Didymus is Aramaic for twin. In the bible Thomas Didymus (Doubting Thomas) was probably named because his doubts were double those of any others. Other names from antiquity include Didymus Chalcenterus a 1st century BC Greek scholar, Didymus the Musician from the 1st century and Didymus the Blind of Alexandria - a 4th century theologian.
Many people with links to the modern name can trace its origin back to two of the three individuals, who first appeared in the church records of the Hampshire town of Titchfield around the middle of the 18th century. Even by 1800 the name was virtually exclusive to a radius of ten miles centred on Titchfield and concentrated in the parishes of Wickham, Bursledon and Portchester.
As demand for labour moved away from the rural centres to the towns during the first quarter of the century, the name soon reached Portsmouth and Southampton. Travel became easier for the working classes after the introduction of the railways, and soon migrants could be found at the larger towns on the mainline such as Brighton and London. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the name begins to appear overseas in places such as New York, Ontario and Melbourne.
The purpose of this study is to; (a) identify all decendents of the Didymus family up until the end of the ninteenth century and to produce a detailed narrative of each of their lives (and of directly related families). (b) To find direct evidence linking the Tichfield families with earlier generations.
Almost all individuals have been identified and their inter-relationships confirmed with 95% confidence. I have found it convenient to use spreadsheets to input all of the information as it is possible to include a great deal of detail regarding dates and facts and also to obtain an instantaneous overview of the whole family as well as weed out any inconsistencies. However none of this information has been transfered to GEDCOM format yet.
I have written individual "pen portraits" for about two-thirds of the family (up to 1900). When this task is complete I hope to publish in the form of a book which will be made available to my local family history centres and to the Guild.
Progress on (b) is slow and currently is limited to speculation regarding early occurrences of the name in Devon.
One common problem in tracing the origins of this unusual name is the variety of spellings that can found in many contemporary records. Few parishioners could write their own name, so it was usually the responsibility of the parish scribe to interpret the pronunciation as best he could. This was particularly problematic with Didymus, which would have generally been pronounced with a broad Hampshire or West Country dialect. There is considerable variation of spelling within parishes but in general, Titchfield and Wickham clerks wrote Didymus (or Dydimus), whereas Portchester preferred Diddemas and Gosport, Didemas. The Portsmouth and Southampton authorities both ignored the last vowel completely, which confuses early migrants with the (probably) unrelated Diddams families who settled in the North of Hampshire a century earlier.
Almost 50 variations in the spelling of the name have been found to date, some evolving into separate strains of the name. For example the name was permanently transformed into Didemus in Canada, Dedamess in Portchester and Diddams in both Portsmouth and Southampton (the same as the probably unrelated North Hampshire families).
Most Hampshire records date back to the late 18th century, no mention of the name (with the extra vowel) is found in Hampshire prior to 1731. This suggests that the family was originally based in another county. A clue to a possible alternative starting point comes from early parish records around a small area of southwest Devon, where variants of the name Didymous appears.
The distance between these communities should not rule out any link between the families, since any migration is likely to have been by sea. If we consider the earliest Hampshire record, which relates to the marriage of Richard Didymus in 1731 at Gosport (which housed the marine barracks and naval hospital as well as many service families), then there is a possibility that Richard served in the Royal Navy or perhaps the marines. Portsmouth and Devonport (near Plymouth) were the main naval ports along the South Cost and many sailors would have visited both of these towns.
The respective fishing fleets were also connected since mariners from the West Country would have put in at ports at various points along the south coast depending on where their catch could be found or sold. There was also a coastal passenger and mail service between Devon and Hampshire: News from the Americas would generally arrive in Plymouth and would be conveyed to London via Portsmouth rather than overland along the treacherous and dangerous roads of the period.
Finally there were the trading ships that operated along the South Coast: One such example is described in the “Ship News” in the Morning Chronicle of 6th February 1773, which reports on the arrival in Southampton of the Industry, a vessel arriving from Fowey in Cornwall whose master’s name is given as “Didimus”. John Dydimus who was born in 1752 in Titchfield is known to have served in the "coastal trade" and made frequent trips to Devon and Cornwall (although the above notice may refer to his father).
If the family did come from the West Country, then perhaps a defunct farm and area of woodland just north of Plymouth called Didham may be a contender for the origin of their name. The close links between the south coast of Hampshire and this part of Devon is illustrated by the mid 19th century marriages of Charles and Walter Didymus who both married girls from Tavistock, which is about 150 miles from their birthplace in Wickham, but only about three miles north of Didham farm.
It’s likely that the surname Didham, which is comparatively common in Devon and Cornwall is derived from this area, but how could Didymus evolve from Didham? Perhaps from a family who were living in the manor house (originally on the site of the farm) or in a house close to or in Didham Wood: In the age when surnames were starting to become hereditary, a resident may have been referred to as “John-from-Didham-House”. In the local dialect this could eventually be shortened to John Didam’ouse. After hearing the name pronounced with a West Country accent, it’s easy to see how some scribes would have used the biblical spelling in these early records.
Of course there many other ways in which the name could have been conceived: It could be a corruption of the ancient French name De Damas for example, or it could just have originated as a nickname, perhaps given by a local priest to a parishioner, who asked too many questions after church. After all, this was how Doubting Thomas got his name.
History of the name
The earliest citation is of John, son of John Didymus who was baptised in Little Hempston, Devon on 19th May 1655 (about 20 miles south-east of Didham). John and his wife Mary had five more children – George in 1658, John in 1661 (so presumably the first John had died), Nicholas in 1663, Mary in 1667 and Richard in 1670.
It seems that there was little tolerance for women who gave birth out of wedlock: For example Mary’s (John’s wife’s) mother is referred to twice in the register – but never by name. The first occasion was on her death in 1665 when the parish entry is stark: “The mother of said Mary Didymous was a bastard and was buried this day May”. Two years after her death when Mary’s own daughter (also Mary) was baptised, the minister had not forgotten, writing, “This Mary had a bastard grandmother but found the faith". Hopefully a different cleric was incumbent twenty-six years later when young Mary also gave birth to a son (Richard) without being married.
There is a reference to an even earlier generation in the nearby parish of Berry Pomeroy. When Edward Didimouse married Johan (Joan) Parker in 1659, the parish register records that Edward lived in the parish and that his father’s name was Richard, who would have been born sometime around 1610 and may have also been the father of John.
There are a number of other references to Didymouse, Didymus and Didimus in Little Hempston during the early 1700’s, mostly concerned with John’s youngest son Richard: For example a warrant from 3rd Nov 1712 shows a payment of 12s. 10d. to John Basset, Sheriff of Devon, to recompense him for his payment to John Harvey for apprehending Richard Didymus and two other felons for housebreaking. Another document probably refers to Richard’s wife Mably (short for Mabilla), who was convicted at Devon Assizes in 1729 and sentenced to be transported to the Americas for between 7 and 14 years. She sailed to Virginia on the merchant ship Patapsco in March 1729, the vessel arrived three months later but Mably was not heard of again.
Richard and Mably’s eldest son was also Richard (bn.1699). After his mother’s conviction he moved to nearby Stoke Gabriel where he married Winifred Hooper (also known as Wilmot) in 1732 and had four offspring. The family were probably paupers since local officials apprenticed all of their children out in their early teens to ensure that they would not become a burden on the parish funds. In theory children of poor families could be apprenticed to learn a variety of trades but most were listed as learning housewifery or husbandry, which in practice meant that they just acted as unpaid servants or labourers. It’s not known what became of Richard’s family once their apprenticeships were over.
Little is known of John’s other children. His first son died during childhood and George died at the age of twenty-five, presumably before he had a chance to marry and there is no record of John and Nicholas after their baptisms at Little Hempston in 1661 and 1663 respectively. Of his daughters, Elizabeth married Thomas Harrodan and the family went to live in Paignton and Mary had a son, Richard out of wedlock in 1693.
The last mention of the surname in Devon appears in the Stoke Gabriel church record on the 4th October 1789, when Susanna Dydimus married John Burk. The male line seems to have died out in Devon sometime during the second half of the 17th century and there is no record of any native Didymus living in the county when the National Birth, Marriage and Death indexes are first compiled in 1837.
Distribution of the name
In other countries, Didymus appears more often as a given name rather than a family name. However it does appear as a surname in American records from the 1850’s particularly in New York and along the east coast. One of the earliest references relates to William Didymus, a black American from Camden, New Jersey, who was aged 81 at the time of the 1880 Census. He gives his and his father’s birthplace as New Jersey and his mother’s as the Caribbean, but unfortunately he omits his father’s name. A number of Didymus’ also served on the side of the Union during the American Civil War (1861-65), however these and other contemporary records all relate to black or mixed race Americans, so it seems likely that the few Didymus’ living in America before 1870 may have had a different origin.
While there is still a possibility that they are descended from the one of the Devon Didymus (perhaps when Mably Didymus was deported to Virginia in 1729, she may have been followed by her husband or a son), it’s more likely that this family name originated from one given by a slave boss to one of his captives. For example in 1817, Earle Romney, a slave owner of the island of St. Christopher registers Thomas Dydimus, a Creole slave aged 1. Also shortly before the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean in 1834, William Byram a slaver in Antigua registers at least two slaves with the single name “Didymus”.
The name also appears in the town of Simonswolde in north-east Germany during the 18th and 19th century. Thooms Klaassen Didymus married Lukke Conrads Freudenberg in Simonswolde sometime around 1789 and Jasper Klaassen Didymus, who was probably Thooms’ son, married Aaltje Reints in 1816. They had five children between 1817-1829, all with the last name “Didymus”, but the name may not have always been hereditary: Researchers have identified the father of Thooms Didymus as Klaas Thomasen so it’s not clear how the Didymus name originated here. It may be a combination of practices, common in some rural areas of Germany, for the first name and family name to be reversed, and also for all the males in a family to be given the same “vorname” which was often in memory of a saint (in this case St Thomas Didymus).
Of the English families, many of the later generations of the family were seafarers and undoubtedly visited countless distant lands either in military service or as merchant seamen, however after the transportation of Mably Didymus in 1729 there seems to be no confirmed instances of any emigration from England until 1854, when John Didymus (born 1825) and his wife Ann Coombs took advantage of a government sponsored emigration program to migrate to Melbourne. Unfortunately John died within a year of their arrival and Ann remarried soon after so the Didymus name quickly disappeared from the records. Eight years later William Didemus (born 1839) also tried his luck in Melbourne with his new bride, however he returned to London after just a few years. He then sailed to North America with his second wife (his first wife having died) and the couple had at least three children in New York between 1870-76 before the family ultimately moved to Ontario, where William died in 1922. William’s descendents still live around the Niagara Falls area.
Another early emigrant was George-Luke (Luke) Didymus (born 1861), the son of Mark Didymus from Droxford. Luke was a naval man and following ten years service, he emigrated to New York in May 1891. He settled in the Yonkers district of New York where he married an Irish immigrant and had two daughters. He had no male offspring so the only remaining instances of the name surviving in the city at the turn of the century were almost certainly not related to the Devon or Hampshire families.
I intend to add links to transcripts of relavent entries in parish registers from Hampshire and Devon in this section. But all other data is currently either in paper form or consolidated into a large excel spreadsheet. However I will be happy to reply to any specific questions regarding the Didymus family (prior to 1900). I am also researching many of the decendents of females in the family so I may also be able to provide details regarding related families. In addition I have extensive information on the Diddams family of North Hampshire which I have needed to investigate to "eliminate them from my enquiries".