Select Banks Surname Genealogy

The Banks surname is of English and Scottish origin. It is a topographic name for someone who lived on the slope of a hillside or by a riverbank, from the Middle English and Old Danish banke.

Select Banks Resources on The Internet

Select Banks Ancestry

England. Banks has been very much a northern English surname, found primarily in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The early spelling tended to be Bankes.

Yorkshire. Simon Bankes married the daughter and heiress of Robert Caterton of Newton in the Craven district of north Yorkshire in 1319. Newton thereafter became Newton Banks. From this line came Richard Bankes, a Baron of the Exchequer in 1410, and the Yorkshire Bankes of Whitley. This line may have led (although it probably did not) to Sir T.C. Banks, the bogus genealogist of the early 19th century.

Henry Bankes, born about 1500, appears to have been the progenitor of the Banks of Giggleswick in the Craven district. Joseph Banks of this line made his fortune in Sheffield as an agent for the Dukes of Norfolk, Leeds, and Newcastle. He acquired the Revesby estate in Lincolnshire in 1714. His grandson, also Joseph Banks, was the famous botanist and patron of the natural sciences who made his name accompanying Captain Cook on his great voyage to the South Pacific in the 1770’s.

Also from this line came James Bankes who made his fortune as a goldsmith and banker in London. He acquired the Winstanley estate near Wigan in Lancashire in 1596. His descendants prospered through their mining activities in the Wigan area. This Tudor building remained in Banks family hands until the year 2000.

Elsewhere. Banks were merchants at nearby Keswick in Cumberland from the 1550’s. These Banks supplied early settlers to America in the 1630’s. Later Banks there were graphite miners and pencil-makers.

There is a plaque on a house in the market square of Keswick that commemorates Sir John Bankes who was born there in 1589 and rose to be Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas under Charles I in 1640. He, however, made his home in Dorset. His family established themselves at Corfe Castle in Dorset (until it was destroyed by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War) and at Kingston Lacy.

William Bankes was a 19th century explorer and Egyptologist who, however, had to flee England in 1841 because of his homosexual indiscretions. A latter descendant Henry Bankes bequeathed Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle to the National Trust on his death in 1981. It was the largest donation the trust has ever received.

One Banks family made money as woolen drapers in London in Elizabethan times and married into a well-connected Kentish family. The son Caleb built upon this wealth from a naval supply contract and acquired the former Carmelite priory at Aylesford. He was three times mayor of Maidstone. Caleb’s son Sir John became a baronet and was one of the richest men in England in his time. But he died in 1699 without male heirs.

Scotland.  The Banks name in Scotland is thought to have originated in the Orkney islands. It was recorded in registers in the small hamlet of Canisbay in Caithness on the mainland in the 1650’s. Banks have continued living there in succeeding centuries.

Other Banks surfaced in Edinburgh in the 17th century. William Banks and his son Thomas were pipe-makers in the city at that time. Iain Banks, the contemporary author who died recently, was born in nearby Dunfermline.

Ireland. The Banks name in Ireland may have had English or Irish origins. Banks in Ireland could be an anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Bruachain, descendant of Bruachan(a byname for a large-bellied person), first found in Connacht. This name was close to the Gaelic bruach which means “bank.” The largest number of Banks in Griffith’s mid-19th century Valuation was in Sligo.

Germany. There was a Banks family  that established itself in Germany in the late 1700”s when William Banks, an English merchant, arrived there and stayed. His descendants established themselves in Hamburg society. His grandson Edward was a Hamburg senator in the 1840’s; his great grandson, also named Edward, a member of the newly formed German parliament in 1871.

There were others in Germany named Bank that sometimes became Banks in America.

America. Virginia and New England, as might be expected, were the main early arrival points for Banks.

Virginia. According to family lore, five Bankes brothers came to America in the 1630’s. James Bankes arrived in 1635 and settled in the Northern Neck of Virginia. His line of descendants was covered in Mary Storey’s 1991 book Grandpap’s Family: A
Banks Family Genealogy

Another Virginia Banks family originated with James and Mary Banks of Bedford and Prince George counties. These Banks were later found at Mantapike, Virginia and Abbeville county, South Carolina where James and Rivers Banks saw Revolutionary War service with the local militia.

Ralph Banks of this family appeared after the war in Elbert county, Georgia. His son Richard was a prominent physician after whom Banks county, Georgia was named. Sarah Banks Franklin’s 1937 book The Banks Family of Elbert County covered the line. The largest number of Banks today in America is in Georgia.

New England. Two Banks with a large number of descendants were:

  • Richard Banks from Kent who came to York, Maine in 1645. Some of his descendants perished in the Indian massacres of the late 1600’s. But many remained in Maine and across the border in Nova Scotia. Their numbers included the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Charles Banks’ The Banks Family of Maine appeared in 1890.
  • and John Banks from Yorkshire who arrived in Windsor, Connecticut around the same time. Joseph Banks, born in 1690, was the forebear of the nearby Fairfield line.

John Banks married Elizabeth Grusey in Boston in 1744. His descendant Nathaniel P. Banks, born in Waltham in 1816, rose to political prominence as Speaker in the US House of Representatives and Massachusetts Governor in the years prior to the Civil War.

“In the longest contest in U.S. history, Nathaniel P. Banks was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1855 after three months of balloting. Several historians have described this event as the birth of the Republican party because northern men from disparate parties came together for the election. Almost all who voted for Banks ran as Republicans in the next election.”

Nathaniel P. Banks, however, was a failure as a Union general during the Civil War.

Robert and Mary Banks were said to have come on the Lovely Nellie from Scotland to Prince Edward Island in 1774. They made his home in Annandale. Some of their descendants crossed the border to settle in Connecticut in the late 1800’s. Meanwhile Moses Banks had crossed the border the other way – from Maine to Nova Scotia – in the 1760’s. Moses died in 1838 back in Maine. But his descendants stayed put in Nova Scotia.

Australia and New Zealand. Some of the 19th century Banks settlers down under were:

  • William and Ellen Banks from Lincolnshire who came in 1843 and settled in Melbourne. However, they were not to stay there for very long. Converting to the Mormon faith, they set out for Utah a decade later.
  • Captain James Alfred Banks from Norfolk, a master mariner, who came to Australia in the early 1850’s. For a time he operated a small ship trading along the NSW coastline. He and his wife Cecilia settled in Raymond Terrace, NSW.
  • while Robert Lindsay Banks from Scotland came to SI, New Zealand around 1860 and was an early settler at his Cheetwood farm near Otanomomo. His son of the same name was clerk and county engineer for the Mackenzie county council for forty years from 1889 to 1929.

Select Banks Miscellany

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

Select Banks Names

Sir John Bankes was Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas to Charles I in 1640.
Joseph Banks
was the famous botanist and patron of the natural sciences who made his name accompanying Captain Cook on his great voyage to the South Pacific in the 1770’s.
Ernie Banks played baseball for the Chicago Cubs as shortstop and first baseman between 1953 and 1971. He is considered one of the finest players in the 20th century.
Gordon Banks
was England’s goalkeeper when they won the football World Cup in 1966. He is considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world during the 20th century.
Iain Banks
was a popular Scottish fiction writer who died recently.

Select Banks Today

  • 29,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Georgia)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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