Thursday, April 13, 2006

Exploring the Roots of our Common Ancestry

Why should we be so curious about our Family Ancestry?

In this fast moving age, family life has eroded somewhat and in many ways we may be in danger of not just losing our roots but also a clear sense of the importance of family history. Despite what some sceptics say 'blood' can still be 'thicker than water'. One generation may not be interested in talking about their family history and then all of a sudden the next generation is. Why should this be so?

Fortunately for me and any other member of my immediate or even not so immediate family, the name Menham is a little easier to trace back than many other more commonly known family names. Nevertheless family research requires persistance and much patience in order to uncover any hidden gems that may exist. It is also easier to conduct this research when all of the facts are at your fingertips and there are no gaps in your understanding. Fortunately with modern communications and especially the internet this task has been relatively easy.

Our Common Heritage

Research into genetics tells us that as a human race we all have a common ancestry and when language is considered for example the deeper you delve the closer the links can become. English shares a common ancestry with German and is influenced greatly by French. How can we pretend to be unique when our lives are so intimately interwoven with the lives of others whom we often view as foreigners. Family research however is a useful tool which allows us to set the details of our own immediate family into a broader or more global context.

We therefore start this exploration into the origins and history of the Menham Family in such a spirit of exploratuion and in such a context to make it of more general appeal.

Even though all of the details supplied have not yet been completely verified we hope that they will act as a spur for others to search out their own roots also. Surviving records are often scant and sometimes misleading but if we are lucky we may like archeologists find hidden or buried fragments that point us in the right direction.

One such fragment that I have uncovered for example is the oldest death record I have been able to find for a William Menham who died in March 1522 in Buckinghamshire. This made me wonder if there was a strong connection to our family name in this area and I was quite surprised to find an area of Buckinghamshire called Medmenham.

The origins of this name however are said to be derived from the old English words Medume meaning 'middle' and ham meaning 'homestead' or 'enclosure'. However the name Medmenham has actually been derived it does not detract from the fact that it is a fascinating place steeped in history which was worthy of a mention in the Domesday Book, being amongst one of the oldest surviving villages in the country.

If you are curious to find out more about Medmenham's history follow this link supplied by Cathy Day of Canberra, Australia:-

Inspired by such an account I am now more determined than ever to find out if the Menham name has been recorded anywhere within the vicinity of this village and may go further back than the 1600's as we have been lead to believe. If we don't investigate will we ever find out?

According to some family researchers Menham was one of the many new names that came to England following the Norman Conquest of 1066 so there should be some records somewhere. For us this means that it was therefore also one of the oldest names that has survived into the 21st Century stretching back over a thousand years.

The Menham family in Yorkshire

I would welcome hearing from any Menhams whose family history is known to be rooted in the Yorkshire area and in time I will follow through on these possible connections.

The Menham family in Tyneside

My own immediate family springs from quite humble origins in the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and can trace its roots back to a Thomas Menham who was born in Newcastle in 1798. A short family tree follows the photo of my grandparents taken in Newcastle in 1908.

George Menham Born 10.8.1866 Died February 1919.

He married Elizabeth Ann Thompson on 20.1.1900.

Elizabeth Ann Thompson died on 19.3.1962.

She was born About 1879.

The father of Elizabeth Ann Thompson was a George Thompson.
The picture above is of George and Elizabeth in 1906

The father of George Menham was Henry Thomas Menham born about 1841 in Newcastle on Tyne.

He was christened on 16.2.1842.

His wife was IsabelIa Carr born about 1842 in Newcastle on Tyne. She was christened on 13.2.1843

She was married to Henry Thomas Menham on 21.10.1861.

The father of Henry Thomas Menham was Thomas Menham born in 1798.

He married Ann who was born about 1806. (We do not know Ann's maiden name).

The father of IsabelIa Carr was George Carr.

His wife was Mary (We do not know Mary's last name)

The father of Thomas Menham born about 1798 was Henry Menham. His mother was Jane (We do not know Jane's maiden name)

See also my cousin Alan's website in Australia for more details:

The strongest links are in the North East of England today. Despite the fact that this is said to be an old English name, Menham, is also said to refer to the family's place of residence prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066, Mesnil, Normandy (pictured above) . The ancient chronicles of England and early records of the name Menham, appear to show it to be an old Norman surname...

"In-depth research by skilled analysts into ancient manuscripts such as the Domesday Book (compiled in 1086 by William the Conqueror), the Ragman Rolls, the Wace poem, the Honour Roll of the Battel Abbey, The Curia Regis, Pipe Rolls, the Falaise Roll, tax records, baptismals, family genealogies, local parish and church records, shows the first record of the name Menham was found in Yorkshire where they were seated from very early times and were granted lands by Duke William of Normandy, their liege Lord, for their distinguished assistance at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D. Many alternate spellings were found in the archives researched, typically linked to a common root, usually one of the Norman nobles at the Battle of Hastings. Although the name, Menham, appeared in many references, from time to time the surname included Meynell, Meynill, Meynil, Menel, Mannell, Maynell, Maynall, and Mannell."Spellings have differed as also have people's literacy levels.

The following page 'Colonisers and Settlers' discusses how members of the Menham family may also have found their way to different parts of the new world. This we know did in fact happen as shipping records definitely exist which mark the passage of a number of people bearing the menham name. In more recent times Alan's father left Newcastle for a new life in Brisbane, Australia in October 1922 and my sister Ann, left Newcastle in the late 1970's to lead a new life in Canada and more recently in the USA. The Menham name also lives on there today. We would welcome contact from any Menhams currently living in the USA.

If you have any relevant comments please enter them below.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Colonisers and Settlers?

This painting of the Mayflower was created by Dr. Mike Haywood of Illogan, Redruth, Cornwall, England. You can view his catalogue of marine paintings at his website:

Spreading the Family Name Abroad

"The democratic attitudes of the New World spread like wildfire. Many migrated aboard the fleet of sailing ships known as the "White Sails." The stormy Atlantic, small pox, dysentery, cholera and typhoid took its toll on the settlers and many of these tiny, overcrowded ships arrived with only 60 or 70% of their passenger list.

The migration or banishment to the New World continued, some voluntarily from Ireland, but mostly directly from England or Scotland.

In North America, migrants which could be considered a kinsman of the family name Menham, or variable spellings of that same family name included Conrad Mennell, who arrived in Baltimore in 1831, R. Mennell, who was Naturalized in Pennsylvania in 1852, Christopher Meynell, who arrived in America in 1678, and Charles Meynell, who settled in Philadelphia in 1758.

From the port of arrival many settlers joined the wagon trains westward. During the American War of Independence some declared their loyalty to the Crown and moved northward into Canada and became known as the United Empire Loyalists.

Among notables of this name in recent history were: Alice Meynell (1847-1922), English essayist and poet, Daphne Mennell, Canadian artist, Dame Alix Meynell, Surgeon, as well as Lawrence Meynell, Author."

I would be happy to hear from anyone who is connected to any of the above families who is living in the USA, Canada or anywhere else for that matter.

The next page 'Dispersion and Downfall?' deals with the question of emigration to Ireland during the Cromwell era.

Please leave a comment below if you wish.

Dispersion and Downfall?

Painting of Cromwell which can be viewed on:

"The settlers in Ireland became known as the "Adventurers for land in Ireland." They undertook to keep the Protestant faith. The name Menham may well have arrived in Ireland with the "Cromwellian Adventurers for Land," in the 17th century. At that time, 1,000 acres of land was available to settlers in Ulster for £200, in Connaught for £300, and in Leinster for £600."The surname Menham contributed much to local politics and in the affairs of England or Scotland. During the 11 th and 12th centuries many of these Norman families moved north to Scotland. Later, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries England was ravaged by religious and political conflict.The Monarchy, the Church and Parliament fought for supremacy. Religious elements vied for control of, the State Church, the Roman Church and the Reform Church.All in their time, made demands on rich and poor alike. They broke the spirit of men and many turned from religion, or alternatively, renewed their faith, pursuing with vigour and ferocity, the letter of the ecclesiastical law. Many families were freely "encouraged" to migrate to Ireland, or to the "colonies." Nonbelievers or dissidents were banished, sometimes even hanged."

Please leave a comment below if you wish.

A Distinguished Yorkshire Family?

It has been stated that:

"the surname Menham emerged as a notable family name in the county of Yorkshire where they were recorded as a family of great antiquity seated as Lords of the manor and estates in that shire. This distinguished Yorkshire family were descended from the great Norman Baron, Hugh de Grente-Mesnil. The first settler Walter de Mainill received a grant of lands of Hilton in Snotterdon. They intermarried with other distinguished Lancashire and Yorkshire families and Robert Mennell married the daughter of Sir John Lancaster. They branched to Kilvington , Badley in Derbyshire, Hoarcross Hall in Staffordshire, Cambridge, Cornwall and Norfolk. Prominent amongst the family at this time was Walter de Mainill of Hilton."


"The earliest recorded owners of Hilton were the Meynills, one of whom, Roger de Hilton, some time in the 12th century, granted to his brother, Walter de Mainill, lands in Snotterdon, and in 1203, William, grandson of the above Roger, granted the manor of Hilton to his brother, Hugo de Menil. Robert Meynill, of Hilton, his descendant, was appointed sergeant-at-law in 1547. From this family Hilton passed to the Morleys, of Normanby, who, in the time of Charles II., sold it to the Lowthers, of Marske."

Please leave a comment below if you wish.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Viking Connection

"The ancestors of the family name Menham are believed to be descended originally from the Norman race, frequently but mistakenly assumed to be of French origin. They were more accurately of Viking origin."

The Normandy coast was repeatedly devastated by raids of the Vikings, or Northmen, from the 8th century on, and as its Carolingian rulers became weaker, the Vikings penetrated farther inland in the course of their depredations. Finally the French king Charles III the Simple ceded the territory around Rouen and the mouth of the Seine River to Rollo, the chief of the largest band of Vikings, in the Treaty of St. Clair-sur-Epte (911)."


"The Vikings landed in the Orkneys and Northern Scotland about the year 870 A.D., under their King, Stirgud the Stout. Thorfmn Rollo, his descendant, led his people into northern France early in the lOth century. In 911, King Charles III was forced to cede territory to Rollo, who became the fIrst Duke of Normandy, the territory of the north men. Rollo married Charles' daughter and became a convert to Christianity."


"Rollo's Scandinavian countrymen immigrated in large numbers to settle the country, and they adopted the French language, customs, and religion. These Vikings became known as Normans, and the region they settled became known as Normandy.

Duke William(King WilliamI)who invaded and defeated England in 1066, was descended from the fIrst Duke Rollo of Normandy."

Please leave a comment below if you wish.

Personal Accounts and Links

The mysterious story of Robert Stafford:The adopted baby

The story takes place some time between 1810 and 1819.

"Two people are travelling north along the road from Newcastle. One is a man perhaps aged around forty, whose name is Sproat. The other is a girl, quite young. She has charge of a baby only a few months, or perhaps weeks, old. This baby is Rob...

...I clearly remember the next part of our conversation, when I interrupted Old Jim. 'So the family name (Stafford) was actually the name the child acquired from his foster parents?' 'Oh no' he said. 'Robert Stafford was his own name. Sproat insisted that he must always keep it.

Then what was this pitman called? I asked, suspecting he might not know. 'Thomas Menham' he said. By this time I had started scribbling down notes in a pocket book or diary. 'How do you spell it?' I asked. 'M-E-N-N-E-M or M-E-N-H-A-M?'. 'Thomas Menham' he said..."

To continue reading ...


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