Select Shelley Surname Genealogy

The name “Shelley” appears to be locational in origin.  The word is said to have derived from the Old English word scyf or “shelf,” a ledge or plateau, and “ley”, a field or clearing, and describes someone who lives at such a place.

The name is thought to have originated in Essex.  There is in fact a small hamlet called Shelley near Chipping Ongar in the county.  A manor of that name has existed on the edge of Epping Forest since pre-Domesday times.  But other early sightings of the name can be found elsewhere, in Suffolk and West Yorkshire.

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England.  Shelleys in Sussex were recorded in Rye in East Sussex in the early 14th century.  A John Shelley was able in 1474 to secure the marriage of Elizabeth Michelgrove and thereby bring the Michelgrove estates near Arundel under his control.  For three centuries thereafter, the Shelleys were landed gentry in Sussex, with various branches in West and East Sussex. The branch in East Sussex included the black sheep of the family, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

A Shelley name in Kent can be traced to the 1380's and the Shottys manor house in Knockholt near Sevenoaks.  Later on, this family moved to Hall Place in Bexley where they lived until early Elizabethan times.  Henry Shelley from nearby Chislehurst set sail in 1609 on the Sea Venture in a mission to rescue the New World colonists at Jamestown.  The party didn't succeed in their venture.  But Henry Shelley did leave his name to one of the beautiful beaches in Bermuda.

Others locations for Shelleys have been:
  • the county of Essex.  Richard Shelley, born in 1611, was the forebear to successive generations of Essex blacksmiths.  A line from there may have gone to Uriah Shelley who married in 1754 in the village of Rivenhall southeast of Braintree.  Today Rivenhall has the largest concentration of Shelleys in the county. 
  • and Staffordshire, in the area from Stoke to Wolverhampton.  Shelley Potteries, in business from the 1750's until recently, has been a well-known name in Stoke.
America.  Although Shelley is an English-origin name, there are more than twice the number of Shelleys in America than in England.  An important factor has been the anglicization of foreign names by immigrants either on their entry into the United States or with the next generation.  German names such as “Schille” or “Schelle” became Shelley in America.  So at times did the Irish “Shealy.”

There was a cluster of Shelleys from German Mennonite roots in Pennsylvania.  Daniel Shelley uprooted his wife and four children from Lancaster county to settle in the 1770's in what is now called Shelley’s Island on the Susquehanna river.  Here they formed a self-contained community.  Irish Shelleys have made their way to California and Idaho, amidst other places.  Kate Shelley was, briefly, a young heroine in Iowa in 1881 for alerting authorities about a potential train catastrophe. 

And Shelley clusters from English roots can be found in South Carolina, Alabama, and Utah.

  There are many Shelleys in Australia.  The first Shelley to emigrate to Australia was William Shelley, a missionary from Hanley in Staffordshire who arrived there in 1800.

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

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John Shelley established the Shelleys as landed gentry in Sussex with his marriage to Elizabeth Michelgrove in 1474.
Sir Richard Shelley, a staunch Catholic from the Shelley Michelgrove branch, was active in several plots against Queen Elizabeth during the 1560's.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
, born into gentry in East Sussex, is one of the best-known English Romantic poets. His wife Mary Shelley (nee Godwin) wrote Frankenstein.
William Shelley
was a missionary from Hanley in Staffordshire who sailed to Australia in 1800. His school for Aboriginal children has now been described as Shelley's mistake.
Percy Shelley reinvigorated Shelley Potteries in Stoke in the early part of the 20th century.
Jack Shelley of working class Irish roots was the mayor of San Francisco during the turbulent 1960's.

Select Shelleys Today
  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 4,500 in America (most numerous in South Carolina).
  • 3,000 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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