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Marter and Martyr


About the study

My first foray into the history of my family name of MARTER commenced about 20 years ago when my eldest son suggested to me that I should rebind the rather dilapidated Family Bible, which my father had sequestered some years previously from my aunt.  In some of the the front and rear folios of the bible were the dates of births, marriages and deaths of many of my paternal ancestors over the period of early- to late-19th Century when they lived in Mildenhall, Suffolk, England.

As my studies delved further back, I traced my MARTER ancestors back to Epsom, Horsell, Woking, and Chertsey, all in Surrey, England. Needless to say, during my searches, other families with the name of MARTER, which at first did not connect to mine, came to light.  In addition, families were found in counties such as Kent and Cornwall, England, as well as countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United States of America.  My thinking at this time is that at least as far back as the mid-1500s the English family name of MARTER originated in Effingham, Surrey, England.

Variant names

The primary registered variant of the name of MARTYR is MARTER with an earliest record of 1415-1417 of Thomas Marter, an archer with the Garrison of Harfleur, Normandy, France, who probably fought at the Battle of Agincourt on the 25th October, 1415 whilst serving under Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Dorset.

Battle of Agincourt - 1415

Other minor variants are: MARTIR which has an earliest record of 1549 at Guildford, Surrey, and MARTAR which has an earliest record of 1505 also at Guildford, Surrey.  The name of MARTYR itself has been traced back to 1480 when one Richard Martyr is referred to as being the archdeacon of London and is granted an acre of land in Estgrenewiche (East Greenwich, Kent).

Also included within this group of variants could be that of le MARTRE, a name which can be traced back to the 12th Century in areas such as: the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, and Kingscote, Gloucestershire.  Other, minor variants which have been found are: de MARTER, de MARTIER, du MARTRE, le MARTYR, MARTERS, MARTRE, MARTTER, MARTUR, and MARTYRE.  Some of these last names may well be just transcription errors of names provided to clerks/officials by those who had no knowledge of spelling.

Of significance is the fact that until the commencement of mandatory registration of births marriages and deaths in 1837, the family names of MARTER and MARTYR were freely interchanged even between children of the same parents and it isn't until about 1840 that the use of only one of these two names within the same family was used consistently.

Name origin

If someone were to be asked for their opinion as to the origin or derivation of the surnames of Marter and Martyr, a very plausible response would be; “Someone who had been tortured or burned to death for their religious beliefs or someone who had suffered greatly in the support of a specific cause which they felt very strongly about.”   The truth of the matter is that although this imaginary answer would seem to be well-reasoned, there is much more involved in trying to arrive at the reality.

The term martyr derives from the Greek word meaning "witness', and originally denoted someone who had been called to act as a witness in legal proceedings.  With this meaning it was also used in the secular sphere in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  The proceedings of bearing witness was not intended to lead to the death of the witness although among the lower classes, where they were often routinely tortured before interrogation as a means of ensuring that they disclosed ‘the truth’, this did sometimes occur.  During the early centuries of Christianity, the term was extended to include someone who, because of their religious beliefs and as a result because of bearing witness, endured suffering and possible eventual death.  Those who died as a result of this often barbaric process or the value attributed to it, were considered to have suffered martyrdom.

A more accurate origin is more probably that the name originated from the personal features nickname from the Middle English martre, marter ‘marten’ (Old French martre) or from the Dutch, possibly from marter meaning ‘marten’.  One interesting piece of evidence I have found for the origin of the name MARTER comes from the engravings produced for John Johnston's (1650-1653) Theatrum universal historiae naturalis, in which there is a series of illustrations on page 265 that depict the marten animal and are labelled as "Martes, Marter and Martes".

Rudens Print Close-up

"Martes Marter Martes"

Historical occurrences of the name

Of all the name variants found to date by far the most common are that of MARTYR and MARTER and although the vast majority lived ordinary lives in the humdrum of mainly the farming and agricultural sectors, there are some who have made a significant contribution to the wider community in the field of the military and the arts.  I have selected the following three people who are in this category.

Major-General Richard James Combe MARTER (1832-1902) of the 1st (King's) Dragoon Guards served in India, and in South Africa during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 that effectively ended with the capture of Cetshwayo, the King of the Zulus, by Major MARTER in the Ngome Forest of Natal-South Africa.  As a result of this exploit, MARTER was received by Queen Victoria at a dinner held at Windsor Castle on the 28th April, 1880.  He was subsequently appointed as ADC to Queen Victoria in 1881, a position he held until 1884 when he was transferred back to his beloved India.

Major R J C Marter

Mrs Margaret MARTYR (nee Thornton) (c.1761-1807) was the daughter of a London tailor and became the pupil of James Hook beginning a singing career at Vauxhall Gardens, an open-air theatre venue, during the summer of 1778.  During the period 1778-80 she performed as Miss Thornton but after her marriage to a Captain John MARTYR, she performed as Mrs Margaret MARTYR.  From the start, the marriage was not a success, there was talk of her infidelity and of his accumulation of debt.  Shortly after their marriage, John MARTYR fled to Calais, France where his 'death' was reported to his 'widow' by letter dated the 1st October, 1783.  Margaret MARTYR was an attractive brunette, sportive, playful, and free-spirited and she had a successful career in English opera playing at The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden and The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  Her operatic career spanned the years 1778-1804 and after her death in 1807, she was buried in the cemetery of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London, England.

Mrs Margaret Martyr

 Ian Don MARTER (1944-1986) was educated at the University of Oxford, England and graduated in 1969 and started his career at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as a stage manager as well as acting in minor stage roles. After auditioning for the role of Captain Mike Yates in the eighth season of the TV series Doctor Who, he was cast in the role of Harry Sullivan in the same series in: The Ark in Space (1977), The Sonatron Experiment (1978), The Ribos Operation (1979), The Enemy of the World (1981), Earthshock (1983), The Dominators (1984), The Invasion (1985), Harry Sullivan's War (1986), The Reign of Terror (1987), and The Rescue (1987), all of which he had written the scripts and novelisations for the subsequent so-named books published by Target Books.

Ian Don Marter

Ian Don Marter

He also scripted for the following four 1980s Touchstone films: Splash, Baby, Down and Out in Beverley Hills, and Tough Guys.  In addition, he wrote a series of Gummi Bears Picture Books which were apparently never published due to contractual issues: Book 1 Disney's Gummi Bears: Zummi Makes It Hot (as Ian Don, Disney, Target Books, 1986), Book 2 Disney's Gummi Bears: Gummi In A Gilded Cage (as Ian Don, Disney, Target Books, 1986), Book 3 Disney's Gummi Bears: The Secret of the Juice (as Ian Don, Disney, Target Books, 1986), and Book 4 Disney's Gummi Bears: Light Makes Right (as Ian Don, Disney, Target Books, 1986).

Name frequency

The Office of National Statistics for the United Kingdom published a list of the frequencies of surnames for England, Wales, and the Isle of Man in September, 2002 based upon the 2001 Population Census.  From this source, the two family names of MARTYR and MARTER were recorded as being: MARTYR with 196 records (0.00033%) and the 21,562 most common name, and MARTER with 155 records (0.00026%) and the 25,108 most common name. The Index of the Population Census of England and Wales over the period 1841-1911 provide the following information:

1841: Total Population: 14,897,000 with 179 of MARTYR (0.0012%) and 503 of MARTER (0.0034%)  1851: Total Population: 17,151,000 with 421 of MARTYR (0.0025%) and 711 of MARTER (0.0041%)  1861: Total Population: 18,517,000 with 1,003 of MARTYR (0.0023%) and 1,106 of MARTER (0.0060%)  1871: Total Population: 21,557,000 with 262 of MARTYR (0.0012%) and 529 of MARTER (0.0025%)  1881: Total Population: 24,606,000 with 219 of MARTYR (0.0009%) and 574 of MARTER (0.0023%)   1891: Total Population: 27,310,000 with 782 of MARTYR (0.0029%) and 1,131 of MARTER (0.0041%)  1901: Total Population: 32,246,000 with 371 of MARTYR (0.0012%) and 835 of MARTER (0.0026%)   1911: Total Population: 34,373,000 with 491 of MARTYR (0.0014%) and 962 of MARTER (0.0028%).

Distribution of the name

The primary method which I have used in recording the family names of MARTYR and MARTER has been through the family history software program Family TreeMaker (FTM), Version 2005.  This reports a total number of 8.860 individuals, 2,653 marriages, 102,036 text records covering 16 generations and containing 1,640 different surnames.  It should be noted that my research only covers those individuals who were either born with the family name of MARTYR/MARTYR and its variants, and those who married into those families.

In my early research I used the records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to ascertain the distribution of these surnames and their Soundex Indexing System variants for all recorded years.  With this data I produced a series of tables based upon all the International Genealogical Index (IGI), Ancestral Files (AF), and Pedigree Resource Files (PRF) records for christenings/baptisms, marriages, and deaths/burials.  Extracted data from these are listed below.

Austria (2), Australia (51), Canada (20), Caribbean (9), Denmark (13), England (1,023), France (67), Germany (1,068), Hungary (24), Ireland (4), India (2), Italy (95), Mexico (12), New Zealand (8), Philippines (11), Poland (14), Romania (1), Scotland (6), South Africa (2), Spain (7), Switzerland (3), Wales (2), United States of America (2,098), and Yugoslavia (3).

This data made it appear that there were nuclei of families in Germany, England, and the United States.  The records for the United States are generally much later than those of both England and Germany and evidence indicates that there was a consistent pattern migration of families from Germany to the United States in the mid-19th to early-20th Century.  The oldest records are those from England, however, my research of the families from Germany has not been to any great depth.  In addition, the inclusion of the Soundex name of MARDER to the data has certainly skewed the distribution pattern (662 records for MARDER and 241 for MARTER).  The explanation for the Australia, New Zealand, and Canada populations is due to immigration from England as they were Commonwealth countries of Great Britain. 

My main interest was, and still is, MARTYR/MARTER families in the United Kingdom and, after purchasing the booklets for both MARTYR and MARTER from their series Our Name in History, the following facts on the distribution of these names for the 1851 and 1881 Population Census records of England have been extracted.

1851 Population Census:

MARTYR: Surrey (39), Devon (14), Middlesex (9), Kent (8) and Buckinghamshire (5).  In the county of Surrey, the parishes with the highest counts were: Chertsey (15), Newington (11), and Byfleet (8).

MARTER: Middlesex (107), Kent (56), Surrey (38), Lancashire (34), and Cornwall (19).  In the county of Middlesex, the parishes with the highest counts were: St Pancras (18), Shoreditch (13), St Marylebone (11), Whitechapel (7), and Islington (7).

1881 Population Census:

MARTYR: London (32), Surrey (32), Berkshire (10), Hampshire (9), and Buckinghamshire (2).  In London, the parishes with the highest counts were: Lewisham (10), Newington (7), Bethnal Green (5), Camberwell (4), and Lambeth (4).

MARTER: London (31), Surrey (20), Oxfordshire (4), Norfolk (2), and Hampshire (1).  In London the parishes with the highest counts were: Bloomsbury (9), Shoreditch (6), St Pancras (3), St James (3), and Wandsworth (3).

Whilst this population census information gave me an insight into more recent distribution patterns of the MARTYR/MARTER surnames, they did not provide me with data of earlier times prior to the movement of people from rural to urban areas due to the increase in industrialisation and the decrease of the number of workers in the farming community.  From the records of the Surrey Parish Registers I extracted every record of these two family names for baptisms, marriages, and burials for as far back as there was records.  The summary below, which only includes locations of 20 or more events, indicates that there may have been two early centres of Effingham and Dorking.

Effingham: Baptisms (57), Marriages (11), and Burials (33) - Total 102 records mostly MARTER with a first record 1565.

St Lawrence's Church, Effingham, Surrey, England

Dorking: Baptisms (42), Marriages (3), Burials (32) - Total 80 records of MARTIR, MARTER, & MARTYR - 1st record of 1563.

Great Bookham: Baptisms (30), Marriages (8), Burials (27) - Total of 65 records of MARTIR, MARTER, & MARTYR - 1st record 1633.

Fetcham: Baptisms (24), Marriages, and Burials (35) - Total of 65 records of MARTER & MARTYR - 1st record of 1562.

Guildford: Baptisms (21), Marriages (13), and Burials (24) - Total of 58 records of MARTIR & MARTER - 1st record of 1549.

Long Ditton: Baptisms (19), Marriages (7), and Burials (22) - Total of 48 records of MARTYR - 1st record of 1574.

Ockham: Baptisms (14), Marriages (5), and Burials (10) - Total of 29 records of mostly MARTYR - 1st record of 1601.

Banstead: Baptisms (15), Marriages (2), and Burials (7) - Total 24 records of mostly MARTER - 1st record of 1585.

Kingston-upon-Thames: Baptisms (8), Marriages (7), and Burials (5) - Total records 20 all of MARTER - 1st record of 1563.

 Wonersh: Baptisms (7), Marriages (4), and Burials (9) - Total of 20 records MARTER & MARTYR - 1st record of 1614. 


There are hundreds of sources which have been used to compile this one-name study but the most important ones are detailed below and are not in any particular order of their usefulness or the number of records consulted.

(1) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints International Genealogical Index (IGI), Ancestral Files (AF), Pedigree Resource Files (PRF), and Family Tree records. (2) The General Register Office of Births, Marriages and Deaths of England and Wales from 1937 to the present day. (3) The Population Census of England and Wales for the years 1841-1911. (4) Grants of Probate Registers of the United Kingdom from 1858. (5) West Surrey Family History Society Parish register transcripts that are now on-line at (6) Electoral Rolls of New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia, Australia. (7) Baptism, marriage, burial and cemetery registers of various countries including: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States of America. (8) The Population Census Enumeration Schedules of the United States for the years 1790-1940. (9) Shipping records for emigration from the United Kingdom to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States of America. (10) The National Archives UK online Database records for military awards, wills, and other documents. (11) The London Metropolitan Archives. (12) Find-A-Grave web site at:  (13) Billion Graves at: (14) The National Library of Australia, Trove Collection of Digitised Newspapers at: . 


At this time there are three DNA results available for this One-name study with two others in the process of being tested. These are Y-DNA tests with 37 Markers which use the Family Tree DNA methodology. All three results unsurprisingly gave the haploid group of R-M269 and it is clear from the most recent test results, which show 35 of the 37 markers to be matches with the remaining 2 being rapid changing ones, that we now have a good base from which to work from.

Interestingly, I have received a message from a member of the MARTIN family in the USA whose Y-DNA 37 marker test is an Exact match for one of the MARTER tests!  This is an exciting development as it may lead to the discovery of a new MARTER line which emigrated to the USA some time in the early 1750s and whose name was corrupted to MARTIN. 

Haplogroup R-M269 is the most common European Y-chromosomal lineage, increasing in frequency from east to west, and carried by 110 million European men.  It is found in low frequencies in Turkey and the northern Fertile Crescent, while its highest frequencies are in Western Europe.  The greater the number of Marker Values that are the same, the closer the two testers will be genetically related to each other.

The relative contributions to modern European populations of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers from the Near East have been intensely debated.  Previous studies suggested a Paleolithic origin; however, two recent studies agree that this haplogroup has a more recent origin in Europe—yet they disagree on the timing of its spread.


The web site below is that of a fellow researcher into the family name of MARTYR who is descended from the family line of George MARTYR who emigrated from Greenwich, Kent, England to Creswick, Victoria, Australia in 1852.

My MARTYR family

My own research has resulted in the compilation of a very large number of family trees of MARTYR and MARTER and I have commenced work on the publication of these families using Microsoft Word, which I intend to convert into .pdf, for attachment to a web page of my own. There are ten main family trees each with their own extensive research notes and references attached as follows:

(1) Guildford (Surrey).  (2) EffinghamFetcham and Dorking (Surrey), Greenwich (Kent), the USA and Australia. (3) Great Bookham and Leatherhead (Surrey).  (4) Banstead, Cobham, Ewell, Epsom, and Long Ditton (Surrey).  (5) Chertsey, Woking, Pirbright, Horsell, Epsom, Wandsworth, Leatherhead (Surrey).  (6) Bristol (Glos), London, Ham (Surrey), Canada, and the United States of America.  (7) Burlington (New Jersey) and Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), USA.  (8) Whitechapel (Middlesex), Devonshire and Hampshire.  (9) East Peckham and Otford (Kent), Devonshire, and Australia. (10) Poplar, St Pancras (Middlesex), and New Zealand. 

Each of these family lines and the associated text will be published in three volumes under the main title of A Blacksmith's Tale, with a sub-title of An Abbreviated History of Marter & Martyr Families from mainly Surrey & Kent and their Travels to Elsewhere in the World.

Volume I consists of about 225 pages in seven chapters and deals mainly with general issues associated with family history but with an emphasis on how they relate to the MARTER and MARTYR surnames.

Chapter 1: What's in a Surname?  Chapter 2: Distribution of Marter & Martyr Families throughout the World.  Chapter 3: Migration, Emigration & Immigration to the USA.  Chapter 4: Crests and Coats of Arms.  Chapter 5: Isolated, Interesting Individuals.  Chapter 6: Miscellaneous Marter & Martyr Matters. Chapter 7: Marter or Martyr and does Seniority or Subservience Matter?

Volume II is the main body of the work and will consist of twelve chapters as outlined above at (1)-(12).  As at this date, only Chapter 1, Guildford, Surrey, England, is complete consisting of 80 pages, and Chapter 9, consisting of 147 pages, which is about two-thirds complete.

To see the facts and read about some of the stories associated with Volume I and Volume II, please go to: Marter Family

Volume III is still state of flux because it will consist of all the family trees associated with the twelve chapters contained in Volume II and will form an essential accompaniment in order to make chronological and familial sense of that volume as we jog around the genealogical track shadowing those who have left this mortal coil.