One-Name Study


About the study

Many years ago, when I started my personal family tree, I began with information which my father had from stories told to him, when he was a boy in New Zealand, by his grandfather Edward James Foothead. I was fascinated by these stories and decided to try and verify them. Despite the rarity of the surname, I had trouble identifying the relevant individuals as they all appeared to be called either John or James so I decided the only way to find the people I wanted was to collect them all!In doing so I became fascinated with the Foothead Family, yes it is only one extended family, that nearly died out in the mid 19th century when Edward James was the only male Foothead anywhere on earth. Fortunately he had a large family, mainly sons, and the name is now spreading in Australasia and may eventually make it home to its roots in the UK.Thus began a long and as yet incomplete search for Footheads where ever they are or were across the globe.

Variant names

In the early years, the 14th to 16th centuries the name often appears as Fotehede, Footyhet or Fothate. All though none of these names appear to exist today I have encountered several individuals using the variants in antique documents and so have included them in my study.

Name origin

The Foothead family seem to have their origins in East Yorkshire. The first occurrence of the name being in the 14th century when the family seat was the moated manor house known as Foothead Garth. This passed out of the family, by marriage, in the 16th Century as there were no direct male heirs to the then owner. The house sits at the FOOT of Spurn HEAD and this may indicate the origins of the name, being the name of the place where they lived. The Garth was also built at the HEAD of the Keyingham FLEET( now drained) which may also give a clue to the names origins. This area of Yorkshire, South Holderness, was a marshy area drained by 4 Fleets which fed into the Humber and were also subject to seasonal flooding. Keyingham Fleet ran almost the entire width of the South Holderness Peninsula. The particular high ground that the house sits on is also foot shaped and would have been an island in the marshlands when the house was built on the big toe (head) of the foot.Another possibility is that the origin is actually in Ireland where the Catholic Encyclopedia records a St Fothad in County Donegal at the close of the eighth century. Then into Scotland where Fothad II was recorded as Fothad, High Bishop (or Archbishop) of Scotland in the 'Annals of Ulster' on his death in 1093.

History of the name

Other than those two clerics, the earliest Foothead I have found so far is one John Fothate (Junior) of Foothead Garth who was a witness to a court case in 1352. around the same time Robert Fothate, also of the Garth, married Alice de Meaux. Slightly more recently John Foothead or Fotehede was Master of Michaelhouse College Cambridge from 1498 -1515. Michaelhouse is now part of Trinity College. He was also a member of the council of Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond & Derby and handed over the statutes for her for Christ's College on 3 Oct 1506. Around 1822, a 'Mr Foothead' was recommended by Burke of Burke's Peerage, as an excellent tutor in classics for the education of the sons of the US ambassador to England. He is also mentioned as a tutor in the Bloomsbury area in the Memoirs of a Highland Lady (Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus).The most notorious Foothead is James Foothead who was the subject of an Old Bailey Trial in 1786 which resulted in a sentence of seven years deportation! There have also been quite a few bankrupts in the family's history.

Name frequency

Starting as only one family, the name was never widespread and it seems many male Footheads either took Holy Orders, they were Roman Catholic, and so had no children, or had mainly female offspring. This lead to the near extinction of the name altogether. Indeed the name Foothead did die die out in the UK in 1935 with the death of Emily Mary Ann Foothead, her elder brother, Edward James, having emigrated to New Zealand in 1874 taking his wife and two infant sons with him. He had a further 8 children once there, seven of them boys. Almost all the boys became fathers of sons multiple times over and by 1935 there were 68 Footheads in New Zealand and Australia.

Distribution of the name

Starting from the East Yorkshire coast the family appears to have spread southwards following the Trent Valley along the Lincolnshire/ Nottinghamshire border. It may be that the regional accent there converted the name to Foottet/Foottit, names still current in that area, and a potential extension of this study.From Nottinghamshire the family arrived in London and, during the years of the British Raj, had strong links with India. They also touched on France and have now crossed the globe to and are concentrated in New Zealand and Australia.


I hold copies of all of the Birth and Marriage certificates for a Foothead, since 1837, in the UK and the majority of the death certificates. I also have copies of the Family Bible pages that went to New Zealand with Edward James and recorded all the hatchings, matchings and some of the despatchings there. As well as those I have copies of wills and court papers, book references and letters spanning most of the family's existence. I'm sure there is a lot I don't have and have yet to find, I'm still working on it!


Name: Carol Gilbert


Carol Gilbert


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