Nightingale Surname Genealogy

The cuckoo and the nightingale are the songbirds that are heralded in
England. No one has ever been called a cuckoo (at least
as a compliment). It is the nightingale that has passed into a
name for someone who sings with a sweet voice. The word
nightingale comes from the Old English niht meaning “night” and galan meaning “sing.”
A nightingale once sang in Berkeley Square. But the incidence of
the Nightingale name around England is something of a mystery. If
the nightingale nests and is heard in the south, how come then that
Nightingale as a surname only appears north of a line from the Midlands
to East Anglia? Were the bird’s migratory patterns different in
the Middle Ages? Or was there some other reason?

Resources on

Nightingale Ancestry

England. We found
three clusters of Nightingales:

  • in Bolton in Lancashire
  • in
    Huntingdonshire and later in Cambridgeshire
  • and in Derbyshire.

Bolton. The
Bolton Nightingales seem to have originated from the village of
Rivington. John Nightingale was born there in the 1630’s.
Another John Nightingale was a yeoman in the 1730’s. And
the Nightingale name is still current in the Bolton area today.

Samuel Pepys referred in his diary to a visit to his cozen Nightingale
Huntingdonshire “who hath a pretty house in Yelling.”

Nightingale was a lawyer who had managed to parlay his business into
such a money-making enterprise that he was able tp purchase Kneesworth
in Cambridgeshire and become local gentry. Thomas
Nightingale took over the estate soon after 1600 and it remained in the
family until 1831.

Derbyshire. Also
on the way up was Thomas Nightingale, a local farmer in Lea
Derbyshire. He proved very skilled in prospecting for lead and
within a short space of time owned the local smelting works and much of
the land in the area. Over the 18th century this
family became, as a result of his enterprise, one of the richest in

From this family came Florence Nightingale, so named
because she
happened to be born in Florence. In her twenties she decided to
take up nursing even though nursing was not then considered to be a
suitable profession for a well-educated woman. Her time came with
the Crimean War when she exposed and dealt with the unsanitary hospital
conditions that she found. Her campaign touched the public mood
and she became known as “the lady with the lamp.”

America. Nightingales did
make it to America. William Nightingale from Cambridgeshire was
first recorded at Braintree, Massachusetts in 1670. The family
homestead on Granite Street in Quincy, built by Solomon Nightingale in
1820, remained with his descendants until the 1920’s.

One line of these Nightingales, via Samuel Nightingale, migrated
to Rhode Island in 1751. Joseph Nightingale became a wealthy
Providence merchant
and builder in the 1790’s of one of the grandest houses in the

“The location of the house on College
Hill gave Nightingale a commanding view of the Providence river and its
myriad ships, wharves, and warehouses filled with goods shipped from
ports around the world.”

Nightingales from Lancashire came to Paterson, New Jersey in
1818. They operated a silk mill there. In 1849 John
migrated to California at the time of the Gold
He did make a fortune in San Francisco, although in real estate.

New Zealand.
William and Eleanor
Nightingale came to Auckland from Shrewsbury on the Nimroud
in 1860. A
descendant Clifford Nightingale enlisted for World War One and died on
Western front at Passchendaele in 1917. He has
been remembered for his war poems

Select Nightingale Miscellany

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

Select Nightingale Names

Joseph Nightingale was a wealthy New England merchant in
Providence in the late 18th century.
was the nursing superintendant at British military
hospitals in the Crimean War and by her efforts became known as “the
lady with the lamp.”
Earl Nightingale from Los
Angeles was an American inspirational speaker on radio best known for
his 1956
work The Strangest Secret.
Annie Nightingale was the first
female presenter on BBC Radio 1.

Select Nightingales Today

  • 1,500 in the UK (most numerous
    in Derbyshire)
  • 1,500 in America (most numerous in California)


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