a go. These are both names with significant links to my place and a deeper understanding of their usage in the area will hopefully shed insights onto my place. Detailed work on this will have to wait until the completion of my MA however, but that’s another story.

It was interesting therefore to see Ancestry’s list of surnames which are extinct or threatened and those which have declined significantly over the last 100 years. The validity of the first two lists has been questioned as representing transcribers’ errors but the last list appears valid.

Of the fourteen surnames which have declined significantly in the last 100 years or so, seven are particularly common in the area, if not in Springhill itself necessarily. These are:

Ashworth (down 39%), Sutcliffe, Kershaw, Greenwood, Pratt, Nuttall and Ogden.

A bit of ‘quick and dirty’ research on find my past illustrated that there were 57 Ashworth births registered in the Haslingden district (which includes Rossendale) in 1840, 43 in 1900 and none in 2000. In E&W as a whole there were 322 Ashworth births registered as occurring in 1990 and 165 in 2000. Incidentally the same figures for Bridge were 3, 6 and 0 for Haslingden in 1840, 1900 and 2000 respectively (206 and 123 for the UK in 1900 and 2000). Not exactly robust scientific data but does suggest that the trend reported by Ancestry may be real, for Ashworth at least. (Bridge is probably within random variation and the other names were not studied)

But why?

The usual reasons why lines die out are failure to reproduce or a disproportionate number of girls being born. It is easy to see why this should be so for single family lines, less clear for an entire surname over an entire registration district. Ashworth is not such a socially disadvantageous surname that no none will marry into it. A genetic reason is theoretically feasible but difficult to imagine in practice.

(Thanks to @JanetFew and @1PlaceStudyReg for Twitter thoughts on this.)