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About the study
From what I found out in my studies so far, there are four possible origins of the name:
(a) German: variant of Quast - Quast being
1 habitational name from any of several places so named in northern Germany.
2 metonymic occupational name for a barber or nickname for someone who wore a conspicuous tassel or feather, from Middle Low German, Middle High German quast(e) 'tuft', 'tassel', 'brush', also 'fool'.
(Source: www.ancestry.com/facts/quest-family-history.ashx )
(b) Nordic: variant of Qvist or Kvist - Kvist meaning twig (source: www.nordicnames.de/surnames.html )
(c) French: where it is recorded as Quest, Queste, Questienne, Questier, Quetier, Questel, Quetel, Questiaux and others, perhaps surprisingly as the name is much associated with Normandy, it does not appear to be recorded in England before1685. This date suggests that it is associated with the Huguenot Protestant refugee movement, many of whom who fled from France to avoid prosecution in the period from 1650 to 1750. This mass emigration, some fifty thousand it is said to England, reached its height about 1680, more or less the date when this name is first recorded. Its meaning is obscure, but it clearly originates from the Latin word 'questus, meaning to complain. It is possible therefore that it was originally a medieval nickname, either for somebody who continually complained, or who perhaps had some official capacity such as a solicitor, one who handled complaints. The French Dictionary of Surnames suggests that it described a tax collector, and it was certainly for many nameholders, occupational. Early examples of the surname recording include James Quest christened at St Sepulchre church in the city of London on January 5th 1685, and in France where the majority of civil and church registers were lost during the Revolutionary Years (1789 - 1795), John Questienne, at Cond-sur-L'escaut, Nord, on August 19th 1671, and Eloi Quest, at St Germain-au-Laye, Seine-et-Oise, on July 25th 1774. (Source: www.surnamedb.com/surname.aspx?name=quest )
(d) The book 'A Dictionary of English Surnames' writen by Reaney & Wilson (Publishers: Oxford Press) suggests that the name may derive from the old French 'queste' meaning tax. The surname would therefore be a metonymic for a tax collector.
My researches into the family have identified three historic centres for the surname: around Hull in Yorkshire; around Chatham in Kent and around Devonport in Devon. These are all seafaring locations which makes me wonder whether the Nordic source is the most likely.
Historical occurrences of the name
My studies have revealed that:
The earliest records of a Quest that I have found to date are in the following documents:
(a) Grantees of offices, commissions and pardons (1317-1321) - where on 2 Mar 1318 in Westminster a Minkynus Quest of Lincoln was exempted for life from being put on assizes, juries, or recognitions; and from being made sheriff, coroner, mayor, or bayliff &c
(b) Claro wapentake (1379) - which shows a Willelmus Quest living in Bemeslay (now Beamsley in the West Riding of York).
There were only 765 Quest births registered in England and Wales between 1837 and 2005 - in other words we are a very rare breed!
There are numerous Quests referenced in IGI - 681 by my count spanning 27 counties with the major locations being Cornwall 165; Devon 135; Yorkshire 88; Lancashire 63 and Kent 52. This however gives a somewhat false impression because the Cornwall and Devon numbers include various duplicates and in some cases triplicates and also many entries from a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints rather than Parish Records. The other complicating factor is that there is significant mxiing up of QUESTs and GUESTs because 'Q' and 'G' often looked very similar in the writing styles of that era.
Despite this wide IGI county-coverage, there are only three sources of Quests pre-dating 1837 who had births registered between 1837 and 1901: the Yorkshire Quests (my ancestors - all derived from Thomas Quest b1777), the Kent Quests (mainly from Sheppey and all derived from George Quest b 1774) and the West Country Quests (originally from Devon but also lived in Cornwall and all derived from Charles Quest b 1782). Interestingly all locations are close to the sea and I was fascinated that one of the early West Country Quests is shown in censuses as being "born at sea".
In addition there were various immigrant Quests who arrived in England after 1837, these being from Ireland, Sweden and Germany.
Of the Quest births registered between 1837 and 1901, 62% were from the Yorkshire Quests; 20% were West Country Quests; 12% were Irish Quest immigrants; 4% were Swedish Quest immigrants and 2% were Kent Quests. These percentages are however a little misleading as, while the Yorkshire Quests were fastidious in registering births from 1837, some of the others branches, particularly the West Country Quests, were slow off the mark and only starting to register births after around 1875.