The Homes of Family Names

W.G. Hoskins' study of English surnames shows that, even before the Industrial Revolution, country families were very often on the move.

W.G. Hoskins | Published in History Today

One of the most deeply rooted and erroneous ideas about English social history is that the majority of our population were bound to the soil in one place until comparatively recent times. Those who have studied the genealogy of an ordinary family will know how false this notion is.

It is rare to get a run of a hundred years in one parish for one family. There is good reason to believe that this mobility of both town and rural populations was marked as far back as the twelfth century, not least because the numerous towns that were founded in that period must have recruited their original population largely from the surrounding countryside.

But in the countryside itself there was also a great deal of movement from parish to parish. In Leicestershire, for example, only one family in every ten listed in the poll tax assessments of 1377 remained in the same village by the 1520s, when the most comprehensive subsidy of the sixteenth century was levied.

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