Select Holmes Surname Genealogy

Holmes is a locational surname, describing someone who lived by a holm.   The main root of "Holm" is the Viking holm, meaning an island (in particular a slightly raised land lying on flat land or partially surrounded by streams).  The explanation below gives one explanation on the transference of Holm as a place name to Holme and Holmes as surnames and why many Holmes have resulted.

"Being restricted in area, many Holms were unable to support large communities and there was frequent movement to new places where work was available.   The emigrants would have been known to their new neighbors as "the folk from the holm," which over time would have modified into Holme or Holmes."

Supporting the Viking connection is that fact the names Holme and Holmes are mainly to be found in northern and eastern England, areas where the Danelaw held sway and where the Danish/Vking influence was strong.

An alternative origin of holm, again locational, is the Old English holegn becoming holm and holm oak or holly tree.  Holmfirth in the West Ridings of Yorkshire, for instance, meant "the group of holly trees."  And Holme or Holmes was the man who lived by the holly tree.

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England.  The name Urkell de Holmes appeared in the Yorkshire assize court rolls of 1219 and Holmes have been more numerous in that county than in any other since that time. 

Yorkshire  The manor of Paull Holme on Humberside was owned by the Holme family, who took their name from the place, from about 1295 (the remains of the Paull Holme tower bear witness to the marriage of John Holme and Elizabeth Wasteneys in 1438). 

Another Holme family were local gentry at Huntington Hall near York from 1500 and maybe earlier. Wilfrid Holme of this family was a Protestant poet, publishing his interestingly named tract The Fall and Evil Success of Rebellion in 1537.  And the Holmes name appears frequently among the early farmer names in Nidderdale in north Yorkshire.

Cheshire  The Holmes of Tranmere, a landed family, were traceable back to the marriage of Robert Holme and Matilda de Tranmere in the late 14th century.  By the Tudor period, however, the family had become impoverished and they were tradesmen in Chester. 

But their fortunes took an upturn following
Thomas Holme the blacksmith.  Randle Holme became Sheriff of Chester in 1615 and its mayor in 1633.  He was the forebear of four generations of Randle Holmes who were herald painters and early genealogists.  All four painted memorial boards and hatchments, some of which can still be found in Cheshire churches.

Lancashire  Holmes in Liverpool date from the late 1500's (in Maghull).  Samuel Holme was a self-made builder in the town who, in the 1830's and 1840's, was one of its largest employers.  He built himself a large mansion called Holmestead (which still stands) and was a mayor in the 1850's.

A Holmes line further north began with Robert Holmes who moved in the late 1500's from Lancaster to county Cork in Ireland where he became the provost of Mallow.  His grandson was the colorful Sir Robert Holmes.  This family maintained estates in Ireland and the Isle of Wight until the early 19th century when the eldest daughter Elizabeth married William Ashe a Court and created the Holmes a Court line.

Scotland.  The Viking holm also made its way into Scotland.  But the pronunciation here tended to be different than in England.  This resulted in different spellings of the name in Scotland.  The two main versions on the Scottish borders were Hume and Home.  There was an early pocket of Holmes in Ayrshire (from the land of Holmes near Dundonald).  Later this name spread elsewhere in Scotland. 
Ireland.  English and Scots settlers brought the Holmes name to Ireland in the 17th and early 18th century. A Holmes family came to Tipperary in 1728 and established themselves at St. David's along Lough Derg. Another family account tracks a Holmes family who were gamekeepers at Emo Park, Coolbanagher in county Laois. The Holmes of Moycashel in county Westmeath included the early 20th century writer and poet Edmond Holmes.

However, the largest number of Holmes were in Ulster and in county Antrim.  The Rev. William Holmes was first minister of the First Antrim Presbyterian church in 1730.  Many of these Holmes later emigrated, such as Harry Holmes who departed for Canada in the 1920's (although he left behind a younger brother Joe who became one of Antrim's finest fiddlers).   Eamonn Holmes, born in Belfast, is currently a presenter on British TV.

America.  Obadiah Holmes and his family were among the Puritan wave of settlers in New England in the 1630's.  They arrived in 1638 from Lancashire and eventually settled in Newport, Rhode Island where Obadiah was free to practice as a Baptist minister. 

Other early Holmes arrivals included:
  • John Holmes from Yorkshire in the 1620's.  He was appointed the Messenger of the Plymouth court.
  • William Holmes, the leader of a group from Plymouth colony who established the first English settlement in Connecticut (Windsor) in 1633.
  • David Holmes from Scotland in the early 1630's (his descendants settled in Connecticut and later in Cambridge, Massachusetts and included Oliver Wendell Holmes, senior and junior).
  • George and Deborah Holmes from Essex in 1637.  They settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
George Gray's 1908 book Holmes Genealogy 1594-1908 covered these various New England Holmes families. 

Orsamus Holmes, a descendant of the Mayflower passenger Henry Samsun, had an adventurous Revolutionary War and was a pioneer settler first in upstate New York and then in Ohio.

Francis Holmes, thought by some to be the son of the John Holmes above, was a Boston merchant who moved south to Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1700's.  Later generations owned southern plantations at Washington and Willow Grove.  Emma Holmes of this family kept a diary during the Civil War years which was later published as The Diary of Miss Emma Holmes.  The preface of the book read:

"A firm believer in aristocracy, Miss Holmes felt that people could be classed as betters or inferiors and she often spoke of the mobocracy.  She accepted slavery without question.  She was a woman of considerable intellect and curiosity, she read widely, and her intellectual bent drew her to the teaching profession."

A Southern Holmes family, but from different Scots Irish roots, was the one in Sampson county, North Carolina.  Gabriel Holmes became Governor of North Carolina in 1821.  His son Theophilus was a Confederate general in the Civil War.  Another Scots Irish Holmes family traces itself back to James Holmes in Union county, North Carolina in the early 1800's.  He and his family later moved onto Georgia and Texas. 

  The Scottish Highlanders who came to Nova Scotia in the early 1800's included a number of Holmes.  John Holmes arrived with his parents in 1803 and later became active in local politics.  His son Simon followed in his footsteps and became Premier of the province in 1878.

The first Holmes in Ontario was probably Dr. William Holmes, an Empire Loyalist who had been granted land in Altona Forest in the 1790's.  John Holme (later Holmes) from Lancashire came in the 1820's and settled in Kent county. 

William Holmes from Ireland arrived in Brockville in the 1830's.  The census listed him as a farmer, but he was known more as a land speculator and money lender (hence his nickname of '20% Holmes').  The Cottonwood mansion in Selkirk was his legacy.  John Holmes, also from Ireland, was an early settler in the Huntley township in the 1840's.

William and John Holmes moved from Ontario to start a dairy and grain farm along the Fraser river in British Columbia in the 1890's.  Cuthbert Holmes Park in Victoria takes its name from an early settler in the town.

AustraliaSusannah Holmes was onboard the First Fleet convict ship to Australia in 1787.  A year later she married Henry Cabell in the first European marriage to be recorded in the new colony.  The couple are commemorated today as one of Australia's founding families.  

The Henry Holmes vineyard in the Barossa valley in South Australia has been family owned since the 1860's. However, the original Holmes were the German immigrant Henscke family.

Select Holmes Miscellany

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

Select Holmes Names

Wilfrid Holme
was a Protestant poet from Yorkshire in the 1530's.
Sir Robert Holmes was a colorful Admiral during the Restoration period.
Edwin Holmes is credited with the invention of the burglar alarm at his Boston factory.
Sherlock Holmes is the famous fictional detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr served on the US Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932 and has been one of the most cited of Supreme Court justices.
Larry Holmes, born in Georgia, was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1978 to 1985.
Kelly Holmes won the women's 800 and 1,500 kilometer gold medals in the Athens Olypmpics in 2004..

Select Holmes Today
  • 72,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 52,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 32,000 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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