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

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.

Resources on

Holmes Ancestry

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

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
hatchments, some of which can still be found in Cheshire churches.

Holmes in Liverpool date from the late 1500’s (in Maghull).
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
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

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

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
  • David Holmes from Scotland in
    the early 1630’s (his descendants settled in Connecticut and later in
    Cambridge, Massachusetts and included Oliver Wendell
    , 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

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
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
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

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.

Australia. Susannah 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.

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.
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).




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