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Archive for the ‘Renshaws’ Category

Since the village of Renishaw in Derbyshire, England is likely to be one origin of the surname RENSHAW, I thought it might be useful to look at the history of the place-name as well as the surname.

In The Place Names of Derbyshire published by the English Place-Name Society in 1959, they show that the place Renishaw has been identified in ancient documents dating from 1216 onwards:

1216 Reynold schaie
1281 Reynalddeschawe
1485 Reynalschawe
1545 Raynaldeshawe
1570 Ranaldshawe
1570 Reynishaw
1587 Rayneshawe
1595 Renishawe

The book says that the name means ‘Reynold’s copse’, the shaw part deriving from Saxon ‘sceaga’ (copse) and the Reynold part from Old German ‘Reginald’.  Since there is nothing French in the name, it seems possible it dates from pre-Norman times.  The 1086 Domesday survey is not much help to us.  In Eckington parish the only place-name given that could possibly be Renishaw is ‘Ravensholme’ but all the spellings in the list above lean towards the place being known as ‘Reynold’s shawe’ rather than ‘ravens’ anything.  The ‘Reynold’  attribution could explain why the early versions of the surname so often had REYN- at the beginning.

In contrast, my Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames (1997) states that variants of the surname are: RAVENSHAW, RAVENSHEAR, RAMSHAW, RAMSHIRE, RAMSHAW, RENSHAW, RENSHALL, RENSHELL, and that the name means ‘dweller by the raven wood’ as at Ravenshaw in Warwickshire and Renishaw in Derbyshire.  It gives these examples:

Stephen de Ravenshagh 1332 (Lancs Subsidy Roll)
Ralph Raynshae or Renshae 1548, 1561 (Cheshire)
Robert RAVENSHAW, RAMSHAW 1606, 1617 (Cheshire)
Randle RENSHAW 1613 (Cheshire)
John RENSHALL 1679 (Cheshire)

Recently I found another early example of our surname at the ICMA Centre’s website for their research into The Soldier in Later Medieval England (1369-1453).  In their Muster Roll database, a Thomas REYNSHAWE is listed, a man-at-arms for John Vere, Earl of Oxford under commander Richard Duke of York on an expedition to France in 1441.  Also in the database are 10 people with the surname RAVENSHAW or similar spellings.

Taking all these details into account, I’ve come round even more firmly than before to thinking there were at least two origins for the surname, with one group based on  Ravenshaw in Warwickshire and another derived from Renishaw in Derbyshire.  There could be other separate groups too – RAMSHAW is a strong candidate for a different origin and in Staffordshire there are RANSHAWs that have always been RANSHAWs and never written as anything else even in early documents.  DNA testing shows that one or more RAMSHAWs do not match RENSHAWs and at least one RANSHAW doesn’t match either.  DNA of OLLERENSHAWs is also distinct from RENSHAWs and it’s virtually certain that surname derives from the place Ollerenshaw on the Derbyshire/Cheshire border.  So far, however, we haven’t had a RAVENSHAW candidate to test so if there’s anyone out there called RAVENSHAW who would like to help us out….

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So far it’s evident that Derbyshire RENSHAWs congregated mainly in the Chesterfield area, in the metal-working villages of the north-east corner close to Sheffield, around the lead mining locations in the Peak (especially near Wirksworth) and, later, in the coal-mining areas.  Before the industrial revolution was fully in swing, many RENSHAWs combined small-scale pastoral farming with metal-working and mining but the underground bounties of the county were vital to their  lives at all levels, from labourers to merchants and gentry.

The plan for the RENSHAW name-study is to collect as much information as possible, from Church of England and non-conformist records (births, baptisms, marriages, burials) and from harder to find sources such as Wills, newspapers and archive documents. Gradually, I will post up links at this site to files of data resources that you can download for your own research.  I am not going to put all these kinds of data into individual posts as that will make them far too long and boring.

Personally, I think that Adobe Acrobat pdf files are a good way of providing data, but not everyone agrees with me.  Some people, for instance, might prefer webpages of data in html format.  I am open to comments or suggestions on this so please let me know if you have an opinion.  And to help you form one, here is my first link to a data resource: Derbyshire RENSHAW WILLS (Abstracts)

This pdf file contains abstracts of all the RENSHAW Wills I have been able to locate at Lichfield Record Office.  On visits over several years, I collected details of the Wills from the handwritten calendars at LRO then photographed them all.  I transcribed them at home and now I’ve produced short abstracts from the transcripts.  There are RENSHAW Wills from other parts of Lichfield Diocese (Staffordshire and parts of Cheshire, Warwickshire and Shropshire) but I’ve started with the most numerous Derbyshire Wills.

Finding Wills is always difficult.  In England and Wales before 1858 (when probate became a civil matter rather than a religious one), there were complicated rules about which type of religious court must be used to prove any particular Will, and the courts were part of Church of England dioceses whose boundaries did not match the counties of the time.  It can be a nightmare to find the right path through the probate woods, so I thought RENSHAW-hunters might enjoy a short cut to Derbyshire Wills.  Since the parish registers (PRs) and bishop’s transcripts (BTs) for many of the county’s parishes only start in the 1650s or later, earlier ones having been destroyed during the Civil War, early Wills can often be the only way to work out family relationships.

Try out the link and the file and let me know if you like the format or would prefer a different approach.

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Well over a hundred variants of the surname RENSHAW have been found so far in original documents, as you can see here, and there are bound to be more.  The only sure thing we can say about RENSHAW spellings is that they all contain a letter R, in either first or second position, everything else is up for grabs.  No wonder some of our ancestors seem to disappear into thin air – they’re probably hiding in a record somewhere behind the strangest possible spelling.

If you discover a variant that isn’t listed below, please post it in a comment.

RAIN(E)CHA RAIN(E)SHA RAIN(E)SHAL(L)(E) RAIN(E)SHAW(E)
RAIN(E)SHEW(E) RAIN(E)TIAL(L)(E) RAMSHA RAMSHAW(E)
RAMSHAL(L)(E) RAMSHAY(E) RAMSHIRE RANCHA
RANCHER RAINIESHAW RANSCHA RANSHA
RANSHAIL RANSHAL(L)(E) RANSHARD RANSHAW(E)
RANSHAY(E) RANSHEW RANTIAL(L)(E) RAUSHAW(E)
RAVENSEA RAVENSHA RAVENSHAL(L)(E) RAVENSHAW(E)
RAVENSHEAR(E) RAVENSHER(E) RAYNDESHON RAYN(E)SHAW(E)
RAYN(E)SHA(Y)(E) RAYN(E)SHEW(E) REINCHA REINCHAY(E)
REINSHA REINSHAL(L)(E) REINSHAW(E) REINSHAY(E)
REINTIAL(L)(E) REMSHAW(E) REMPSHAW(E) RENCHA
RENCHAY(E) RENCHER RENSAW RENSHA
RENSHAL(L)(E) RENSHAM RENSHAN RENSHAR
RENSHAW(E) RENSHAY(E) RENSHEL(L)(E) RENSHION
RENSSHAW RENTIAL(L)(E) RENTSHAW REYNSHA(Y)(E)
REYNSHAW(E) RHENSHA RHENSHAW(E) RHENSHAL(L)(E)
RIMSHA RIMSHAL(L)(E) RIMSHAW(E) RIMSHAY(E)
RINCHER RINSHA RINSHAL(L)(E) RINSHAW(E)
RUMSHA(W)(E) RUMSHAL(L)(E) RUNSHA RUNSHAL(L)(E)
RUNSHAW(E) RUNSHAY(E) RUSHEN RUSHON
RYNCHAW(E) RYNSHAW(E) RYSHAW(E) WRANCHER
WRANSHAL(L)(E) WRANSHAW(E) WREINCHER WREINSHAW(E)
WRENCHER WRENSHAL(L) WRENSHAR WRENSHAW(E)
WRENSHLEY  WRINCHER    

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A question interests many RENSHAW descendants round the world : where did we all start out? While there’s general agreement the name is English in its origin, that’s about as far as agreement goes.

Knowing the meaning of a surname can sometimes help to pin down its roots. The ‘shaw’ part of RENSHAW comes from the Saxon for ‘wood’ (collection of trees, or a woody area that can’t be ploughed). Two differing theories are suggested for the ‘Ren’ part: (1) it is shortened from Reignold’s or Reynold’s, as in the owner of the wood, so ‘Reignoldeshaw’ would have described someone living by the wood belonging to Reynold; (2) it used to be ‘raven’ and described a person living by a wood frequented by ravens. After all, one variant of the surname is RAVENSHAW – but then again there are about 100 variants of the name discovered so far.

The ‘Reynolds wood’ theory tends to be favoured by researchers who believe the name began in Derbyshire. In the north-east corner of the county, in the parish of Eckington, is a place called Renishaw, and there have been many people named RENSHAW in that part of Derbyshire and South Yorkshire since medieval times, including the family who gave me my married name. They were sicklesmiths and sickle grinders in the Eckington area for over 400 years, back to the early 1600s. An entry in the Derbyshire Eyre (travelling law court) of 1281 names a “William de Reignaldeschawe in Eckinton parish” and is the earliest reference to the name I’ve found in any location so far.

Researchers who favour the ‘ravens wood’ theory tend to think the surname started out in the border area of Lancashire and Cheshire near Manchester, where the largest numbers of RENSHAWs have congregated over the centuries. There are references to Sir Ralph REYNSHAW priest of Pott Shrigley, Cheshire, dating as far back as 1545.

Not surprisingly perhaps, considering my family’s origins, I plump for Derbyshire as the original location for RENSHAWs and I believe they spread, from medieval times onwards, to Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, London and eventually Scotland, Ireland – the world ! But the ‘first origins’ debate continues.

While it’s possible, of course, that the name started in more than one location, perhaps with different original meanings, DNA evidence doesn’t offer much support to that idea so far.

The RENSHAW DNA Project, overseen by Eleanor Gordon in the USA, who holds lots of information on RENSHAWs worldwide, aims to find genetic links between RENSHAWs scattered far afield and to help us discover a point (or points) of origin. RENSHAW ancestors in Derbyshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and Leicestershire are already known to be close in DNA terms, but we still don’t know which location came first. Take a look at the DNA Project website (http://www.renshawdna.com/) to learn more about this fascinating topic.

Here at Morganhold, I’ll be regularly adding articles and resources for RENSHAW research across the UK.

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