The perils of French sounding names

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By Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson

If your ancestors come from Jersey and have French-sounding names, does that mean that you can trace their ancestry back through many generations in the island, or in France?

Not necessarily!

How many traditional families?

Since I started Jerripedia I have been keen to include as many traditional Jersey families as possible in the Family pages section, tracing their arrival in the island, whenever possible, their origins and the derivation of the name.

At the outset I assumed that there would be perhaps 50 such families, with the possibility of another 50 with tenuous connections to the island. Well, today the count is over 650, and still growing (it has grown substantially since this article was written, to over 1,000), and admittedly a substantial proportion sound French and are of French origin.

That does not exclude names of English origin from this website. Only this week we have added Kerby, now extinct in the island, but represented in the early 18th century by father and son, both named Farthingaudo Kerby, who were members of the island garrison. What a wonderful given name. If I had been baptised Farthingaudo I would certainly want my first son to have borne the same name. As it was, we are both Michaels.

Although they have no long tradition in the island, and are far from being French in origin, the Kerby family are very welcome in our pages. But where do we start and where do we stop?

The simple answer is that any family which has been represented in Jersey at any time is welcome within our pages, whatever its origin, however long or short its stay, and wherever its members eventually settled. There are Huguenot families which passed through the Channel Islands in the 17th and 18th centuries who had an impact on our community, even if their stay was brief.

And let's be honest. Anyone seeking to trace their family history and discovering that they spent some time in Jersey is not really interested in how long. They want to know where they came from and where they left for!

New family names

I have just spent the best part of a day studying a series of articles published two decades back in the journal of the Channel Island Family History Society analysing the surnames of French origin to be found in the 1991 Jersey telephone directory. During the course of this study I identified some 40 names which did not feature in Jerripedia's Family pages section, but perhaps should do.

That led to a search for more information about the presence of these families in the island, and a search for family trees stretching back well before 1991. I was disappointed to discover that I could find information worthy of inclusion in Jerripedia for only nine of these families. So what of the others?

Well, they just go to prove that a French-sounding name does not mean a long ancestry in Jersey, or even a French background at all. After all, although Montgomery, Sinclair, Vernon and Noble will be familiar to French genealogists, those bearing the name in the 1991 Jersey phonebook may, and probably did, have nothing whatsoever to do with France in their background.

Others, such as Guilbert, Le Jehan, Fallaize, Bouchet, Vasse, Le Page and Le Petit are well known in Guernsey, and although the odd family member may have slipped across to Jersey, the names have no tradition in this island.

Several, such as Marie, Dreux, Beuzeval, Cassin, Vallois, Cotillard and Le Long seem to have made their first appearance in the 1881 Jersey census, suggesting that they were immigrant French farm workers, among the first to be attracted to the island to work in its potato industry. I must say that, although they had not previously featured in my list of established local families, I was surprised to discover that Marie, Beuzeval and Cotillard at least, names well known in Jersey in the 20th century, did not have a longer island background. After all, Marie is probably the most common surname in Normandy, yet it never seems to have become established in Jersey.

Share your information!

I may be wrong, and if there are Jerripedia users reading this who have information about these, and any other families in Jersey, then please register and share your information with us!

The exercise has, at least, identified that the Touzel, Labey, Fallaize, de la Cour, Jeanne and Gautier families should be included in Jerripedia's Family pages, but which others are missing? Essentially, any family which became established in the island for two or three generations only is worth including, if information is available about where it came from and where descendants settled. That must include Green, Brown, Black, White, Jones, etc, and more recently de Freitas, de Jesus, Pereira, da Costa and others from Portugal.

And what about Smith? I can't say a word against them, because my maternal grandmother was a Smith from Lancashire. I've spent hours and hours trying to research her family background, and only made it back two or three generations. There must be Smiths in Jersey today who are close relatives, but how to find them among the hundreds with this name who lived in the island during the 20th century?

I probably have a much greater chance of locating them, however, than identifying the Bissons who first moved to Jersey from Normandy in about the 12th century. Such are the pleasures and perils of family history research.

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