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About the study

This study encompasses all Cawthras and variant spellings of the name throughout the world and is an active study where I welcome contact from those interested in the Genealogy of the Cawthras worldwide. A reference to Cawthra in the text below is intended to refer to all variant spellings of the name, except in the case of any specific named individual.

Compared to many of my fellow members of the Guild of One-Name Studies I am a relative newcomer to genealogy and to One Name Studies. I had been developing my own family tree for a few years on an intermittent basis and I became interested in the many Cawthra families I had encountered as I searched for my own ancestors. With a relatively uncommon name I began to wonder what the connection might be between my own family and theirs. Towards the end of 2005 I became aware of The Guild of One-Name Studies and realised that there was a project waiting to be done. This coincided with retirement so I changed one full time job for another and my study of the name Cawthra got under way. Given the anticipated number of Cawthras world-wide I set myself the following objectives which I believe to be entirely in keeping with the guidance provided by the Guild:

  1. 1. To identify all Cawthras past and present in all countries
  2. 2. To identify the family relationships between and the ancestry of all Cawthras
  3. 3. To establish where the Cawthras first lived and when, why and how the Cawthras migrated
  4. 4. To discover the origin of the name
  5. 5. To create an archive of interesting information about Cawthras over the ages

The study is of course at the 'Work in Progress' stage but much has been accomplished but much remains to be done - and what remains will present a bigger challenge as inevitably it relies on discovering new information that will be harder to locate.

Variant names

The dominant name in the Cawthra family of names is CAWTHRA.

I originally registered the names CAWTHERA, CAWTHERY, CAWTHERAY, CAWTHRAY and CAWTHEREY as the variant names to be included in the study.

As my work has progressed I have identified other variant names that have had currency over the years. These include CAWTHRY; CAWTHREY; CAWTHRAW; CAWTHROW and CAUTHERY. Many of the Variant names have disappeared from use.

The seven names that are now current are:


With the exception of Cawthera the remaining six names are those now registered fro this study

Only the names CAWTHRA and CAWTHRAY have been found outside England.

A large number of deviant names have been found. Why is this so? The majority of our nineteenth century ancestors would have been unable to do other than speak the name (and in a variety of local dialects) -€“ many could not write or read or spell, as evidenced by so many who placed just their mark on their wedding certificate. So is it surprising that we find so many different spellings of the name particularly as the name does not lend itself to a single interpretation when spoken? Deviant names that have been widely applied over the years include Cawthara, Cawther, Cawtherah, Cawthrah, Cauthara, Cauthera, Cauther, Cautheray, Cautherey, Cauthery, Cauthra, Cauthraw, Cauthray, Cauthrey, Cauthrow, Cauthry and a number on the same theme with 'ou' or 'ow' instead of 'aw'.

Name origin

As I have discovered there are as many theories of the origin of the name as there are variant and deviant versions of the name itself. But like the name they all revolve around a common core that the name is developed from the name CAWDREY or CAWDRAY. There is also general acceptance of the fact that the name CAWDRA(E)Y was itself brought to England from France. CAWDRA(E)Ys settled widely across England but it is only in West Yorkshire that the name progressed to CAWTH___ by the replacement of the 'D' by 'TH' and was then sustained with the 'TH' spelling.

Quite when the name CAWDRA(E)Y came to Yorkshire is a question that the study hopes to resolve. The most generally held view is that it has developed from Normans who came from France after the Norman Invasion of 1066 and who settled in Yorkshire perhaps a century later. The most popular view is that the name is derived from 'COUER DE ROI'.

The first occasion so far identified when the name appeared in Yorkshire was around 1200 when Robert de Querderai is recorded in documents at Rievaulx Abbey. It would seem that the Querderay families settled in Wharfedale in the 13th century and the first dated deed incorporating the name was in 1282 when William Quer de Ray of Stubham granted land to a William de Middleton.

Others believe that the name Cawdrey came to England with the Huguenots in the 16th Century and this has credibility given the fact that many Huguenots were weavers and that the woollen industry was evolving in Yorkshire in the 1500's. However, examination of the very comprehensive Huguenot records does not suggest that the name Cawdray was one adopted by the Huguenots.

It is possible that some families that carry the name Cawthra are descended from people holding the name Cawthorn(e). A small number of the early Cawthras were born within a few miles of the village of Cawthorne in South Yorkshire and it is this village that is believed to be the origin of the name Cawthorn(e). Possibly the name migrated to Cawthra as the Cawthornes moved into areas of Yorkshire where the Cawthra name was prevalent.

As will be evident the study is presently collating all known theories both plausible and implausible so that thorough study and research can follow in due course.

Historical occurrences of the name

On the whole there appear to have been few truly famous Cawthras.

Perhaps the most prominent were Joseph Cawthra and his family. They migrated from Yeadon Yorkshire, to Canada via USA around 1800 and became a very wealthy and influential family in Toronto. His son William was reputed to be the richest man in Canada and the City today has highways, buildings and schools that carry the Cawthra name.

Joshua Cawthra, born in Liversdege, Yorkshire in 1801, whilst a worker in the woollen industry, became an accomplished tenor in the choir at St Peters Church in Leeds. He was so well loved and admired that 2,000 people attended his funeral in Leeds in 1856. A monument to him at his grave, erected by his musical friends, contains an inscription of chords and words from Handel's Messiah and has recently been rediscovered in Leeds. Other members of his family carried on the musical tradition including Harry a bandsman in WW1.

Joseph Cawthra, born the son of Martha Cawthra, a single mother,in Horton, Bradford in 1835, established the textlie company J Cawthra and Co Ltd. He built Perseverance Mill at Dudley Hill in Bradford that employed over 600 workers and he was noted for his progressive employment policies and for his philanthropy. He lost his only son and heir to cancer in 1888 and shortly afterwards he funded the establishment of what must have been one of the first Hospices which was run by the Samaritans in Bradford, the building of which I fear faces imminent demolition.

James Herbert Cawthra, born in Leeds in 1871, became a reputed Electrical Engineer. James, who was the grandson of Joshua Cawthra the tenor, was responsible for the installation of the tram system in Sunderland and then went to Africa as the Chief Electrical Engineer of the Falls Electric Company, a Company established to develop hydro-power at the Victoria Falls. He has the unfortunate distinction of being the first person to be killed on a level crossing by a train in South Africa. His son Arthur James Cawthra became a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy.

Hermon Cawthra was a famous sculptor, born as Joseph Hermon Cawthra in Baildon, Yorkshire in 1886, the son of Silas and Ellen Cawthra. His most famous work is the statuary that is in the Robbie Burns Mausoleum in Dumfries. A collection of photographs of his works are held at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. His daughter Doreen Yarwood was an accomplished author on Architecture and Fashion.

Name frequency

The name Cawthra and its variants appear very infrequently in the UK and in the rest of the world. Even in Yorkshire where the name is reliably believed to have first appeared it is by no means common. In 20 years of life in Yorkshire I only encountered two people with the name, outside my own family. As a result of my work on this study I have discovered that unbeknown to myself and my family one of these two, now living in Australia, has been identified to be a fourth cousin. Since then, and prior to commencing the study of my own family's history I have not actually met another person with the name although I had become aware of just two people named Cawthra unconnected with my family.

In the 1841 England and Wales census there were 283 people who held the name Cawthra or one of its variants including all known deviant spellings of the names. A proportion of them were female spouses who acquired the name through marriage.

By 1901 this number had risen to 670. Numbers holding the name outside the UK had grown from very small numbers in 1841 to around 100 by 1900, mainly in USA and Canada but also in Australia.

In the UK in the period 1837 to 2005 there were 2708 births of persons given the name Cawthra or one of its variants and in the same period there were 2491 marriages with perhaps 1200 female spouses acquiring the name. Again taking the UK, the International Genealogical Index lists 500 births of persons given the name Cawthra or one of its variants in the years preceding 1837 and 290 marriages. Allowing for the fact that IGI records cover only a percentage of births and marriages it might be concluded that in the UK there have been some 3,900 persons born with name Cawthra or one of its variants, since the name first emerged, and that some 1700 females took the name on marriage.

It is more difficult to assess equivalent numbers for countries outside UK but a recent careful assessment suggests that there might have been a total of around 135 births in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and 540 in USA and Canada, with perhaps 400 females acquiring the name on marriage.

Thus the anticipated total number of Cawthra births has been around 4,600 with a further 2,000 acquiring the name on marriage. I have specifically identified the existence of 3,900 of these Cawthras (mainly through identification of their births but in some cases only through their inclusion in census, marriage or death records).

The present population of living Cawthras and its variant names has not been computed. It is felt that it will be no more than 1,000 persons, including female spouses.

A total of 250 Family Trees have been developed in pursuit of objective 2. Of these just 22 have been classified as Foundation Trees, that is a Tree that originates before 1800 and where there are living Cawthras members of the Tree. These 22 Foundation Trees include a total of just over 3100 people who were given the name Cawthra or one of its variants and just over 2100 of their spouses (of which around 950 might be assumed to be females who have taken the name Cawthra).

Just over 300 children who were born with the name Cawthra died at a young age and have not been identified to a specific Tree. Excluding these child deaths, a high proportion of the remaining 1,200 Cawthras who are as yet not placed in a Foundation Tree are those born before 1837. I am confident that any living Cawthra should therefore be able to identify their ancestry back to the early 1800's and most cases into the 1700's in one or other of the Foundation Trees, should they wish to do so, simply by making contact with me and providing basic information on themselves and their Cawthra parent and grandparent.

Quite apart from providing this facility to any person interested in the Cawthras I do need contact from as many people as possible who view this Profile as you may have vital information that will further the study.

Distribution of the name

With very minor recently discovered exceptions, at the time of the 1841 census all persons holding the Cawthra and variant names in England and Wales lived in a tight area in West Yorkshire bounded by Bradford, Otley, Leeds, Huddersfield and Halifax.

Prior to 1841 there had been modest migration to other countries. Joseph Cawthra had taken his family to Canada and Isaiah Cawthra, coincidentally also from Yeadon, West Yorkshire and now known to be the nephew of Joseph had gone to USA and Canada in 1840 and his family would follow him to USA in 1842. Both Joseph and Isaiah were clothiers, people who made woollen cloth, and they both developed businesses in Canada and USA and a goodly proportion of the Cawthras in North America are descended from these two families. There was migration of another kind to Australia - several Cawthras were transported to Australia before 1841 as convicted criminals and one of the present families in Australia is descended from one of them.

Large proportions of the Cawthras in West Yorkshire were engaged in farming, in mining or in textiles. Their migration within UK was not a lifestyle choice but in the pursuit of employment and for a very few to exploit business opportunities. Thus we see Cawthras moving to and from the Durham coalfields and into Lancashire (from where they rarely returned!). By the late 19th and early 20th Century the Cawthras moved wider afield to London, Wales and the Midlands and a few to Scotland.

Further external migration took place in the second half of the nineteenth century to USA and in one case to Australia. Around 12 members of one family under Samuel Cawthra emigrated from the Otley area to Nebraska USA in 1881-2. Whilst none of them were from farming stock they became farmers in Nebraska. The railway had arrive just a year or so before their arrival and the homesteaders settled on the Nebraska plains where there were real cowboys and Native American tribes and where bison and buffalo roamed. The family later dispersed into Missouri, Colorado, and Kansas and later into California and many of the Cawthras in these US states are descended from this family.

There was further migration in the early decades of the 20th century to Canada, USA, South Africa and Australia but it is the families that migrated in the nineteenth century who have had the biggest impact upon subsequent Cawthra populations in those countries.


Very comprehensive records of all Cawthras and variant names has been collected. All data published on the web has been transcribed into searchable databases. Contact has been made with over 250 people holding the name Cawthra or its variants, of whom a proportion have contributed much information which is now also held as data. Much material from record offices, libraries and archives has also been copied or transcribed.

The following data on people with the name Cawthra its variants and deviants is held:

The published England and Wales and Scotland Censuses 1841 to 1911

The published USA Federal Censuses 1850 to 1930 (excl1890)

The published Ontario Censuses 1901 and 1911

The England and Wales BMD Indexes 1837 to 2005

BMD Indexes for certain USA and Australian States (but not comprehensive coverage)

The England and Wales National Burial Index

The IGI abstracted birth, christening and marriage records

Boyds Marriage Index

British Vital Records

Published Yorkshire Parish Records

Published Monumental Inscriptions (web based information only)

Selected parish records collected by personal searches of documents (a slowly growing collection)

Information on Military service, Medals and Decorations and deaths in action

Complete details of all published passenger records

Will and Probate Records held by the Borthwick Institute in York

Property Deeds held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service

A slowly growing archive of interesting information about Cawthra families through the ages, including some photographs.


A DNA project will be initiated during 2009. The principal objective of the study will be to identify, where it is possible to do so, whether the Cawthra members of the Foundation Trees have a single common ancestor or if not how many separate and distinct Cawthra families there are. The second objective will be to assist in the process of connecting those Trees which have common ancestors through the identification of the most recent common ancestors (MRCA) for pairs of Foundation Trees. Some outputs of the study should be available towards the end of 2009.