Where do the Grayling family come from?

Family rumour insisted that the Graylings were Irish immigrants.  While looking at my family tree I was unable to find any evidence of that and, since starting this study, I can pretty much explode that myth as I have, so far, found no Irish Graylings, except those who have married in to the family.  All sources agree that the surname is of English origin but there are disputes as to what the root is.  Possible theories are:

  1. Toponymic – people named after a place, in the case of Grayling it is speculated that it might be a lost medieval village (Internet Surname Database and others)
  2. An adaptation of the Huguenot protestant surname “Graillon” (Internet Surname Database)
  3. Nickname for someone because of their possible resemblance to the fish (Patronymica Brittanica and others)

I’m only at the start of my study and I don’t have enough information to add to this except to say I think option 2 is looking unlikely.  According to Wikipedia, the bulk of the Huguenot protestants started emigrating from France in response to the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685.  My research has shown a substantial number of Graylings living in both Sussex and Essex way before that.  In fact the earliest reference I have found so far is Elizabeth Grayling, buried on the 7th August 1556 in Great Parndon, St Mary the Virgin, Essex (National Burial Index 3rd edition).  Great Parndon was, back then, a small village.  It has now been eaten by Harlow!

So, whereabouts do the Graylings come from?

The map below is taken from the British Surname Atlas and includes all people called Grayling in the 1881 Census.  I’ve cropped to exclude areas with no Graylings! Apart from 7 people in Preston and 2 in Thrapston (Hunts) it can be seen that Graylings are based in the South East of England.

1881 Graylings Britain

Expanding this to look at all census records from 1841 – 1911 I have found that 92% of all references to someone with the surname Grayling are living in the following counties:

  1. Essex (28%)
  2. Middlesex (26%)
  3. Sussex (21%)
  4. Kent (12%)
  5. Suffolk (6%)

The 6% in Suffolk comes mainly from one family.  John Grayling was born in 1807 in Kent.  He, his wife (Mary Ann Watson) and their two oldest children moved to Suffolk in the late 1830s.  My focus is, therefore, on the first four counties in the list for the start of my parish record exploration.

References used in this post are:

  • National Burial Index for England and Wales, 3rd edition. Federation of Family History Societies
  • The British 19th Century Surname Atlas, ver 1.20. Archer Software
  • The Internet Surname Database http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Grayling
  • Patronymica Brittanica, a dictionary of the family names of the United Kingdom, Mark Anthony Lower. 1860
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