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2,397 study surnames with us
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About the study

Update 24 November 2014.  Sadly Michael Debenham passed away in May 2014.  His Debenham One Name Study website is being  maintained by his widow (Margaret Debenham) and  family, but no new material will now be added. 

The information  on the study given below is that provided by Michael.

My practical interest in family history effectively began about thirty years ago when I found myself working near St Catherine's House in London, where the Birth, Marriage and Death records of the UK General Registration were kept at the time. I wandered in one lunch-time, was amazed by what I found, and as is commonly said I've never looked back.

As often happens when tracing one's own ancestry, I encountered a 'brick wall' in the 18th Century, being unable to find a birth. A possible solution appeared to be looking for all recorded Debenhams at or about that time, wherever in the UK they might be located, and so the Study took a more formal course and was registered with the Guild in 2004. It has since expanded to embrace Debenhams worldwide.

Variant names

Several variants of the name have taken root, principally Debnam which is a simple contraction of the name and is included as a registered variant as part of the One-Name Study. Dedman may also be an early variant, and is markedly prevalent in Australia following emigration to that country.

Name origin

The name Debenham has its origins in a Suffolk village, a hamlet on the River Deben about 12 miles north of Ipswich. The river flows into the North Sea near Felixstowe and its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for 'deep valley', but just where this valley might be is not clear.

Historical occurrences of the name

The earliest reference to the name appears to be a Lucas de Debenham, a man of high estate, probably Sir Lucas, who evidently lived in the area of Debenham in AD 1165. In the 14th and 15th Centuries there was a line of Gilbert Debenhams (five of them!) who lived at Wenham Hall in Suffolk. Of these Gilberts, several represented Suffolk at the parliaments that were held at that time, one was Sheriff of the county in 1395, and one was knighted in person by Henry VI at Leicester in 1426.

The lines of descent following the various Gilberts are obscure, and likely to remain so. However, three areas are now apparent as centres of population for Debenhams of the 16th Century and later. One of these includes Sapiston and Ixworth Thorpe, a few miles north-east of Bury St Edmunds, another is centred on Redgrave, some 12 miles to the east and including the villages of Botesdale and Rickinghall, while the third is south of Bury and includes the villages of Thorpe Morieux, Alpheton and the Bradfield group. It is presently thought that there are three main lines of descent that originate from these areas.

Name frequency

The UK Census returns give possibly the best picture of both numbers and geographic distribution of a surname. In the 1841 Census there were 337 Debenhams and 211 Debnams, in 1851 there were 372 and 191 respectively, in 1861 353 and 230, in 1871 476 and 242, in 1881 572 and 286, in 1891 600 and 301, and finally in the 1901 Census 716 and 393, but these figures are almost certainly less than fully accurate. The 2002 Electoral Roll (the last year for which full information is publicly available) lists 1010 Debenhams and 441 Debnams of voting age.

The General Registration lists 2823 Debenham Births from July 1837 to December 2005 inclusive, with 2067 Marriages and 1808 Deaths in this time, these figures relating to England and Wales only. The corresponding figures for Debnams are 1658 Births, 1180 Marriages and 1095 Deaths. There are very few records of either name in Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Distribution of the name

The most populous counties for the Debenham name are Suffolk, Norfolk and Middlesex, with significant numbers also in Surrey, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Yorkshire. Debnams are located mainly in Essex, Hertfordshire and Wiltshire, with significant outposts in North Kent, Humberside, Devon and Tyne and Wear. Internationally there has been major emigration by Debenhams and Debnams to both Australia and the United States, and these emigrations are the subject of further research as part of the Study.


Currently I have the complete General Registration indexes for both the Debenham and Debnam names from 1837 to 2005, with indexes up to 1907 available in the Guild Archive together with the Principal Probate Register entries to that year. I have the 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 UK Census entries for both names, and several hundred Parish Register entries for Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, mainly in Suffolk.

Debenhams are also found in significant numbers in Australia and the United States. The Australian records include Births, Marriages and Deaths from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century; the United States records are primarily Census Returns, with Debenhams appearing from 1820 onwards. There are also Debenhams in the US Immigration records.

The available data can be accessed via my family history website at the link below.


Retained study profile

This study is no longer registered with the Guild, but this profile page has been retained at the member's request. Please note that neither officers nor members of the Guild are able to answer any questions about this study.

However, the Guild has preserved the member's original website here.