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2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

My one-name study began some years ago when interviewing an elderly relative on my paternal side. She remarked that 'granny had such a funny name' and went on to speculate that she might be Russian. Since her 'granny' was also my great-grandmother I felt this needed investigation and gradually the name Eltoft (not Russian) took over my genealogical studies.

The name dates back to at least the thirteenth century and has never been very plentiful but is now at an all-time low although numbers may be boosted by the contemporary practice of children taking their mother's name. For this reason I follow female lines for at least one generation and sometimes further and also have a supplementary study titled 'No-0ne Is Called Eltoft By Accident' which investigates those with Eltoft as a personal name.

Variant names

There are many different spellings of the name - especially pre-1800 when all spelling was more fluid - but the only consistent variant, of Elltoft, dates from the nineteenth century and is the deliberate amendment by a family based in Wigan, then Liverpool and since mainly transferred to the U.S. where the spelling is reverting to the original single L. Research on this variant family has been supplied by Gordon Bennett Foulkes-Jones.

Name origin

George Redmonds considers the name to be locative from toft, a Scandinavian word meaning clearing, settlement and Ella, a personal name. Viking settlement predates the use of surnames so the family may not be genetically Nordic. There is a very small hamlet called Eltofts, outside Leeds, which is named in the Poll Tax returns of 1379 and possibly an Eltoft near Brigg in Lincolnshire in 1413 which is no longer visible, (as the reference is to the failure to maintain its flood defences the disappearance may be understandable) but the earliest record of the name I have yet found is one Simon de Eltoft in a breaking and entering with GBH in York 1258. American Eltofts do seem mainly to be descended from a small group of nineteenth-century immigrants from Norway and Sweden as well as the Elltofts mentioned above.

Historical occurrences of the name

Far from being significant movers in the history of the country, the Eltofts mainly kept their heads down and their noses clean. Mr Eltoft of Farnhill, Yorkshire, served the 2nd Earl of Cumberland as Steward of Skipton Castle and left his hat there, which figures in the 1571 inventory made after the Earl's death. This branch of the family is noted in Glover's Visitation of Yorkshire in 1586 when their arms, 'argent three chess-rooks sable', were confirmed. They were recusants but not martyrs, fines draining their resources until, impoverished, they vanish into the countryside. Seventeenth-century Eltofts were connected in some capacity with the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury and the Willoughby family in Lincolnshire and Parham, Suffolk.

Name frequency

I have extracted 94 names from the 1881 Census and this represents a mid-point on the slow rise from 52 in 1841 to a high point of 109 in 1901 and a tentative 104 in 1911. Although infant mortality practically ceased in the twentieth century and was accompanied by an astonishing number of Eltofts surviving into their eighth or ninth decade, a low birth-rate has led to a dramatic decline in numbers of birth Eltofts; probably under thirty in Britain and fewer than a hundred in the rest of the world.

Distribution of the name

Eltoft is definitely a north-eastern name in England, from Durham down to Lincoln. It can be seen during the nineteenth century moving south and west down the country from North Yorkshire into the Leeds/Bradford area then into Lancashire and down to Manchester until the changing life-styles and increased mobility of the twentieth century dissipated the shrinking numbers. Eltofts are found briefly in other areas through the cennturies but rarely settle, mostly returning 'home' after a year or two; when I have been able to trace their ancestors, families in London and the Welsh borders are of Yorkshire origin.

The name is found separately in Scandinavia and, of course, in North America descended from both Scandinavian and English immigrants. Australian Eltofts seem to be descended from one Burnley family who emigrated early in the twentieth century and there are Eltoft descendants in New Zealand, although the name itself may have died out.


I have extracted all England and Wales Civil Registrations' bmd 1837 to date, census entries from 1841 to 1911 and probate indices of wills from 1858. There are two Scottish births and two occurrences of northern families in Scottish censuses, but these are transient. I have also extracted names from the IGI, NBI and various emigration lists. Pre 1837 bmd from many Lancashire parish register focussing on Burnley and Manchester areas from about 1780 have been collected and checked and collection of the same data but beginning from the earliest parish registers is under way for Yorkshire. Occurrences and references in historical documents from websites such as A2A are noted and filed for checking and connecting to known family members.

Family trees from the late eighteenth century to mid-twentieth century for the Lancashire branches and some of the Yorkshire ones are reasonably certain but before this connections have been difficult to make, partly because of the patchiness of record-keeping during the Interregnum.