Select Swan Surname Genealogy

The Swan surname has a number of possible origins.  The Viking explanation looks the most likely.  The Swan name was to be found in areas where the Vikings, whether they be Norwegian or Danish, settled. 

The root here is the Old Norse word svein, meaning - depending on context, friend, partner or servant. Sweyn known as Forkbeard was the king of Denmark and, briefly in 1013 after he had taken London, the king of England; while another Sweyn was a notorious Viking who preyed off the Scottish coastline for many years.   

Swan and Swann have been the main spelling variations in England; Swan and, at a later date, the Gaelic McSwan in Scotland.  The Irish Swan may have gotten mixed up with Swayne, Swain, or Sweeny from different origins.  There have been also German Schwanns becoming Swanns in England and Swedish Svensons becoming Swans (as well as Swansons) in America.

Select Swan Resources on The Internet

Select Swan Ancestry

England.  The 1327 subsidy rolls for Wigston Magma in Leicestershire showed a Swan family as prominent among a small class of relatively well-off peasants. 

Swans in the South  The Swans of Hook Place near Gravesend in Kent were an early established family, calling themselves gentlemen by the late 1300's.  There were also Swan references in Essex in Thaxted and Saffron Waldron.  One family history traced Swans from the 1500's as yeoman farmers near Saffron Waldron, first at Ashdon and then at Radminster.  Another history started in the 1730's with a William Swann of Burrough Green in Cambridgeshire.

Swans in the North  The Swan name was also prominent in Yorkshire and the North East.  John Swan was a merchant in Hull in the early 1500's and this Swan family remained influential in the town for the next 250 years (although the last years turned out to be tragic).  A Swan family from nearby Eastrington produced early emigrants to America. 

Later, the Swans of Newburn in Northumberland contributed the Swans of what was to become the Swan Hunter shipyard on Tyneside.  In the 1880's, Joseph Swan made the first electric light bulbs at a plant in the Benwell suburb of Newcastle.  His son CV Swan, but univerally known as "Swannie," was a stalwart of the scouting movement for fifty years from 1910.

Scotland and Ireland.  There were early references to Swan in Perth (where the raider Sweyn was said to have settled down) and possible linkages to the Gunn clan in Caithness. 

The Swan name may have been in Ireland by the 14th century.  But it crops up mainly in the northern counties of Ireland (Antrim and Monaghan in particular) and is more likely to have been a later English implant.  Edward Swan was the high sheriff of Dublin in 1679.  Hugh Swan ran a linen bleaching operation in the Muckamore area of Antrim in the 1790's.  Swans from Antrim later emigrated to Australia.

America.   Swans came to New England and Swans and Swanns to Virginia.

New England  Swans in New England started with Richard and Anne Swan and their six children who came to Rowley, Massachusetts from Yorkshire in 1636.  James Swan arrived from Scotland in the 1770's, just in time for the Boston Tea Party.   A land speculator, he left his name to Swan's Island in Maine.

Robert Swan arrived from Eastrington in Yorkshire in the 1650ís and settled in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  His son John was rather upstaged by his wife Susannah Swan, a true pioneer woman who was abducted not once but twice by Indians and yet lived to be a hundred years old.

Virginia  A well-to-do Swan family from Gravesend in Kent became a well-to-do Swann family in Virginia.  William Swann of Jamestown was the connecting point in the 1630's.  His family were planters at Swann's Point along the James river, one of a small group of wealthy families whose lives there were tied together by marriage and economic interest.

Morven Park near Leesburg in Virginia, acquired in 1808, was a later home of these Swanns.  Governor Thomas Swann of Maryland lived and died there.  The Swanns also owned cotton and rice plantations in North Carolina.  Samuel Ashe Swann from this side of the family set off for Florida in 1855 and after the Civil War became involved in the early land development there.

One Swann line migrated from South Carolina to Tennessee in the late 1700's.  Edward Swann moved from South Carolina in the 1830's by covered wagon to Georgia and thence to Blount county, Alabama as the land there began to be opened up for settlement.  He and his sons Francis and William prospered as farmers. Later Swanns moved onto Texas.

Australia.  Samuel Swan was transported to Australia in 1834.  The reports he sent back to Kent must have been good because four of his brothers - Richard, George, Edward and Henry - joined him there in the 1850's.  Other Swans arrived from Antrim in Ireland and from the Scottish Highlands (originally McSween or McSwan) at that time.
Select Swan Miscellany

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

Select Swan/Swann Names

Sweyn Forkbeard
was the Danish king who briefly became king of England in 1013.
James Swan from Scotland was an American patriot during the Revolutionary War who ended up in a French debtor's prison.
Thomas Swann was Governor of Maryland in the 1860's.
Joseph Swan from Sunderland invented the electric light bulb in 1860.
Henry F. Swan designed the world's first ocean-going oil tanker at the Low Walker yard on Tyneside.
Donald Swann was one of the Flanders and Swann duo of comic songwriters.
Robert Swan is a polar explorer, the first man to have walked both the North and South Poles.

Select Swans/Swanns Today
  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous in Edinburgh)
  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in Maryland).
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

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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