Select Sykes Surname Genealogy

Sykes is a Yorkshire name derived from the Middle English syke, meaning "marshy stream" or "damp gully."  Some families therefore may have had a forebear who lived near a syke.  Or he may have come from one of a number of small settlements in Yorkshire named Syke or Sykes.  The name started to appear in villages near Huddersfield in the 13th and 14th centuries.  DNA testing suggests a common ancestry. 

But the name may also have had a Cumbrian origin as well.  William Sykes of Syke Dyke near Carlisle brought his name and his family to the West Riding of Yorkshire in the 1500's.

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Select Sykes Ancestry

England.  Richard Sykes of Sykes Dyke in Cumbria was an "eminent and opulent clothier," whose servants wore a branded bull as their badge.  His wife was recorded as dying of scarlet fever in 1504. 

Their son William moved across the Pennines and settled near Leeds where he became a successful cloth trader. Some of his children got caught up in the religious divide.  One son, a Catholic priest, was hung, drawn and quartered at York Castle in 1588; and a later Sykes, in 1653, died a prisoner in the same castle for being a Quaker.

A branch of this family, based in Hull, expanded their business into shipping and finance, concentrating on the flourishing Baltic trade in pig iron. Their home from the 1730's was the extensive Sledmere estate in the Yorkshire Wolds.  They were very much local landed gentry.  The diary of Tatton Sykes, for instance, discussed hunting, horses, and social affairs.  Mark Sykes later became a noted Middle East diplomat.

A family account talks of a Sykes family working their way across the Pennine moors via Huddersfield and settling in the Saddleworth valleys.  Betty Sykes, born in Diggle in 1795, was a wool weaver by trade.  Her children were brought up to be wool sorters, spinners, or weavers.  Another Sykes family came from Slathwaite and settled in Honley in the 1730's.  And Sykes in Drighlington parish records (near Leeds) date from the early 1600's. 

We find more Sykes in Huddersfield by the 19th century as the town expanded:
  • the splendidly named Shakespear Garrick Sikes helped kickstart the local banking industry. 
  • Peace Sykes, the son of a woollen manufacturer, developed a reputation in Huddersfield as an artist.  His son George became head of the local art school. 
  • while others made their mark in the wool industry.  Joseph Sykes set up his Acre Mills in outlying Lindley.  His son James Nield commissioned the art nouveau Clock Tower which still stands. 
  • Charles Sykes, who started out as a twelve year old office boy, came to own his own four-storey mill for knitting wool at Princeville in Bradford and later served as the MP for Huddersfield.
America.  Sykes came to America more as Sikes than as Sykes (although Sykes now outnumber Sikes by roughly three to one).  Richard and Phebe Sikes were early immigrants into New England, around 1638, settling in Springfield, Massachusetts.  One branch of this family later moved inland to Ohio. 

Sykes in the South  More Sykes came via Virginia.  John Sikes arrived there in 1637 and settled in Norfolk county.  Branches of this family later moved to North Carolina and Smith County in Tennessee. 

Subsequent generations of Sykes spread throughout the south:
  • Needham Sikes set off with his family from North Carolina to Missouri in 1813.  
  • another North Carolina Sykes family went to Duckhill in Mississippi. 
  • while the town of Sikes in Louisiana was named after James Franklin Sikes, its first postmaster.
A well-to-do Sykes family from Virginia came via Alabama to Aberdeen in Mississsippi when the town was just starting to boom.  Their Old Homestead, one of Aberdeen's grand antebellum mansions, was built in 1852 during the town's heyday.  These Sykes were of course on the Confederate side.  

They remained one of Mississippi's aristocratic families into the 20th century.  Perhaps their most well-known son was Judge Eugene Sykes who managed to parlay his political connections to become head of the Federal Communications Commission in the 1930's.     

African Americans  The Sykes name began to appear as an African American name after emancipation, in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  Thomas Sykes was a member of the Tennessee state assembly during Reconstruction; but he disappeared into obscurity when Jim Crowism reared its head.   

Roosevelt Sykes' grandfather was growing up on a farm in West Helena, Arkansas at that time.  Later, West Helena became a focal point for blacks from rural Arkansas and the Mississippi delta.  Roosevelt grew up to be a great blues pianist.  As compositions such as West Helena Blues suggest, this place was very much his spiritual home.        

.  Australia provides two contrasting lives of convicts, both coincidentally named William Sykes:
  • The first William Sykes was transported there in 1806.  He married and, after securing his freedom, settled down as a farmer and lived onto the right old age of 86. 
  • the second William Sykes might have lived his life in drifting obscurity but for the discovery in the 1930's of a collection of letters written to him by his wife back in Yorkshire in the 1860's.  They were later collated into Graham Seal's book, Those Few Lines: The Lost Lives of Myra and William Sykes
Africa.  Sykes is an an illustrious name in Dar es Salaam.  The forebear of the family was a Zulu who had arrived there as a German mercenary.  His son Abdulwahid Sykes grew up a Muslim, founded the political party TANU, and led the post-war struggle against British colonialism.  Kleist Sykes was mayor of Dar es Salaam and the name continues today with Dully Sykes, a hip hop artist.  

Select Sykes Miscellany

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

Select Sykes Names

Richard Sykes, a clothier in Cumbria, was the forebear of the Yorkshire Sykes of Skedmere.
Sir Mark Sykes was a British Middle East diplomat of the early 1900's who helped negotiate the Sykes-Picot Middle East border lines during the Versailles conference of 1919.
Eric Sykes, born in Lancashire, was a very popular radio and TV comic from the 1950's to the 1980's.
Roosevelt Sykes, who grew up in rural Arkansas, was regarded by many as the father of the modern blues piano style.

Select Sykes Today
  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  •  8,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina) 
  •  7,000 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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