Bisson

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Bisson family page
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Church records suggest that this has been the commonest family name in Jersey over the past 500 or more years


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John Chevalier Bisson, a tailor, great-grandfather of Jerripedia founder and editor Mike Bisson

To find your Bisson ancestors' records just go to our improved Family Search facility and search for the most up-to-date lists of birth/baptism/marriage/death/burial records for a growing number of Jersey churches

If you can help with information about the Bisson family, please contact editcontact@theislandwiki.org, using Jerripedia as the subject of your email. We are particularly interested in information which will help create further family trees, family histories and photographs


A blue link anywhere in the text will lead you to another page with more information on this family
A Bisson family outing in 1926 - Helier, Marjorie, Lily, Roy and Basil. Roy Bisson was the father of Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson
Capt Bisson and family at St John in 1908

Origin of Surname

The surname Bisson is one of the oldest names in the Channel Islands, originally du Buisson.

The derivation of the original du Buisson name is thought to be from the French for bush or thicket, suggesting that a du Buisson ancestor was living in a bushy area, possibly adjoining a village or settlement, to which it had given its name. There are alternative suggestions that it meant a fiefless man, or even that it was derived from besson old French for 'twin', but neither of these is supported by evidence in Normandy, where the name originates.

Early references

The Rev J A Messervy wrote that "the Bissons of Jersey are descended from a good French source, which, from the 12th century had ties with Jersey". It is apparent that prior to the mid-12th century, the Norman du Buissons were already represented in two different parts of the Island, doubtless in two branches, holding land, one in the east, with ties to Grouville and with a fief, the Fief du Buisson, in St Helier, and one in the west, in St Brelade.

This would suggest as early a date of settlement as that of the de Carterets and others, amongst the Island`s first recorded seigneurial families. Although the names of the early holders of the Fief du Buisson have not survived, the Grouville du Buisson link is well-attested, as also is that of St Brelade. The earliest mention of the surname, in relation to the Channel Islands, is from the archives of St Lo in Normandy: In 1149 Sir Geoffrey du Buisson with Roger du Buisson, his son, made a gift to the Abbey of Lessay of the Church of St Martin de Grouville (Grouville Church) in Jersey [1].

There is a mention in August a year earlier of the same Sir Geoffrey giving land to the Abbey of Lessay. Messervy records [2] that the Norman du Buissons, who, judging by their connection with Lessay, will have come from the Cotentin, "during several generations, remained.... the patrons of Grouville". As late as 1315, one of their descendants, Sir Yon du Buisson, renounced the patronage, with the consent of his son, Jehan du Buisson Ecr [3].

Sir Yon du Buisson is mentioned elsewhere in the 1315-1339 records of the same abbey, as is Colin du Buisson. It is evident that the du Buissons with interests in the east of the Island favoured after 1204 their Norman lands and the 'new order' there, which resulted from Normandy`s seizure by the French king, Philippe Augustus.

Western branch

Members of the branch of the du Buissons holding their land in the west of the Island, in St Brelade, are first mentioned by name at a similar date, circa 1150, when E de Magneville and his sons gave to the Abbey of St Sauveur le Vicomte, the Church of St Brelade, in Jersey. It was the custom, if not necessity, that the witnesses should be local landowners. De Magneville`s gift of St Brelade's Church was witnessed by Richard and Anquetil Buisson.

In 1324, Richard du Buisson was one of the electores of St Brelade [4] and in 1331, Colin du Buisson held a bouvée of land in St Brelade [5]. It is from this St Brelade branch of the early du Buissons, who remained in 1204 in the Island, that most, if not all, of the modern Jersey Bissons are descended.

The early genealogy of the St Brelade branch has been extracted by Messervy, and starts with Nicolas Bisson of La Moye, who would have been born about 1440. His younger son was Germain Bisson (1475- ), whose wife, Girette, was living in 1539, as a widow. Germain is now thought to be the man of this name, who lived in St John, from whom most of the Bissons of that parish are descended. Thomas Bisson of St John was described in 1555 as fils ainé of Germain [6]. He married a wife named Marie, who was, herself, a widow, in 1560. They had sons Collas and François, among others, both of whom left descendants in St John.

From St Brelade, two further younger sons in the mid-16th century, Pierre Bisson and Léonard Bisson, founded branches elsewhere. Pierre settled in St Peter in about 1556, following his marriage with Catherine Dumaresq, and left there descendants over the course of many generations. Léonard founded in St Lawrence what fast became the Island`s leading Bisson family, Seigneurs of the Fief Luce de Carteret. This family gave to the Island seven Constables, three Jurats, two Rectors and a Lieut-Bailiff.

When, in the latter part of the 16th century, the senior St Brelade line finally had no available male heir, recourse was had to the well-tried Jersey custom of marrying the principal heiress to a kinsman of the same name, in order to continue both the line and the surname. Nicolas Bisson, grandson of Perrin Bisson (1450-1525), of Trinity, was the chosen bridegroom. Thus the Bissons of Trinity were also, it seems, descended from the St Brelade parent stock, most likely in the mid-15th century. The Bissons of Trinity, like those of St Lawrence, produced some men of note in the form of two or three clergymen, three advocates, one of whom was Receiver-General and another, over several years, acting Greffier and two Constables.

From St Peter, if not directly from one of the two junior branches in St Brelade, will have come in the early 16th century, the Bissons or Le Gros dit Bissons of St Ouen and St Mary, which have long been called merely 'Le Gros Bisson'. Most of these families had their own junior branches in St Helier.

In St Martin there is a Bisson family, dating from the late 16th century, which has yet to be connected with any of the above branches. There is, however, no reason to doubt the affiliation.

Arms

There are various Bisson coats of arms, some of dubious authenticity, the majority of which feature a tree or bush as the main subject, which are the correct bearings. The coat of arms of Lieut-Bailiff Edward Leonard Bisson, featured below, shows two quarterings (additional arms, in this case, in the second and third quarters of the shield). These represented, respectively, the families of Lemprière and de Beaudenis, and are acquired by an ancestor in the bearer's direct line (only) marrying an heiress who was entitled to the arms. These two quarterings were therefore only used by Edward Leonard Bisson's immediate family.

The arms of du Buisson or Bisson, of Jersey and Normandy, to which the Island`s Bissons are fully entitled, are: "Or, on a mount vert, a holly-bush proper; a bordure sable, entoyre of eight mullets of six points, pierced, of the first"* *"Of the first" being the mullets are "of or" (gold).

The loss of the 'u' from the surname came about because the pronunciation, in the Norman-French language, was identical whichever way the name was spelt.

Guernsey

The earliest reference to the surname Bisson/Buisson in Guernsey is in the Vale Parish registers around 1540. It is not known whether the earliest Guernsey Bissons arrived in that island directly from Normandy or were from Jersey families.

Jersey branches

The earliest proven ancestors of present-day Bissons in Jersey are Nicolas Bisson of St Brelade, ancestor of the St Brelade, St Peter and St Lawrence branches of the family, and that of St John, born about 1440, Robin Le Gros Bisson, of the St Ouen branch of the family, born about 1450, and Perrin Bisson, of the Trinity branch, also born about 1450.

Although the name du Buisson, as featured in the Assize Roll of 1309, has been taken by some as the earliest reference to the family being resident - as opposed to merely landowning - in the Island, this reference is simply a confirmation by King Edward II of the donation of Grouville Church mentioned above. Family historian Mrs Auguste Messervy, widow of J A Messervy suggests in a history of the Bisson family of St Brelade and St Lawrence, written early in the 20th century, that Nicolas Bisson and Perrin Bisson are both descended from Richard du Buisson, the 'elector' of St Brelade in 1324, and Colin du Buisson, his son, who held land in the parish in 1330, as shown in the Extente of 1331. All the available evidence therefore points to the family having settled permanently in the island before the early 14th century, but this could be seen as somewhat unusual, given that the island had by then been separated from Normandy for 100 years and property-owning families did not tend to move from the mainland to the island at that time. The actual date of settlement is therefore likely to have been much earlier, as above.

Eight Bissons are listed in the Jersey Chantry Certificate of 1550.

Le Gros Bisson

The Le Gros Bissons, farming people of Saint Ouen and Saint Mary in the north-west of Jersey were the first Channel Island family to have a double-barrelled name. It was not created, in the same way that so many more recent double-barrelled names were, by the marriage of a Bisson to a Le Gros, but was thought to have been used to distinguish between two Bissons living in the same area, one larger (or fatter) than the other.

However, Guy Dixon has unearthed Royal Court records from the 16th century and mentions of this branch in the Extentes, which refer to its members as Le Gros dit Bisson, a form of surname found frequently in Jersey, and indicating that the family was originally either Le Gros, and became Le Gros dit Bisson (Le Gros, called Bisson) or Bisson, called Le Gros. These 'alias' or 'dit' surnames, so frequently found in early times, are accepted as having three quite distinct reasons for existing. Often marriage to an heiress and settlement on her land will result in such a name, as with many modern double-barrelled surnames. Illegitimacy also gave rise to these dual-identity names, as did the need to distinguish between different branches of a family, often using a favourite Christian name within each branch, such as 'Le Geyt dit Rauvet' (the Ralph Le Geyts, Rauvet being the diminutive of Rauf).

Arms of Edward Leonard Bisson

Variants

  • Buisson
  • Le Gros Bisson
  • Bisson, 1528
  • du Buisson, 1315
  • du Bisson 1315
  • de Bussone, 1188
  • de Buisson 1053
  • de Buissun 1140
  • Bissonet
  • Bissonnet
  • Bison, is found in the Savoie region of France, but is not thought to be a variant of Bisson, but to come from Italy, and to derive from the local dialect word for grey.
  • Bissot is found in France and may be a diminuitive of Bisson


Family records

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Family trees


Bisson is by far the most numerous name in Jersey church records, and unlike many long-established families, the Bissons migrated from one parish to another. The Le Gros Bissons, sometimes shown as such in registers, sometimes just listed under Bisson, are largely to be found either side of the St Ouen-St Mary border until they began to move in the early 19th century.

Other branches moved from St Brelade to Trinity and then St John. All this can make the branches very difficult to track and not nearly as many trees have been assembled as should be for this substantial family name. Many of those trees which do exist online are full of errors.

We are working all the time to add trees wherever possible, and would welcome contributions from Bisson researchers.


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Benjamin Bissons



"What is it about the Bisson family lineages which make them so difficult to research?" asks Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson.

"Perhaps it is that there are, and have been, so many Bissons in Jersey. One name which has caused me heartache is Benjamin Bisson, and there have been many of them. There seems to be much conflict in online trees and descents from various Benjamins are linked to Trinity and St John families.

The arrival in May 2018 of a further tree, now renamed Descendants of Benjamin Bisson - 4, appeared to confirm some of the details in some earlier trees, but introduced further conflicts. That tree, and other Bisson trees, have now been reviewed by Guy Dixon, who undertook much research into the families some three decades ago, and many of the conflicts have now been removed



The two trees below link, with the second taking the first further down


St Martin trees

Benjamin Bisson descendancies - see box on right

St John and Trinity trees involving Benjamins









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Clement Bissons



Given that the set of Clement Bisson trees on the left all appear to relate to the descendancy of the same person, the differences are remarkable. We have yet to unravel the inconsistencies and are featuring all the trees until we are confident in the right relationships.

These trees suggest that a Clement Bisson moved to Jersey from Canada, had a son, Clement, left him in Jersey, and returned with his wife to Canada, dying there soon after. We have been unable to find any records which support this view.

Jerripedia's editor Mike Bisson is a descendant of the Le Gros Bisson line (quite distinct in Jersey from Bisson), neither of which can be traced back far enough in Jersey records to say when early generations may have moved to the island from France. Le Gros Bisson is not known in France, and the likelihood is that the two branches separated in Jersey some time in the 14th century, or earlier.

Mike says: From the earliest Le Gros Bissons to the many descendants still living in Jersey, there is no known further connection with France and none at all with Canada, other perhaps from Jersey Bissons going to work in the eastern seaboard fishing industry, having children there and returning to Jersey, as did many families. Looking at other Bisson lines, which I have been studying for many, many years, because they are also present in my tree many generations back, I can find nothing to support a link with French Bissons after the 15th century, and probably much earlier. I find it very hard to believe the suggestions that Bissons with no previous connection with Jersey, having arrived in Canada direct from France, then emigrated to Jersey, left children there, and returned to Canada. There are undoubtedly some Bisson records missing from Jersey parish registers, and it seems to me that researchers have plucked at records for Bissons with the same name and within the same timeframe to fill those gaps, rather than accepting that there are simply records missing from Jersey records.'


Clement Bisson descendancies - see box on right




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Bisson baptisms and marriages in Jersey


Note: We are now aware that some Bisson records are missing from these lists, yet can be found in our searchable database. Conversely, there are records missing from that database which appear in the lists above. We are working to correct these anomalies, some of which are caused by confusion between Bisson and Le Gros Bisson records. However, we have now isolated Le Gros Bisson entries from Le Gros and plain Bisson in our database, so the database should now correspond with the Le Gros Bisson baptisms list above.

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Bisson family histories




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Bisson lineages in Guernsey



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Great War service



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Occupation records



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Family wills



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Burial records


Family properties

Le Fief du Buisson can be traced back to the 14th Century, although in these early records it has already passed out of family possession.

Family baptism names

Emigration to the New World

Bissons from Jersey were among some of the earliest emigrants to both Canada and the United States of America. In Canada the name was usually retained by immigrants from the Channel Islands and France but the descendants of three Le Gros Bisson brothers and a nephew who emigrated to Marblehead, Massachussetts, in the early 18th century adopted anglicised versions of the name, including Besom, Besome and Besume.

The Besoms of Marblehead

Bissons in battle

Mike Bisson looks back at the role of some of his ancestors in conflicts of the past - see article

Notable family members

Bisson businesses

Family album

Ministers and lay preachers of the Methodist French Circuit in 1867, including D Bisson. The picture was taken by Asplet and Green a year after they set up in business at 18½ Beresford Street and also includes P Tourgis, Philippe Amy, P Le Gresley, Thomas J Desprès, Mr Ahier, Mr Benest, P Garnier, Mr Hamon, P Norman, G Le Masurier, Abraham Pallot, J Syvret, P G Adair, G Skelton, T Binet, T Billot, Mr Vautier, E de Carteret, W Le Duc, T Lucas, H Collas and J Le Cornu

Click on any image to see the full-size version

C S Bisson and his wife at La Moye where they had a weekend bungalow
A Bisson family in 1925 - Daniel, Georgina May Agnew, Amelie Dorothy, Phoebe Eleanor, Eunice Sophie, Lucy Amelie, Amelie Baudains, Raoul Daniel, Russell Daniel Agnew, Marion Marguerite, Rosa Margaret and Oswald
Bisson family in 1920 - Lucy, Raoul, Eunice, Daniel, Rosa, Phoebe and Amelie
Walter John Bisson was born in Guernsey in 1868 and was taken by his parents, Peter and Charlotte, nee Le Tissier, together with his five older siblings, to the United States three years later. He eventually settled in California, where he married Ann Stewart in 1889. They are pictured here early in the 20th century with their sons Norman, Walter and Raymond

Family gravestones

Click on any image to see a larger version. See the Jerripedia gravestone image collection page for more information about our gravestone photographs. Images of gravestones in other cemeteries will be added progressively

Notes and references

  1. Le Cartulaire des Iles de la Manche, No. 255
  2. ABSJ X1, 95
  3. Cartulaire, Nos. 268-273
  4. Fragment 1 Jersey Rolls, 17 Edw. 2
  5. Extente
  6. Cour de Samedi

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