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
suggests a common ancestry.
But the name may also have had
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

Sykes Resources on

Sykes Ancestry

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
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,
instance, discussed hunting, horses, and social
affairs. Mark
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
, 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.

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
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

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

They remained one of
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
  • 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:

Sykes Names

, a clothier in Cumbria, was the forebear of the Yorkshire
Sykes of Skedmere.
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)




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