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About the study

I have been studying the surname Gillingham, which was my maiden name, for over 30 years. My own line traces back to Richard Gillingham and Magdalen Chyles who were married in Lydlinch, Dorset in 1570. The family were yeomen farmers at that time and sent sons to the universitites of Oxford and Cambridge. Some became vicars, others inherited their father's land and a surprising number of younger sons became blacksmiths. From 1570 to about 1650, 'Farre' is sometimes given as an alias for Gillingham in Dorset.

Name origin

There are 3 places in the UK, which bear the name Gillingham; in Dorset, Kent and Norfolk. There was a family of that name in Kent in the early Middle Ages but it appears to have died out. Its arms "€œblazoned quarterly ermine and gules on a red and white shield"€ is no longer used.

The Kent town is generally pronounced "€œJillingham"€ whereas most people with the surname Gillingham follow the Dorset and Norfolk pronunciation with a hard "€œg"€ as in goat. The arms generally associated with the family since about 1600 are those granted to the Gislingham family of Suffolk and are described in Burke’s General Amory as follows;

Arms: azure, a fesse or between three swans argent.

Crest: a dexter arm couped and embowed proper vested sable suffed argent holding a sword in pale enfiled with a leopard'€™s head embossed proper.

The Gislingham arms were used by various branches of the Gillingham family (mainly Lydlinch and Canford) without any entitlement.

Distribution of the name

The original heartland for Gillinghams and still the location of many of the family today is the Dorset-Somerset border area around Gillingham itself. Dorset Gillinghams always appear to have been more numerous than East Anglian Gillingham, most of whom are found along the NorfolkSuffolk border.

There are several large Gillingham families in the US, the main branches being descendants of Yeamans Gillingham who was in Pennsylvania by 1690 and William Gillingham who was in Massachusetts by 1664.

There are also significant Gillingham populations in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, in particular the province of Newfoundland.


I have a large collection of references from all round the world covering baptisms marriages and burials, civil registration, census, wills, military records, UK poor law documentation, historic and current newspapers and much much more. I have around 45,000 individuals in my database, most connected to at least one other person and many attached to large family trees.

I am always delighted to hear from those connected with this family and I am happy to share and swap information.


I have recently strted a DNA project with a view to determining how many separate Gillingham families there are. I am also hoping that this will eventually reveal whether the earlier US Gillinghams, Yeamans and William, were from the Dorset or East Anglian lines - or perhaps quite separate!

For more details about the Gillingham DNA project please visit our website at