Select Harmer Surname Genealogy

The name could have various origins, depending upon the part of the country it sprung up:

The Latin word Hermerus appeared in the Domesday Book.  A prior source could be the Old English personal name Heremar, a compound name which translates as "army" and "famous."   Some think the Harmer name in Sussex may have come from the 12th century Hazemere Hall in Etchingham in East Sussex.  Another suggestion is the Old Norse harmr, the root of the English word "harm," which means one who grieves or causes grief.  Then Harmer could be occupational, from the Old English healm meaning a collector of stalks.

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Select Harmer Ancestry

England.  The three major groupings of Harmers in England are:
  • in Sussex
  • in Norfolk
  • and in Gloucestershire.
Sussex  The Sussex Harmers were, according to 19th century records, numerically the largest.  They have been traced back to a John Harmer from Heathfield, born in 1489.  DNA testing suggests one single ancestor. 

The name appears mainly in the villages of Heathfield and Salehurst in East Sussex.  Heathfield baptism records for Harmer date from the early 1600's.  Heathfield's favorite son was Jonathan Harmer, the early 19th century stonemason.  His cottage Harmers still stands.  Another Harmer line traces from Reuben Harmer, born in Heathfield in 1798.  The first recorded Harmer from Salehurst was a Roger Harmer, born in 1658.  

Norfolk  In the Domesday Book, the Latin name of Hermerus appeared and is recorded as "possessing much land in Norfolk."  Later the Harmer name was to be found in various places in the county. 

Harmers in the Kelling/Salthouse area trace to the 1700's.  A Harmer family were landowners at Walcott near Norwich.  Some of this family went to the Stalham/Hoveton area and some to Norwich itself (where there was a Harmer's Wharf on King Street).  The clothing manufacturer F.W. Harmer & Company became one of the largest employers in the city in the 19th century (the firm finally closed its doors in 1990).  An earlier Harmer, John Harmer, was the leading lithotomist (extractor of bladder stones) in Norwich during the first half of the 18th century.

Gloucestershire  The third Harmer location was Gloucestershire.  In 1562 it was recorded that John Harmer held property by lease at Stanley St. Leonards.  Harmer marriage records are to be found in the neighboring villages of King's Stanley and Stonehouse from the 1570's.  The Harmer family owned the Stanley mill on the Frome at that time.  The Harmers of Randwick, churchmen and schoolmasters, can be traced from the 1660's.  Later Harmers were found in Gloucester and Cirencester.

London  The Harmer name also cropped up in London, generally from modest circumstances:
  • Jasper Harmer was an ironmonger in Smithfield in the 1680's, and supposedly a clockmaker too (although the clockmakers' guild disputed this claim).  
  • a century later, James Harmer was born in Spitalfield, the son of a weaver.  He contrived to set himself up as a lawyer and became very successful and wealthy.  In the 1820's he founded the radical paper, the Weekly Despatch, and, later in life, built himself the replica of a 16th century mansion on land outside Gravesend in Kent. 
  • a third London Harmer - the son of a French polisher from Hackney - was Tommy Harmer or "Harmer the Charmer," a Tottenham Hotspur footballer of the 1950's.    
America.  There were not that many Harmers who emigrated to America.  John Harmer was briefly mayor of Williamsburgh in Virginia, but didn't stay.  He had arrived from Bristol in 1733 and operated there as a slave trader. 

It was the state of Pennsylvania which had the largest influx of Harmers.  William and George Harmer, two Quaker brothers from Wiltshire, left England for Pennsylvania and religious toleration with William Penn in the 1680's.  A descendant Elias Harmer became a Mormon convert who headed West in the 1840's.  Josiah Harmer, one of George Washington's generals, suffered a crushing defeat in 1792 on the Ohio frontier and returned to Philadelphia in disgrace.  Alfred C. Harmer was a 19th century Philadelphia shoe manufacturer. 

Canada.  Other Harmers were heading for Canada by the 1830's.  Early settlers in Ontario were:
  • Robert and Mary Harmer from Norfolk in Blenheim township in the 1830's.
  • William and Elizabeth Harmer from Norfolk in Fullerton township in the 1840's.
  • Harmers from Sussex in Kingston in 1836.
  • Edmund and Mary Harmer from Sussex in Guelph in the 1850's.
A Harmer branch from Kingston headed west to Alberta where Bill Harmer was elected to the Senate in 1918.  He was known as "Silent" Bill Harmer because, during his thirty years in the Senate, he only spoke a total of 89 words.

Australia.  There are Harmers as well in Australia.  The first were convicts, such as Benjamin Harmer transported to Sydney on the Glory in 1818.  John Harmer was a soldier who joined the Mounted Police in Australia in 1846.  James Harmer was an early settler in the Adelaide hills.  Francis Harmer and his family left Salthouse in Norfolk on the Bolton for South Australia in 1848.  Their descendants are still to be found there.

Select Harmer Miscellany

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

Select Harmer Names

Jonathan Harmer was a well-known potter from Heathfield whose terracottas were to be found all over Sussex in the early 19th century.
Alexander Harmer was southern California's first notable painter of the 19th century.
Sir Sidney Harmer from Norfolk was Director of the Natural History Department of the British Museum.
Henry R Harmer started the world's largest stamp auction firm of H.R. Harmer in London in 1918.
Wendy Harmer is an Australian writer, radio show host, and comedienne.
Sarah Harmer is a Canadian singer/songwriter from Kingston, Ontario.

Select Harmers Today
  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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