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About the study

I first started to trace my family history when I was in my teens but restarted, seriously (!), 25 years ago. Becoming stuck on my own maiden name of ORAM fairly soon, I sidetracked on to the family of my father's mother, the ALABASTER family; my maternal grandmother was Adeline Bertha (Bertha) Alabaster born Bethnal Green, London, 30th January 1881.

In the mid-1980s I started to research ALL Alabasters, born anytime and anywhere.This has been a wonderfully fascinating family to trace and has given me contacts and friends all over the world, not to mention years of pleasure!

The first 'Alabaster Gathering' was held in Hadleigh in April 1990 when more than 100 Alabaster family members met. In 1992 the Alabaster Society was formed, now with more than 130 members from various parts of the world.

Probably unlike most 'One Name Studies', those bearing the Alabaster name today all appear to be descendants of a single couple, John Alabaster, baptised 20th September 1624 in Hadleigh, Suffolk and his wife, Elizabeth, so we are all cousins of one degree or another. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about the Alabaster Society or your position within the Alabaster family.

We have a detailed webpage at

Name origin

The Meaning of the Name ALABASTER

Dictionary of Surnames - Hanks and Hodges:

'Alabaster 'English: alteration (by folk etymology) of ANF arblaster crossbowman (OF arbalestier, LL arcuballistarius, from arcuballista, a cpd of arcus bow + ballista catapult, ballista).

The term was not only an occupational name for a soldier trained to use one of these weapons, but also denoted a category of feudal tenant in sergeantry, originally, no doubt, one who provided armed service with a crossbow.'

Dictionary of British Surnames - P.H. Reaney:

'Alabastar, Alabaster, Albisser, Arblaster .................a soldier armed with a crossbow, a crossbowman. The surname is also due to office. Robertus Arbalistarius, Balistarius (1086 Domesday Book) and his son Odo Albalistarius (c1140 Holm) held their land of the king by serjeanty of performing the duties of arbalistarius. Others of the same surname held their land by serving at Wallingford Castle with an arbalest, by guarding Exeter gaol, or by providing two arbalests. As London arblasters are stated to have had apprentices, the surname may also mean 'maker of crossbows'.

In his book, 'The Origin of English Surnames', P.H. Reaney uses this name as an example of the debate as to when surnames became hereditary. He writes, 'One of the chief difficulties in deciding when an early surname became hereditary is the absence of documentation between Domesday Book (1086) and 1155 when continuous national records begin. The names of many of the Domesday Book land-holders reappear in the twelfth century with the same surname in connection with the same land. The presumption is that both family and surname had continued in the interval, but we lack conclusive proof. Tengvik gives a list of heredity by names found in Domesday Book based on the mention of father and one or more sons, occasionally also of a grandson, or of two or three brother all bearing the same surname, but this is not always conclusive. (Tengvik) includes, for instance, Robertus Balistarius and Hugo Balistarius his son. Robert held Worstead in 1086 by serjeanty of performing the duties of arbalistarius, and his son Odo albalistarius (c1140 Holme) inherited the land and the office and owed his surname (now Arblaster or Ballister) either to inheritance or to his office. But his is also called Odo de Wrthesteda (c1150 Crawford) and his son Richard and his grandson Robert were both called de Worsted (1166, 1210 Holme)'