The hidden secrets discerned in data sets
A STUDY UNDERTAKEN by University College London a few years ago gave genealogists useful statistical information about the distribution and frequency of family surnames in Great Britain.
The research project produced a website, Great Britain Family Name Profiling, which enabled researchers to search individual surnames to see in which parts of the country that surname was most common and how many people shared it.
The study compared two datasets, the 1881 Census and a newly-compiled set of surnames statistics created in 1998. As far as we Sheldons are concerned, over 117 years little changed. In both sets of data the Sheldon surname had a frequency rate of 168 per million names.
UCL's Sheldon analysis
|FREQUENCY||1881 census||1998 study||Change|
A total of 4,550 Sheldons were listed in the 1881 census, compared to 6,256 in the 1998 dataset, the difference being accounted for by the overall increase in population.
The Sheldon name was well down the popular-name rankings, standing at 976 in 1881 and slipping four places to 980 in 1998.
In 1881, the heaviest concentrations of Sheldons were found in the Black Country towns of Walsall and Dudley, followed by Staffordshire (Stoke-on-Trent), Derbyshire and Stockport. Next up were Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sheffield.
The populations of most of these towns and cities had grown substantially during the 19th century in the wake of the industrial revolution, which saw millions of people move from rural employment to better-paying jobs in the urban centres.
Gaining insight into our Sheldon deep roots
Significant numbers of Sheldons were also found in Oxfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and London.
The 1998 results were broadly similar, with numbers concentrated in the Midlands, though it is clear that the changing industrial landscape was encouraging Sheldons to spread themselves more widely across the country.
The big question is that if we extrapolate that basic information back to medieval times will we get a bit more of an insight into our Sheldon deep roots.
If we look at the table above/below we can get an idea of the number of Sheldons who existed at various times over the 400 years between 1100 and 1500, from the early days of the Norman Conquest through to the Tudor period.
Estimates for that period suggest that the population of England and Wales in the year 1100 was a mere 1,800.000. If Sheldons accounted for the same percentage of the population then we are looking at just 300 or so individuals bearing the name.
Middle Ages analysis
|England and Wales population in millions||1.8||2.3||2.6||3.0||2.4||3.0||3.3||3.6|
|Number of Sheldons @ 168 per million||302||386||437||504||403||504||554||605|
If we take the average family size back then as being somewhere between six and eight (including parents), then we are probably looking at as few as 40 or 50 families.
Historians who specialise in the period tell us that hereditary surnames began to appear in England in the 11th century and were well established across most of the country by 1300. This certainly seems to be borne out by the Sheldons I’ve found in medieval records.
Furthermore, we know from those early records that there were almost certainly two distinct Sheldon ‘tribes’, those originating in the Warwickshire village of Sheldon and those from the moorlands of Derbyshire and north Staffordshire.
The spellings of the name would seem to confirm the theory, with ‘Scheldon’; appearing consistently in records relating to Warwickshire, while Derbyshire records, though somewhat fewer in number, give us the early spelling of ‘Scheladon’. Not a great distinction, but a distinction nevertheless.
Of course, all of this is highly theoretical, but if there were two separate Sheldon lines and our 40 to 50 families were spread between two locations, and bearing in mind that there might be two or three generations alive at the same time as well as sibling families, then we are looking a very small base indeed.
Scheldon or Scheladon – the evidence
The Scheldon name is documented many times over in records such as the Warwickshire Pipe Rolls of 1189/90, the Patent Rolls for the same county for 1275-1279, the ‘grantees of offices, commissions and pardons (1272-1281)’, the ‘clerks and clergy records for Worcestershire and southwest Warwickshire (1268-1301)’, a list of ‘1332 inhabitants of Warwickshire’ and the Close Rolls (1333-1337).
Derbyshire records showing the Scheladon spelling are found in a National Archives 1307/08 record of legal proceedings, in a reference to Richard de Scheladon born around 1385 and a 1410 family of the same name, both found in the Derbyshire Visitation of 1662, in the ‘Inquisitions and Assessments relating to Feudal Aids for the year 1431’, and the mention of a Hugh de Scheladon in a charter dated 1437.
Similarly, the spelling of the two villages is confirmed in many records, with the Warwickshire Scheldon found in documentary evidence dating back to the founding of the church by Sir Henry de Scheldon in the 1250s, while Scheladon and Schelladon feature in a Derbyshire courts schedule of 1292 and in county Court Rolls of 1395.
That there is so much confusion over the spelling of both surnames and place names is due in large part to the way in which the many amateur genealogists at work in Victorian times ‘helpfully’ translated Latin documents using names that made sense to them and their readers.
Back then, if you had the time to devote to such studies then access to records was freely available, whereas now so many of those same records are hidden behind paywalls.