Todd Surname Genealogy

The Scots and
Middle English
tod of
northern origin means “fox.”  The word cropped up in the 14th
century writings of Wycliffe.  This was Beatrix Potter’s
description in The Tale of Mr. Tod:

“Nobody could call Mr. Tod
“nice.”  The rabbits could not bear him; they could smell him half
a mile off.  He was of a wandering habit and he had foxey
whiskers; they never knew where he would be next.”

As a surname, Todd would be a
nickname for someone resembling a fox, either by his slyness or cunning
or by his red hair, or he could be a fox hunter.  Todhunter means
fox hunter.  Todd is both an English and a Scottish surname.
DNA testing suggests that the English Todds tended to be of European
descent, whilst the Scots Todds were Nordic.

Todd Resources on

Todd Ancestry

Todd only really appears in England as a surname in the north (instead
of the Fox surname to be found in the midlands and the south).
The earliest surname reference appears to have been a Richard Todd in
the 1231 Northumberland rolls.

Yorkshire.  John
Todde was High Sheriff
of York in 1390 and Sir William Todd held the same office in
1487.  A
Todd family from Pontefract
in Yorkshire included
Christopher and Grace Todd who were among the early New England
settlers in 1638 in New Haven colony.

Many Yorkshire Todds were seafarers and sea
captains.  The Todds of Fylingdales near
Whitby date from the 1650’s and were very much part of the Whitby
community for the next 150 years.
Charles Todd used to sail out with the Whitby whaling ships in

William Todd was born in Kirby Overblow near Harrogate in 1761 and
made his home in Hull.  Meanwhile the
Todds of Swanland near Hull claimed that they could trace their
ancestry back to
1625.  They were the principal landowners
and benefactors to the village during the 19th century, in fact until
they sold
Swanland Hall in 1926.

Scotland.  Todd was at
first a Border name.  James Todd, for instance, was the laird of
Dunbar in the late 1600’s who met an untimely end.  Another Todd
family has traced itself
back to Skaithmuir near Coldstream in the late 1700’s.

However, hard
times on the Borders brought about an out-migration:

  • to Glasgow in Lanarkshire where the Todds of Easter Haghill were
    to be found
  • and
    across the Irish Sea to Ulster where Scots Presbyterians were being
    granted land

Ireland.  Many Todds
settled in Antrim and Armagh.  A Todd family acquired Buncrana
castle in county Donegal.  William Todd of Buncrana was said to
fought the last fatal duel in Ireland in 1812.  James Henthorn
Todd from Dublin was a noted 19th century Irish historian and writer.

A number of these Scots-Irish Todds emigrated
to America.  They included descendants of James Todd, the laird of
Dunbar, who had settled in Armagh.  A few moved back to Scotland,
such as John Todd,
a weaver, who travelled the Scots border towns in the 1830’s and 1840’s
in search of work.

America.   Of the
nine distinct early
families of Todds
in America, they divided equally between England, Scotland,

The early immigrant Christopher Todd, who arrived in 1639 from
Yorkshire, ended up in New Haven, Connecticut (while his first cousin
John settled in Rowley, Massachusetts).  Christopher’s
descendants later spread across America.   They included Rev.
Todd, a Presbyterian minister in Johnstown, Wisconsin.  From this
came a New Jersey political dynasty:

  • it started with John R.
    Todd, who helped build Rockefeller Center
  • and continued to Webster B.
    Todd and his daughter, Christine Todd Whitman, the Republican
    Governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001.

A Todd family
was one of the first to
establish a farmstead, later called Todd’s Inheritance, along
Chesapeake Bay.  The following is the
historical marker at the site:

“Thomas Todd settled here from
Gloucester County, Virginia in 1664.  The homestead has remained
in the Todd famly for more than three centuries.  The 17th century
brick house was burned by British soldiers in 1814 as they withdrew
from an unsuccessful assault on Baltimore.  The house was rebuilt
on the site in 1816 and remodelled in 1867.”

There is a telescope surviving from these times which was used, it was
believed, to spy on British vessel movements during the War of 1812.

Another early arrival was Joseph Todd.  He came to Pennsylvania
where he died in 1699.  His descendants moved onto North Carolina
and then in 1797 undertook the trek to Kentucky, settling in Madison

Mary Todd’s
was said to include:

  • the Scots Covenanter James Todd
    who had fought and
    lost at Bothwell Bridge in 1679
  • and the Scots-Irish Robert and
    Andrew Todd who had come to Pennsylvania in 1737.

Kentucky.  Their
Todd descendants moved onto Kentucky where John Todd was killed
in one
of the last battles of the Revolutionary War (Todd County in Kentucky
is named after him).

Mary Todd herself, who married
Abraham Lincoln in Illinois in 1842, grew up in Lexington,
Kentucky.  Kentucky at that time was one of the four slave states
that did not secede from the Union (Lexington being a major
slave market for the Deep South).  Mary’s own family loyalties
divided at the time of the Civil War.  Some of her relatives
the Confederate cause; while her
cousin John was a
Union general (and later a representative for the
Dakota territory).

Stephen Todd also came from Kentucky.  But he was a runaway slave
who escaped on the underground railway to Indiana and thence with his
wife to Remus, Michigan.   In 1983, at a Todd family
reunion, six Todd women began a quilting project to commemorate their
family history.

Canada.  Canadian Todds,
like American Todds, originated from England, Scotland and
Ireland.  William and Elizabeth Todd arrived from Roxburgh on the
Scottish borders in 1827 and headed for Quebec.

In 1816 Dublin-born William Todd had gone out to Canada to work for the
Hudson Bay Company, as surgeon and later as trader, in the Red River
colony in Manitoba.  He married two and possibly three times.

“At York factory in 1824, Dr. Todd took
Elizabeth Dennet, half-breed daughter of William Dennet, to wife by
“the custom of the country.”  Together for seventeen years until
her death in 1845, they raised a family of twelve, nine of whom
survived to adulthood.  In 1849, Dr. Todd married Jane Johnstone
and at the ripe old age of 65 fathered two more children.”

Todd’s descendants
are to be found in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.  John
Todd, the last of Saskatchewan’s long-trail men, died in 1943 at the
age of eighty seven.

Todd who headed west was the Englishman James Todd.  He was one of
first settlers in Barnhartvale, British Columbia in 1865.  He had
gone west to California during the Gold Rush but, being unsuccessful,
had headed north.

Australia and New Zealand.
Todds started to move to Australia and New Zealand as the 19th century
proceeded.  Thomas and Elizabeth Todd, for instance, set sail for
Australia in the 1850’s.  Alexander and Jane Todd arrived in New
Zealand in 1849 and settled in Dunedin.

Perhaps the most
successful of these immigrants was Charles Todd who arrived in
1885.  He started off with a rural goods store in Otago, got into
automobiles and petrol stations, and built up the Todd Corporation to
the large New Zealand energy company it is today.

Select Todd Miscellany

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

Todd Names

Sir William Todd was
High Sheriff of York in 1487 and later Lord Mayor.
Mary Todd Lincoln was
the wife
of Abraham Lincoln.
Sweeney Todd was the fictional
Victorian barber and serial killer, recreated in a Broadway musical and
Alexander Todd from Glasgow was
awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1957.
is the New Zealand horseman voted “Rider of the 20th
Century” by the International Equestrian Association.

Select Todds Today

  • 31,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 29,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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