French Surname Genealogy

Being from France in England potentially gave rise to
the surnames:

  • Francis (starting as Frauncays or “the Frenchman”)
  • and French
    (starting as de Freyne or “from France”).

De Freyne had a Norman origin. However,
the derivation here could have been
from a different root – the Latin word fraxinus meaning “ash

examples of these names were Ebrordis
Bristol around 1240 and Simon le Frensch in Wiltshire in 1273. The De Freyne and French names crossed the
sea to Ireland. And Ireland also
produced the curious ffrench or Ffrench
surname spelling

French Resources on

French Ancestry

England. Neither the French nor Francis name travelled much north. Most by those names were in SE England, with
outposts west in Wiltshire and Devon.

SE England. Essex was an early
location. Examples were Geoffrey
le Franceis in 1205 and Richard Frensh in 1425 in connection with the
farms at
Little Bardfield and Felsted in the northwest part of the county.

French in Essex
were to be found there and at Arkesden,
Halstead, and
Birdbrook nearby. William French was a merchant of Lowestoft in
Suffolk in the
late 1400’s. Various Frenches from
Halstead and Coggleshall in Essex and from across the border in Suffolk
for America and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600’s.

Further north,
Frenches in Oxfordshire played a role at the time of the English Civil

  • a French family had been
    landowners at South Newington since the early 1600’s.
    Francis French, a constable there in the
    1630’s, refused to pay the King’s new tax levy. This
    resulted in the Sheriff of Oxford attempting to raise
    the money by
    seizing his cattle. The case continued to be fought in the courts. It was said to have been one of the small
    sparks that contributed to the start of the Civil War in 1642.
  • John French of
    Broughton meanwhile was supplying malt to the Royalist army at Oxford
    in 1644;
    while his son John was then the physician to the Parliamentary army of
    Thomas Fairfax. This John
    at a time when the new science of chemistry was developing from
    alchemy and he was an enthusiast in his writings for its
    application to

There were also French numbers further south in London,
Surrey, Kent,
and Sussex.

The Kent numbers included the Anglo-Irish French family from Roscommon
who made their home at Ripple Vale near Deal from the mid-1700’s.
Their line went

  • Commander John French of the Royal Navy who fought in the
    Portuguese Civil
    War of the 1830’s
  • and Sir John French, a senior British army officer at the
    onset of the First World War who, under pressure, had to resign his
    position as
    Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in late 1915.

Frenches always regarded themselves as Irish even though their branch
of the
family had lived in England since the 18th century.

SW England
French was an early presence in Devon. Robert French, a lawyer by profession, was
the MP for Totnes in the late 1300’s. He
had acquired through marriage the Sharpham manor near Totnes. The French name also appeared in the
Ashburton and Widecombe villages on the edge of Dartmoor.

Ireland. The French family in
Ireland descended from
Sir Humphrey de Freyne who arrived from England around the year 1300
settled at Ballymacoonoge in Wexford.
His descendants were to be an important family in Wexford for
the next
150 years, before branching out to Galway and later to Roscommon.

Galway. Walter French who came from
Wexford to Galway
in the 1430’s was the founder of the French family there, one of the
fourteen Tribes
of Galway
. John
French, known as John of the Salt, accrued great wealth as a
merchant there in the mid-1500’s. Their
power declined, as with other Tribe families, after the attack on the
town by
Cromwell’s men in 1652.

The Frenches,
who then styled themselves ffrenches, survived the Cromwellian
and held onto their Castle ffrench estate near Ballinsaloe. Charles ffrench was made a baronet in 1779
and ffrenches later prospered in banking and business enterprises in
Galway. Castle ffrench was sold by the
family in 1851 but then purchased back in 1919.

Roscommon. A branch of the
family, starting with Patrick French and his son Dominick, moved to
in 1650’s and were large landowners there.
They also prospered in the Dublin wine trade.
Their base was the Frenchpark estate
near Boyle which stayed with the family until 1952.

Patricio French – the son of Oliver French, a Mayor of Galway – was
exiled for
political reasons and settled in Andalusia in the early 1700’s. He married well and prospered there.

His son
Patricio was a merchant who made his home in Argentina later in the
while his son Domingo became an Argentine revolutionary who took a
leading part
in the May Revolution and the Argentine War of Independence of the

America. Many French came
from England (mainly into New England), some from Ireland and Scotland,
none from France.

New England. There were four
notable early French arrivals
into the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Curiously, all four were tailors by trade. Three
came from the area of north Essex/south

  • the first arrival was Thomas French from Suffolk who came
    with his
    sister Alice in 1632, settling in Ipswich three years later. He died there in 1680.
  • while William French came from Essex on the Defence
    in 1635, settling in Billerica. He and
    his wife Elizabeth had thirteen children (although only six were still
    at the time of his death), and his descendants are numerous. William’s brother John came in 1636 and made
    his home in Cambridge.

Beyer’s 1912 book A Genealogy of the French and Allied Families
the history of the William French family.

Edward French from Warwickshire came around 1635 and made his
home in
Salisbury. A branch of his family moved
to New Hampshire in the 1750’s and from them came:

  • Benjamin Brown French, born in 1800, who
    gravitated to Washington DC and government service there (and kept a
    diary of
    his time there).
  • and Henry Flagg French,
    born in 1813, who
    was a prominent figure in agricultural societies in
    Massachusetts. His son
    Chester French was a notable American sculptor, best known for his
    statue of
    Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

Also found in New Hampshire were:

  • Abraham French who an early settler in the
    1790’s in the town of Pittsfield. His
    grandson Charles French fought on
    the Unionist side in Louisiana during
    the Civil War.
  • and Augustus French, born
    in 1808, who was a fourth-generation descendant of Nathaniel French who
    come to Massachusetts in 1687. Augustus
    French was the Governor of Illinois from 1846 to 1852.

Pennsylvania. Thomas French had been a
Quaker in England, was persecuted and imprisoned, and in 1680 left his
home in
Northamptonshire for Burlington, New Jersey.
His line was covered in Howard French’s 1909 book Genealogy
of the
Descendants of Thomas French.

One of his descendants, Samuel Gibbs French,
became a planter in Mississippi in the 1850’s and was a general in the
Confederate army during the Civil War.

Another line led to Ohio and a third line to Tennessee and Missouri. Peter French, born in Missouri in 1849, moved
with his family a year later to California.
He would become a big rancher, the owner of the P Ranch, in

Another French arriving in Pennsylvania was from Scotland, Alexander
French arriving sometime in the 1750’s.
He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and a member of George
Washington’s bodyguard. Although some
Frenches stayed in Washington county in Pennsylvania, he moved with his
to new lands in Trumbull county, Ohio in 1800.
His son William later moved onto Allen county in Ohio.

Virginia. There were also early
Frenches in
Virginia. John French came in the 1730’s
to the Northern Neck of Virginia. He
became through government grants a large landowner in what was to be
county, West Virginia.

“According to
tradition, John was said to have named Hampshire county for the county
Hampshire in England where his French estate was located and
neighboring Upshur
county after the family name of Martha Upshur, his wife.”

John died in 1750. His son
Matthew French, in dispute with his mother and her new husband, sold
out his
family interest and in 1775 crossed the Alleghenies with his own family
settle at Wolf Creek in what was then Giles county.
Matthew died there in 1814.

Canada. French’s Cove in
Newfoundland was named after
the Edward French family. This family is
believed to have originated in Devon.
They operated a trading company to the Caribbean out of Bay
Roberts near
Harbour Grace throughout the 18th century.
After Edward died in 1783, his son Edward carried on the company
around 1800.

Two French brothers from Cornwall, James and Thomas, came to
Prince Edward Island in 1829, James having eloped with his bride Jemima
whom he
had married in Liverpool. James left on
a sea voyage in 1850 and was never heard from again.
His wife died in Detroit.

Australia. William French, a farm
laborer, and his wife
Elizabeth from Somerset came to NSW on the Maitland in 1856. The family settled at Tenterfield. The eldest son John, born during the
crossing, became a hairdresser. A
younger son William lost his right arm
in an industrial accident, aged
eighteen, at Tenterfield in 1893.

French Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

French Names

John French, known as John of the Salt, accrued great wealth as a
merchant in
Galway in the mid-16th century.

Domingo French
a leading part in the May Revolution and the Argentine War of
Independence in
the early 1800’s.
Sir John French
was a senior army officer of the First
World War who. under pressure, had to resign his position as
of the British forces in late 1915.

Daniel Chester French
was an American
sculptor of the early 20th century, best known for his statue of
Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

Dawn French
is a popular
comedian, writer and actress on British TV, best known for her work in
the BBC
comedy show French and Saunders


Select Frenches Today

  • 27,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 29,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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