Lee Surname Genealogy

name comes from the Old English lea, which originally meant a
wood or
glade. It could derive from the many place names called Lee or
someone who lived near a meadow. Other spellings were Lea and
Leigh, the
latter a name largely found in Lancashire.
Some English Lees were Norman in origin, initially de la
, possibly from the place-name Laye in France – itself
derived from la Haie meaning “hedge.”

Lee Resources on

There were early Lees in Shropshire, of likely Norman origin:

  • a
    Lee family (originally de la Lee) lived at Coton Hall
    in the parish of Alveley from the 1300’s onwards. This
    is believed to have produced Richard Lee, the first of the Lee family
    America. Coton Hall stayed with the English Lees until 1821.
  • another
    Lee family, probably related, held
    Langley Manor in Shropshire. Sir Richard Lee of this family was a
    Royalist commander during the Civil War. Only a timber-framed
    remains of their house.

Lee line began
in Cheshire further north in the 1300’s and later had branches at
and Hartwell in Buckinghamshire and at Ditchley in Oxfordshire.
had built their wealth from sheep farming and they were prominent Buckinghamshire
and MP’s
in the 18th century. Meanwhile
Symon Lee
from Worcester had moved to London in the early 1400’s and was the
forebear of
an old Lee family that was to be found in Kent.

Later Lee
distribution showed a preponderance of Lees in the north of England, in
Yorkshire and Lancashire.

In addition to
its traditional English origins, the name has been adopted by Romany
gypsies in
Britain. Here it is pronounced with a slight aspiration at the
(almost as “leek”) in common with its sound in the Romany
language. Gypsy Rose Lee was a well-known gypsy queen and

. Lee is an anglicized
version of the Gaelic Laoidhigh, an occupational name meaning
“poet.” There was a John O’Ladaigh, otherwise known
as John
who was Bishop of Killala in 1253. Lees from this source were
later to be
found in Limerick and Cork.

Other Lees –
from the Gaelic mac an leagha (son of the physician) – were in
and Antrim. Lees from these four
counties plus Dublin accounted for about half of the Lees in Ireland in

Meanwhile, many Lees in Ireland
were of English planter stock. One
line at Barna in Tipperary, for instance, began in 1658 with a Lee from
Quarendon in Buckinghamshire. Earlier
Leys or Lees in Kilkenny, one of the “Ten Tribes” of Kilkenny, were
Anglo-Norman in origin.

The Lees have been a long-established and politically prominent
Virginia and
Maryland family. The first of this family in America was Richard
Lee who
came to Virginia in 1639 and grew wealthy from tobacco.

The main Lee line at the Stratford Hall
plantation in Virginia, built by Thomas Lee in 1741, included two signers of the
Declaration of
and Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general during the Civil War (and a
icon of the South’s lost cause). Other Lee homes and lines were
Blenheim, Cobb’s Hall, Ditchley, Dividing Creek, Lee Hall, Leesylvania,
Mount Pleasant.

There were 44 members
of a Lee family from Donegal on-board the Faithful
when the vessel departed Londonderry in 1785.
However, the ship ran aground off Delaware
and most of them drowned. Only six Lees survived.
These Lees who settled in Pennsylvania and
Ohio were, in the view of Robert E. Lee, distantly related to his Lees
of Virginia.

Asia. In recent years, Asian
– either Li from China (the most common Chinese surname) or
from Korea
(there are seven million Lees in Korea today) – have become more
prevalent in
the English-speaking world. For this reason, California has the
concentration of Lees in America today.

Lee Miscellany

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

Lee Names

Robert E. Lee was the
Confederate general during the Civil War.
Laurie Lee was the English
20th century poet, novelist and screenwriter, most known for Cider With Rosie.  Bruce
was the Chinese-American martial artist and actor.
Ang Lee is the
Taiwanese-American film director who produced Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.

Select Lees Today

  • 160,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 214,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 84,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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