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2,396 study surnames with us
and a further 6,089 variant names.

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About the study

Like most other one-name researchers, I started off back in 1971 with an overriding curiosity in just my own direct ancestors, but after many early successes I hit a brick wall with the failure to establish the birth place of my g-g-g-grandfather, John Churchward, in 1778. Trawling through all possible Devon parishes I eventually found three likely candidates, and researching all possible links led to a mass of data unrelated to my own particular line.

Join them all together and what do you get? A one-name study!

Many years later, John's birthplace was finally established - in spite of the 1851 Census enumerator's error in giving him the same surname as his married daughter.

For the past 40 years or so I have maintained correspondence with Churchwards and their descendants all over the UK, Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand, and the store of knowledge is still growing.

Variant names

The surname is often confused with CHURCHYARD (of Suffolk origin) and its variant CHURCHARD, but the only likely variant - CHURCHWOOD - is usually found in indexes as a mis-transcribed CHURCHWARD.
CHURCHYARDs and CHURCHARDs have therefore not been followed up, but the few and far between CHURCHWOODs have been included, not as a variant but simply a misspelling.

Name origin

It is undoubtedly occupational in origin, based upon the churchwarden's function in the village church, and all early occurrences have been found in a fairly localised area of the South Hams in Devon.

Historical occurrences of the name

The earliest record of the surname (to date) was in the Devonshire Lay Subsidy in 1332, when Walter Churchward of Paignton was assessed at 2s.

The most famous holder of the surname was George Jackson Churchward (1857-1933). Born in Stoke Gabriel, he became Chief Engineer of the GWR, and was Swindon's first mayor. He is still very much revered by steam train enthusiasts.  He is buried in Swindon.

Name frequency

In spite of infant mortality and emigration, the UK Churchwards continued a healthy growth in numbers throughout the second half of the 19th. Century and into the early 20th. Century. From the census returns for England and Wales there were 236 in 1841; 298 in 1851; 343 in 1861; 394 in 1871; 452 in 1881; 495 in 1891; 516 in 1901 and then 523 in 1911.

Distribution of the name

Before the advent of the railways, very few Churchwards escaped from South Devon. They were most numerous in Stoke Gabriel; Buckfastleigh; Paignton; Staverton and adjoining parishes, although they are also found in the early registers of Brixham. It is from Brixham that possibly a few found their way to Newfoundland and hence Canada and America.

Once the railways had been established, several (my own family included) went further afield to seek work, whilst some of the better-educated became engineers; missionaries and soldiers in various parts of the world. Australia and Canada were favourite destinations.


A large quantity of data has been collected, much of which will eventually be added to the Guild's Archive. It includes references to the surname from:-

Births; marriages and deaths from the Civil Registration Indexes for England and Wales from 1837 to 2005 (1878 births, 1378 marriages and 1297 deaths).

The 1841; 1851; 1861; 1871; 1881; 1891; 1901 & 1911 Census Returns for England and Wales.

The Probate Registry Indexes from 1858 to 2001.

Many parish register entries, especially Devon.

Several copies of wills, BMD certificates etc.

Extracts from the IGI and other Internet sources.


The Churchward DNA Project was set up with FamilyTreeDNA in 2010, and to date twelve volunteers have joined the project.  The results so far have confirmed that the earliest Staverton Churchward really was from Buckfastleigh, and that many of the Stoke Gabriel and Paignton Churchwards were part of the same big happy inter-marrying family!
See the DNA Project Profile and DNA Project website at the links below.