Elmers, Aylmers and the Normans

Although I haven’t posted about it much here and I haven’t updated the Ed Elmer blogspot site in a while, we’re continuing to recruit members and add evidence and to shore up our discoveries using Autosomal and Y DNA. We have a broad range of interests in our small group. We have members whose Y DNA shows a clear connection to Ed Elmer but are struggling with brick walls in documenting that connection. We have members trying to push beyond Ed to clear up some of the mysteries surrounding his family in England (something a lot of good researchers have not been able to do) and we have another small subset that is interested in the story of what made these Elmers…”Elmers”.

This post is generally for that last small group, although I suppose it might be applicable to others.

I’ve been ruminating the last few days on various discussions with with different groups as most of us are trying to use Y DNA to push our family trees back and to test out our family mythologies. Particularly conversations in our Ed Elmer focused elmer-elmore google group and with the Lunsfords.

Given our Y DNA results we’re all looking at a common male ancestor around 950 AD, but our family myths have us coming from various different dispersed areas in Southeast England. Namely Norfolk (Elmers), Sussex (Lunsfords) and Kent (Knowltons). Some of those family myths stretch back to 1066 AD which is getting very close to our meeting point. A question raised was, why don’t we see more cross over between these families?

The Blessing and Curse of Surnames

Because I’m a Thompson, I’ve had to accept a few basic truths about surnames. They do not always indicate related families. The spellings of them do not always follow the rules. They are pretty easily modified, picked up or dropped by any individual at any time.

I’ve actually spent a lot of time trying to hash out what it means to be a Thompson and how reality differs from the Thompson mythology. The minimum requirement for a Thompson or Thomson is to be the son of  some Thomas or another. End of story.  Having said that, you will find a lot of Thompsons who don’t meet even that very liberal requirement because Thompson is also a name you pick to make life easier in an English speaking country.

It took me a while to break out of the mythology surrounding Thoms. You can see me jumping through those hoops in early posts here. No one should be surprised that I apply that same experience to the other surnames in my family.

I have found that people with rare surnames or in rare surname DNA projects, often struggle with those basic truths and how fluid surnames can be. People with generic job based or paternity/maternity based surnames are usually forced to face that fluidity head on. Think of all the Smith and Jones families out there. No one expects that every village blacksmith in europe shared the same male ancestor, but we will still try to shoehorn people with rarer surnames into the same paternity over and over again. That thinking is especially dangerous in genetic genealogy because it can lead to project admins saying your DNA doesn’t look like a “Sammons” or a “Rose”. The mythology of common ancestry becomes hurtful to both the people involved and the research of the surname.

Surname Bias

In the course of my research into my own paternal family, I’ve moved from a very common surname “Thompson” to a more uncommon surname “Elmer” and surname tradition and mythology and the focus on subtle differences become more powerful barriers. Surname bias gets stronger as there are fewer of you.

Forget for a minute that I’m a Thompson and consider that my great grandfather was an Elmore. I say that name El-more. Like “May I have some more”.  At a certain point farther back in my tree, the spelling Elmore was chosen over the spelling Elmer. When I say Elmer I say it like “El-mur”, like the “mer” in “mermaid”. In my neck of the woods those two pronunciations are very different and for a lot of people like me, that is a full-stop wall. Elmers are completely different from Elmores.  There are people in the world for whom Elmers becoming Elmores is not acceptable, let alone Thompsons becoming Elmores becoming Elmers.

Now imagine you are trying to work with people who may be related to Ed Elmer and you contact male Elmores to see if they will run a few Y tests? Your likelihood of success drops a good amount in that transition from Elmer to Elmore and recruiting those Elmores becomes nigh impossible if you’re a Thompson.

The inverse of that is explaining to two groups of Y tested Elmores in Kentucky that one of them is related to these Elmers from Connecticut, while the others are related to Elmores from Virginia and the two are completely unrelated on the paternal line.

That is the curse of surnames. They are given too much weight.

The blessing is, especially for Y DNA in our patriarchal society, they can be an important clue to relatedness. Elmers, Elmores and Ellmars from upstate New York can really benefit from comparing Y DNA results because their similar surnames and proximity to each other, might be a clue to shared paternal ancestry. Once you’ve determined shared paternal ancestry it can become easier to go beyond the surname bias and find actual documentation of a surname evolving within a genetic family.

So far, people we can prove are related to Ed Elmer carry the surname Elmer and Elmore but I imagine there are untapped surname variants out there. The other side of that coin is that there are a lot of unrelated but perfectly good Elmer and Elmore families out there too as you can see at the Elmore Y DNA project.

Aylmers and Aelmer

Please don’t be offended by the word mythology here. I use it lovingly because “cherished traditional story” is just too long.

The pervasive mythology of Edward Elmer’s ancestors is that he is really an Aylmer and that he is actually related to Bishop John Aylmer. You can see in John’s painting in the wikipedia article, the Elmer cross with the little black birds called choughs (part of the crow family mentioned for both Aylmers and Elmores in some arms books).

The next leap of faith for the name is that Aylmer is a form of Aelmer, a personal name of Saxon origin which occurs in the Domesday book (I’m sure I’ve mentioned them before connected to Knowlton in Devon).

You’ll see the Aylmer as Aelmer repeated in books about Bishop John Aylmer and they note his preference for the Saxon spelling of it.

segment of biography of Bishop John Aylmer

A couple of things bother me about this. The name Aelmer is definitely saxon and you can find it in the Domesday book for lords before 1066. I don’t think this text is technically wrong and our Y DNA would support a Saxon conclusion, but there are always zero Aelmers in charge of land after 1086. Saxon Aelmers lost the war and were replaced on their lands.

Aelmers Under Norman Rule and the Common Use of Surnames

Surnames came into common use in England with (and after) the Normans and lots of people have saxon names, especially in the trades like Baker. It makes sense for tax purposes if John the Baker is different than John the Smith. That makes sense whether they assumed the name or were assigned it.

People with patronymic names like “Thompson” can assume a Thomas in their past. Maybe a Thomas of local significance. Someone you want to be associated with.

If Aylmer is Aelmer after the Saxon given name from Domesday and the Aelmers in the Domesday were run off their holdings by incoming Normans, what would cause a person to want to associate with a deposed Saxon lord when the incoming regime is Norman? What benefit would there be in proudly maintaining that Saxon given name? It would be like a black mark on a family singling you out for Norman punishment.

Although Bishop John Aylmer was born in the 1520s and that seems like a long time ago and we might equate that with the Saxon/Norman transition because both are “old”, John was about the same distance from the end of Saxon rule as we are from him today. If he preferred the Saxon spelling of the name it may have had more to do with what he knew about the Saxons or maybe even knowledge of the previous Saxon clergy carrying the given name Aelmer, rather than some underlying knowledge of his own heritage.

Here is what the Oxford dictionary of British and Irish names has for Aylmer and Elmer:

Aylmer oxford dictionary section 1

Aylmer Oxford dictionary continued.

We’ll focus on the English name from the dictionary: “Variants: Aylmore, Elmore, Elmer, Ellmore, Elmar, Elmers, Helmore. English relationship name from the middle English personal name Ailmer, from old english Aethelmaere composed of the elements aethel “noble” and maere “famous”. See also Aymer.

In the list of variants you can see the Domesday Aelmers, but also post Norman given name Ailmers like Haelmerus from the Danelaw documents or Ailmerus le Bercher from 1212 AD or Godwinus filias Elmari 1115 AD.

So it seems that the given name Elmer survives the Normans and (in the case of Godwin there) is worth continuing as a patronymic. Again though, how is paying homage to a Saxon name of any benefit to a Norman land owner? I think the key there is “middle English”. Middle English is Norman English. The name Aelmer exists in old English, but it’s not just an old English anglo-saxon name. It’s older than that. It belongs to the continent.

Here is what surname DB has:

This interesting and long-established surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and derives from the Middle English male given name “Ailmar”, itself coming from the Olde English pre 7th Century “Aethelmaer”, a compound of the elements “aethel”, noble, and “maer”, famous, which was reinforced after the Norman conquest of 1066 by the introduction of “Ailmer”, from a Continental cognate.

Read more: http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/aylmer#ixzz4VwSSBQw4

The part I had to repeat there is the “reinforced after the Norman conquest of 1066 by the introduction of “Ailmer” from a Continental cognate.” The same given name, Ailmer, also comes over with the Normans from the continent.

Forgetting for a moment that Elmer is a perfectly good place name in Sussex or a nice enough descriptive name for a place where elms grow, this idea that the name spans continental culture grabbed me and made me think about my Y DNA and migration assumptions (yet again).

Our family is best understood by examining our other close (950 AD -1000 AD) paternal relatives the Lunsfords and Knowltons.

De Lundresford

Note: Entering dangerous ground here where powerful family mythology is concerned. I’m not a Lunsford expert, but I’m in a spot where I need to consider their family history, so my perspective is as a relative outsider unaware of all the work that has come before me. 

Conversations with our medieval Y cousins the Lunsfords (estimated common ancestor in 950 AD based on big Y) turned to earliest known ancestors, because we don’t see a lot of crossover between the Lunsfords, Knowltons and Elmers. Our real earliest provable is Ed Elmer 1610 AD, but the conversation was really about the mythological roots. For the Lunsfords the story is that they are related to Ingelramus De Lundresford who was an Anglo-Saxon and lost his land after the Norman invasion because he battled William at Hastings.

Neither of us could find the Lundresford or Lunsford farm in the Open Domesday site. So that was disappointing.

Two things came to bother me about Ingelramus De Lundresford. For one, he’s got a French surname. Since Normans pretty much start the surname boom, how did he get that in the time of the Saxons? Also, De Lundresford, in that age, denotes ownership or titles. If he was a saxon land owner, could I find him associated with some other property in 1066?

I could not, but it led me to the second bothering. I looked up Ingelramus and it appears it’s also a continental name, sometimes shortened to Ingram. All the Ingelranns and Ingrams in the Domesday are there replacing previous Saxon Lords. They fought on the side of the Normans, not against them.

I started looking around for references to the De Lundresford family and found this google book on Sussex:

Description of the holdings of Hugo De Lundresfordpart two of he Lunsford donations


There are places near Etchingham in the Domesday like Salehurst which show Robert the count of Eu as tenant. Or Drigsell (also part of Henhurst like Salehurst), also under Robert count of Eu with a lord of Cana in 1066 but under Aelfric after the Normans. The De Lundresford family tree has Aelric as the son of Ingelramus. Maybe that is him. Hard to say because no other name is listed than Aelfric.

The thing here again is that the De Lundresfords seem to be doing pretty well in post Norman England. Well enough to donate land.

Then I found another book on genealogy that is just swamped with Latin, the Collectanea topographica et genealogica. It mentions the De Lundresfords and Lunsfords. It does begin with Ingelramus De Lundresford in the time of Edward the confessor and then moves on from there, but the sentence above the charters regarding those entries in the family tree is pretty dire:

Charters intended as proofs of the preceding pedigree. The four first are in the original written in imitation of the Saxon characters, and are palpably forgeries, as not improbably, are some of those that follow.

The first four forgeries takes us from Edward through Harold Godwinson and the end of Saxon England.

There are a lot of De Lundresford charters again in Latin, one with a David, but you don’t really see any dates until you get to Hugo De Lundresford in the early 1200s. Those charters are followed by this bit which I’m going to include as an image because it’s pretty long:

De Lundresford possibly De Lodenesford from Kent

The basic idea in that image is that David De Lundresford in the fabricated Charters might actually be Daniel de Lodenesford who owned property in Yalding Kent. The Hamlet referred to as Lodingford is called Laddingford today and the author believes the De Lundresford family probably got their name from that town in Kent.

If you go to the open Domesday, Yalding Kent is under Richard, the son of Count Gilbert. Count Gilbert is the count of Brionne in Normandy. Gilbert is the son of Geoffrey…the count of Eu (see above about Hugo De Lundresford and his lands adjacent to the forest of the Count of Eu and Aelfric who is in charge of Henhurst in 1086 under the Count of Eu a hundred years and some before the De Lundresfords decide to donate to the church).

What is interesting about Richard son of Count Gilbert is that he spent time with Baldwin V. Count of Flanders. It turns out there was a decent Flemish contingent in the Norman army. The Norman army was not all Normans I guess.

Chenolton Knolton Knowlton

Note: Again, here there be dragons. The Knowltons are doing a lot of work on their own family lines and may come to completely different conclusions than past Knowlton researchers, in this I’m looking at common Knowlton mythology and am probably missing the finer points of their latest research.

Most discussion of Knowltons in history begins with Charles Stocking who did his best to put all the pieces together and organized a lot of the Knowlton families. I envy that organization when looking at our Elmers.

Stocking talks about Knowlton Dorset but quickly shifts to Knowlton in Kent where there were apparently more people carrying the surname Knowlton generally to research. Since we’re most interested in the paternal lines involved in the Knowlton family it’s helpful to note that ownership of Knowlton passed from a father to a daughter very early on. The daughter married William De Langley or De Longly and their son picked the name William Knowlton. We have the beginning of one paternal line in the 1300s.

The general sense I get from most Knowltons is that Kent is their home turf. Paternally William de Langley in whatever internet sources I’ve been able to find, appears to be related to his brother Richard Middleton who took his name from Middleton in Lancashire with the Langleys also tied to county Durham. Quite a distance from Knowlton Hall in Kent. Which makes me think that these families were much more mobile than I have previously imagined.

Stocking’s text is kind of confusing to me but it appears that Knowlton Hall changed hands several times through marriage with various lines of men going extinct. It is hard to imagine which if any of these families our Knowltons might be related to.  Stocking picks a Richard Knowlton 1553 as the first Knowlton in the line of American Knowltons, calling him Richard of Kent, but I’ve struggled to find records for Richard outside of other family trees.

I did find a list of “extinct” families that contained several of the Langley-Knowltons and Peytons etc associated with Kent. In the 1700s Knowlton Hall and the baronetcy changed over to a family from Flanders. The D’aeth family and they too added Knowlton to their name, but that seems too young for the triangulated DNA of the descendants of John Knowlton (who are our Y matches).

The Knowltons have discovered some great new documents about Knowltons in Middlesex in the 1600s which is around the time they would expect of the father of their last Y triangulated relative John. Stocking mentions Middlesex as a repository for Knowltons, but focuses on Kent. Uxbridge has an interestingly named neighbor “Hillingdon” which is mentioned in the Domesday. Knoll being a small hill..eh? eh? Get it?

Still it seems like we’re talking about a pretty recent surname based on a place or landscape feature and we would have to consider that the name of that area has changed or that the landscape feature may not exist anymore.  So as far as surnames go, the Knowltons are in no better shape than the Elmers. 

Norfolk to Essex, Aelmer to Arnulf and Ranulf the Rabbit Hole

I tried to bridge the gap between the 1500s and the Domesday which turned into a pretty good goose chase, but in the end was informative.

I know that the Aylmers are traditionally located in Norfolk, but Ed Elmer seems tied to Essex most often because he was listed in the Braintree Company of Reverend Hooker. Bishop John Aylmer also owned land in Essex at Mugden or Mowden Hall in Hatfield-Peverel. Essex seems like a reasonable place to look for Aylmer/Elmers.

Also, with the Lunsfords in Sussex or Kent and the Knowltons in Kent or middlesex, what if Norfolk is too far “North”? What if it was just the recent home of the much more mobile Aylmers in the 1500s? Should I be looking for the Aylmers farther south?

As I was looking for Aylmer references, I ran across this document listing the medieval village at Sheering, about 22 miles west of Hatfield-Peverel. There is an English Aylmers manor owned by Thomas Aylmer in the 1400s.

“The manor of SHEERING or HUTTONS or AYLMERS lay in the south-west, near Ealing bridge. It originated as a free tenement of 60 a. which in 1241 was granted by the lords of Sheering Hall manor to Ralph Gobion. Thomas Aylmer, who was holding it in 1427, was succeeded c. 1429 by his infant son William. In 1465 William Aylmer sold it to Thomas Colte.”

The Aylmer activity in the area got me back over to the Domesday book to look at Hatfield Peverel. It turns out it is one of the areas that passed from one of the Aelmers in the Domesday over to several Norman Lords.  One of them caught my eye, Arnulf of Hatfield. Mainly because he was of Hatfield, but was still somehow in with the Normans.

I couldn’t find much on Arnulf of Hatfield, but did accidentally click on Arnulf of Hesdin and found a nice article about him. I had to wonder if Arnulf of Hesdin was Arnulf of Hatfield. Arnulf had a pretty full life including titles and lands in Normandy under the overlordship of the count of Flanders.

Ranulf Peverel (it’s right in the name: Hatfield, Peverel) turned out to be the maternal half brother of William the Bastard’s bastard. No one seems to know where Peverel comes from although the wikipedia article mentions that they think Ranulf’s family was possibly from Flanders.

I became daunted by this diversion as you can literally get lost trying to decipher all the ways these people are related and even though the Normans are usually considered the starting shot of static surnames in England, the new Norman Lords seem to be pretty nonchalant about surname standards.

Back to Oxford Surnames for Elmers in Sussex

Elmer surname Oxford Dictionary

Here we have a listing of Elmers beginning in the 1500s with a pretty broad range and contemporary with John Aylmer. I became interested in Elmer as a place name, so I looked into Elmer in Middleton Sussex. Middleton is listed in the Domesday, but Elmer is not. It seems most notable for recent resort development and as a coast guard station.

I did find a note about it on a historical site for middleton:

“The reputed manor of ELMER, which was not apparently called a manor before 1590, perhaps originated in the four hides and five yardlands which three Frenchmen held of Middleton in 1086; since Felpham manor’s hidation had been reduced by about the same amount since 1066  the estate may have been detached from that. At the division of the d’Aubigny inheritance in 1243 the overlordship passed with the share of Robert Tattershall.  William de Montfort held five fees in Elmer and elsewhere between 1303 and his death in 1310,  and William Elmer at his death c. 1325 held a house and six yardlands there of Barpham manor in Angmering; his heir was his son, also William. ”

So generally there are Elmers in Sussex earlier than the 1500s and that might one day prove to be a tie in with the Lunsfords.

Chasing Godwin son of Elmar

Aylmer Oxford dictionary continued.

How about Godwinus Filius Elmari 1115, Winton Domesday (Hants)? It turns out “Hants” is the short name for Hampshire and is related to Southampton through some translation of an anglo-saxon name for the area. I looked up Winton in Hampshire and found that it was a new town built in the 1800s and named after a castle in Scotland?

I couldn’t find Godwinus Filius Elmari online in the Open Domesday, but at 1115 AD it might be too new for the Open Domesday?

I did find the location of  Winkton in the Open Domesday about 20 miles from Southampton near Bournemouth and thought maybe it could be the “winton” for Godwin son of Elmar. Winkton’s tennant in chief under the Normans was Waleran the Hunter.  I looked him up and found a nice website with some descendants and a nice explanation of the name Waleran:

“Prior to 1066, Fifehead Neville was held by an unnamed English thegn (nobleman), but by the time of the completion of the Domesday Book in 1087, the manor of Fifehead Neville is recorded as being in the possession of Waleran Venator. The name Waleran (meaning Wall or ‘Strong’ Raven the Huntsman) is Germainic, and was introduced to Britain by the Anglo-Saxons in the eighth century, but was also re-introduced at the Conquest by the Norman-French. Waleran could possibly have been a native Englishman, but it is more likely that he was a Norman invader, who accompanied William I on his Conquest, and as a favourite was rewarded with huge hunting estates. His under-tenant in Fifehead Neville was Ingelrann, who also held land in Somerset after the Conquest (see Domesday Fifehead). …”

This particular entry is interesting because it mentions one of the Ingelranns in the Domesday. Ingelrann of course of interest because of the Lunsfords Ingelram or Ingelramus (latinized I suppose). On a side note, Ingelrann’s fifehead neville land is about 20 miles from Knowlton in Dorset. Just another in an endless series of connections we could make.

The Takeaway

There are a lot of options for being an Elmer in the 1100s and 1200s and 1300s, the only limiting factor seems to be our imagination.

What got my attention during These searches in Hampshire is the use of Germanic names among Normans. Names that had matching anglo-saxon equivalents but have been reintroduced by the Normans and are used by people who do well under Anglo-Norman rule.


Searching through the Open Domesday and looking at various entries often led to connections with Flanders (Like Eustace of Boulogne or Arnulf of Hesdin). Many Germanic names were re-introduced by the Normans from the continent and given Flanders position in the low countries and other English Y DNA matches that seem to have either Belgian or French derived names like “Dameron” and “Franklin” I decided to check for medieval Flemish names.

Eventually I found a site devoted to  several centuries of given names in the low countries before 1150 that included Flanders. I’m going to recreate part of a table of names from the site here:

low countries names before 1150 including Ailmer

Of course I’ve got Athelmar up top as a companion to the Anglo Saxon Aethelmaer. Ingelramnus as a companion for the Lunsford Ingelramus. Walramus…just for the heck of it because of that guy named Walramus in the domesday and Arnulf again just for the heck of it. Athalmar isn’t as popular as others but it seems to be recorded more in the later centuries.

Here is Flanders in light pink:

I think Medieval Flanders was larger than that, but you get the idea.

It doesn’t have to be Flanders of course, but they just kept grabbing me and forcing me to look at them.  I found a few sites devoted to Norman given names.

Here is a wiktionary page of Norman given names that contains Edelmir which I’m certain is also a cognate for Aethelmaer.

Here is another page devoted to Norman names borrowed from the Franks that also contains Ingelramus, but doesn’t specifically call out Elmer or a variant…although it does have Aylard and Aymer.

A Genetic Case for Norman Era Continental Ancestors

I’ve mentioned the Damerons before, but it bears bringing them up here too. Consistent matches to the Elmers at Y37, the Damerons are also speculatively, from England. They have found records for a Lawrence Dameron in Ipswich in the early 1600s that would be in keeping with their Virginia ancestor.  The surname Dameron has a few different origin stories on the Dameron family site they give the origin as Flanders with the Germanic reading of the name.

Ancestry.com lists this:  “French: nickname for a foppish or effeminate young man, Old French dameron, a derivative of Latin dominus ‘lord’, ‘master’ plus two diminutive endings suggestive of weakness or childishness.”

Either way we’re looking at a continental surname which could mean roots in the continent or that the people naming you spoke a continental language. The Dameron site gives the age of the surname in the 1400s which would make it a younger name, like Knowlton and might also suggest closer ties to the continent.

STR results suggest that the Damerons are more closely related to the Elmers than some other families, but without Big Y or other next generation Y testing it’s hard to tell exactly how close. They do have our DYS458.2 value placing them closer than about 400 BC but they don’t have all of the other distinctive values the Lunsfords, Knowltons and Elmers seem to share.

Big Y has placed the Knowltons, Lunsfords and Elmers in a group currently defined best by the SNP ZP124. The U106 group ages the common ancestor for that group around 950 AD. All three families claim England. The Elmers and Knowltons continue on for one more named SNP, ZP129 aged around 1000 AD (meaning at least one more generation together).

We have a brother branch that is defined by ZP125 which I’ve mentioned before. It has more members. One family claims England, one claims Netherlands, one Belgium and another claims Poland.  The English family, Wright, is the most distantly related in the group and has not been given an age estimate. The Winne, DeBurghgraeve and Stanuszek families continue on to another named SNP ZP150 which is aged to around 1200 AD. Winne and Deburghgraeve continue on together at least one more SNP beyond that.

ZP150 is interesting because (at 1200 AD) it fits well with a migration event that included people from the Netherlands and Flanders moving to Poland. Stanuszek provided some surname information that would fit with that assessment, so we have a nice historical precedent for that west to east migration.

This from a wikipedia article on the history of Germans in Poland: “The civil strife and foreign invasions, such as the Mongol invasions in 1241, 1259 and 1287, weakened and depopulated the many small Polish principalities, as the country was becoming progressively more subdivided. The depopulation and the increasing demand for labor in the developing economy caused a massive immigration of West European peasants, mostly German settlers, into Poland (early waves from Germany and Flanders in the 1220s).”

Concerning the Wright family, it’s hard to make a lot of headway. They are likely on a siginificantly older branch than the other men in the Belgian/Dutch ZP125 with no real clue other than a Saxon job surname. Well, the word Wright itself is a Saxon word, but the Surnamedb has a listing for the first record of the name as Patere le Writh in 1214 AD in Sussex. The use of Wright as a surname started to come together quite a while after the Norman invasion.

In any case, we might be splitting hairs as this wikipedia article section on 7th century Flanders shows that the place was populated by the descendants of Saxons and Franks and by people from the Netherlands and Germany.

Both the ZP124 (Elmer etc) group and the ZP125 (DeBurghgraeve etc) group meet up at ZP121 which is a cluster of SNPs estimated to have a common ancestor around 600 AD which places our common ancestor within the time of the Germanic migrations.

Although I’ve always favored the Danes as the source of our widespread Y DNA, I have to admit that closer to home from 600 AD on, we Elmer/Knowlton/Lunsfords match more closely with people who lived just across the channel than we do with our friends from Norway.

An Administrative Case for a Post Norman ZP124 Diaspora

Two questions that kicked off my Norman travelogue were how can we (in the ZP124 group) be so closely related 950AD but be so distributed in England and why don’t we see more overlap between the families?

Previously, I’ve used these same dates and ideas to propose a Saxon source or a Viking source for our Y DNA but now I think a Norman conquest source is probably just as likely to explain the dispersed nature of our families in southeast England.

As I was reading up on the Flemish contribution…kind of painfully laid out in this essay. I was particularly struck by something that I had also noticed looking at the Domesday book. Some Normans had very widespread holdings in different counties. The final paragraph of the essay talks about this and how it may have been purposefully done to weaken the Flemish tenants in chief. Basically they cannot consolidate power (even among their own holdings) because they are spread all over the place to begin with.

I’m pretty sure the Normans brought people with them that they felt they could trust. They had to rule a large Anglo-Saxon-Danish population.

One could imagine members of a Flemish or Norman family following a lord, maybe from their area back home, and being spread around his many estates. It’s not like we have a list of all the rank and file Norman or Flemish people that fought with William. With only a hundred years or so between the three ZP124 families in England, it’s easy to imagine them as first cousins being placed in various fiefs scattered around a nobleman’s holdings.

After the conquest, several of the families I searched through, seem to do pretty well for themselves and show quite a bit of mobility as lands and titles change about. As the essay points out, the Flemish seem to blend in and don’t form a cohesive power group in Norman England. My guess would be that they became just as Anglo-Norman as the Normans and that within a few generations that Flemish identity was gone even though wealth, land or titles may have given later generations the power to move about adding to that earlier forced mobility and dispersal of Y DNA around various counties.

That last bit doesn’t really require being Flemish of course, but they are a particular example of people spread around on purpose. People with some wealth and power coming out of the Norman conquest are much more likely to want to venerate a parent by taking their given name “Ailmer” as a surname.

If the Normans were so Good to us…Why Give it all up?

So why would John Aylmer prefer the Saxon spelling of Aelmer and why would the De Lundresfords have a fudged pedigree back to the last Saxon king?

Is it possible that at a certain point in England there was a revival of Saxon heritage, like people looking back on a bygone age, that caused people to identify with their Saxon names (like Aelmer over Ailmer or Aylmer) or to chose a Saxon story to complete their lines back to pre-conquest England (like it appears the De Lundresfords did)? Did it become less fashionable to be associated with the Norman invaders and their French connections and more fashionable to look back to Alfred the Great and the Saxon kings as a source of national unity?

Perhaps I should read this book to find out. It’s description certainly suggests so: The Elizabethan Invention of Anglo-Saxon England. This from the description:

Full of fresh and illuminating insights into a way of looking at the English past in the sixteenth century… a book with the potential to deepen and transform our understanding of Tudor attitudes to ethnic identity and the national past.” Philip Schwyzer, University of Exeter. Laurence Nowell (1530-c.1570), author of the first dictionary of Old English, and William Lambarde (1536-1601), Nowell’s prot g and eventually the first editor of the Old English Laws, are key figures in Elizabethan historical discourses and in its political and literary society; through their work the period between the Germanic migrations and the Norman Conquest came to be regarded as a foundational time for Elizabethan England”


“Their studies took different strategies in demonstrating the role of early medieval history in Elizabethan national — even imperial — identity, while in Lambarde’s legal writings Old English law codes become identical with the “ancient laws” that underpinned contemporary common law. Their efforts contradict the assumption that Anglo-Saxon studies did not effectively participate in Tudor nationalism outside of Protestant polemic; instead, it was a vital part of making history “English”.


People in Elizabethan England and probably later had their own family mythology too and the authority we give them because they are “old” and their preferences for Saxon England as a standard for Englishness, may color our research today.



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