The EASTHAM Surname
Shakespeare’s famous quote is particularly appropriate when referring to the EASTHAM surname. It’s a GOOD name, and its origins are in Lancashire, the County of the Red Rose. 🙂Historically speaking, surnames are a rather recent development. In England, surnames were not commonly used until the 1400’s and only became required by law under King Henry VIII in the 1500’s. Before that, people used their given ‘Christian’ name followed or preceded by some sort of descriptive: John, Albert’s son (patronymic); John from Preston (geographical); John the baker (occupational); Short John (physically descriptive); Eastside John (locational), etc. When John, the son of Albert, was a short baker who lived on the east side of town, he could be described all four ways in the records, and it can get very confusing!
When surnames became a requirement, these descriptive names were formalized: John Albertson, John Preston, John Baker, John Short, John Eastham, etc., and an individual would use only the one formal surname. Makes things much simpler!
EASTHAM is what is called a ‘locational’ or ‘geographical’ name, which is to say that it describes where we lived.
The general source of the [Eastham] name is the Olde English pre-7th Century elements, “east“ meaning to the east (of the village) plus -tun [town] or –ham [hamlet, village]. The Olde English phrase “be eastan tune” meant the place to the east of the settlement.
(The Internet Surname Database, “Last Name: Eastham”, retrieved 5 July 2017.)
The fact that our name consists of Olde English words from before the 7th century (600 CE) is another indicator that England has been our home for well over a thousand years. Apparently, in the 1400’s-1500’s, when surnames came into use, our ancestors lived ‘to the east’ of the nearest hamlet, or perhaps they lived on the eastern edge of it.
Many folks with the surname EASTHAM originated from towns named ‘Eastham’, and at one time, I thought that would be true of our line. One of those towns is a village near Chester, in the county of Cheshire; another is in Worcestershire County. Both counties border on Lancashire. It is possible that our people came from those areas long, long ago, but I have my doubts. I think our people have been living along the Ribble River near Preston for many, many centuries. I have seen records from that locality as early as the 1400’s that appear to belong to our family and which already use the surname EASTHAM, although I have not been able to make definite connections. At this point, I can’t say, for example, that Adam Eastham, who lived in the Preston area in the 1400’s, was definitely our ancestor, even though I think he probably was.
However, we do know who our ancestors were back to the mid-1500’s, and that’s pretty good for any family, especially for people of ‘commoner’ status.
Yes, we are commoners. I hope you aren’t disappointed. I was actually relieved. My husband is descended from or related to almost every famous king and ruler you’ve ever heard of, and it’s not something to be proud of. Those people imprisoned their mothers and killed their own siblings, fathers, wives and children, all to preserve wealth and power. I really don’t WANT to be related to them!
Our people, on the other hand, were decent, hard-working people like YOU – people that we can be very proud of.
By the way, if anyone tries to sell you an EASTHAM ‘family crest’, just ignore them. Crests were awarded to individuals, not families, and could be inherited only by the oldest living male descendant. Other family members had to have permission to display them, or be at risk of legal prosecution. (Still true today, in England.) To date we have not found any EASTHAM ancestor who would have been awarded a crest, and since most of our ancestors were middle or youngest sons, our line still would not have been entitled to bear such a crest. Sorry. Frankly, I’m proud that we are not from the class that mercilessly used and abused people – including their own families – for the sake of power and wealth, but that our people took care of each other and were loyal to each other. We can be PROUD of our family!
There are only two branches of Easthams in America: our own branch (in 2017, that’s about 20-25 people surnamed EASTHAM, and about 100 more for whom John Moses Eastham is their ancestor), and the second is a Kentucky-based group descended from a married couple that came to America ‘way back when’ and to which we have not yet been connected – we may not even be related. (There aren’t many of that group in America, either: only a little over 500.) But we have some cousins in Canada and Australia, and almost 3000 ‘Eastham’ cousins in England!
Ninety-one per cent of British folks with the surname EASTHAM live in Lancashire County, England, where we came from. The other 9% are scattered all over England, with no county having more than 1% of all Easthams residing within its borders. EASTHAMs are Lancashire people!
All our EASTHAM ancestors that I’ve been able to trace – back to the mid-1500’s – lived in Lancashire, and specifically in the region immediately south of Preston. It’s a pretty safe bet that our EASTHAM family originated somewhere in Lancashire, England and probably in a settlement along the Ribble River. It’s also a pretty safe bet that our Eastham forebears were Brits for many centuries before the 1500’s.
To verify this suspicion, I had my DNA analyzed. I knew that three of my four grandparents were actually born and raised in England, while my paternal grandfather was almost pure Irish, even though his family has been in America since the 1840’s. (There was a family story that at some point, some French also got mixed in with the Irish.) My DNA report agrees precisely with what I had been told about my ancestry.
My DNA report shows:
- 88% Great Britain,
- 8% Irish,
- 3% Western Europe (specifically north-western France), and
- < 1% Scandinavian (as expected, since Grandma Eastham’s HARLING ancestry originated with the Vikings long, long ago, and some of our other British ‘mothers’ may have had a touch of Viking blood, as well).
Both my British DNA and Irish DNA are concentrated in exactly the areas they should be: The Irish is centered in Limerick and Kerry (homeland of my EGAN forebears), and my English DNA is overwhelmingly identified as coming from the English “Midlands,” particularly Lancashire.
Most Americans’ DNA will have traces of multiple locations, because America really is a melting pot. However, because all my grandparents were recent emigrants, there was no time for that mixing to occur.
My three English grandparents account for the great majority of my DNA.
In other words, my DNA shows that my ancestors have lived in the British Isles, specifically in Lancashire, for millennia, with only minor and infrequent input from other nearby areas.
That makes me living proof that the EASTHAMs originated in Lancashire, England, and we’ve been there so long that any other ‘prehistoric’ DNA (from Europe, Asia or Africa, etc.) has been watered down to nothing in my genome.
Sue Egan Wyatt
27 Aug 2017 – Aqaba, Jordan
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