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About the study

The Ramsay/Ramsey one-name study represents a historical review of the surname's origin, development, and world-wide distribution; and, will maintain a searchable archive for Ramsey records. As research progresses, records will be added to expand the scope of the study.

Variant names

From the early Latin forms have come two standard surname variants - RAMSAY, from the Scottish dialect, and RAMSEY as the anglicized form. Also included in the study is RAMSY, known to be found in Ireland, and VON RAMSAY found in Germany.

Name origin

Ramsey/Ramsay originated as a local place name in England during the Anglo-Norman era, deriving from the Latin 'de Rameseia' (of wild garlic island), places in old Huntingdonshire, England, where Ramsey remains a local name. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology gives the root origins from the English word 'Rams' (raemz) meaning wild garlic with Old English (hramsa, hramse) and Middle Low German (ramese).

Before the year 1200, the name was established in Scotland at Edinburghshire, Fifeshire, Forfarshire and Kincardineshire, along with the familes of Dalhousie, Hadington, Bothwell and Carrington. George Fraser Black (The Surnames of Scotland) shows that by the middle of the 13th century Ramsay appears among landowners in Angus, Scotland with variant spellings of Ramesey 1378, Rameseye 1293, Ramhishay 1228, Ramisay 1320, Ramsa 1510, Ramysey 1261 and Remesey 1316. Charles A. Hanna (The Scotch-Irish) shows that among the Scottish border clans in 1590 was Ramsay, and in 1597 there were Ramsay families in Berwick and Lauderdale.

Historical occurrences of the name

Ramsey Abbey, located in Huningtonshire, England, was founded as a Benedictine abbey in 969, by St. Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, as granted by AEthelwine, Danish Earl of East Anglia. The earliest known damage to the abbey was in 1143, when Geoffrey de Mandeville used the structure as a fortress. Ramsey Abbey remained in use as a Benedictine monastery until 1536-1539, the time of the 'Dissolution of the Monasteries.' After the Dissolution, Ramsey Abby came into the possession of the Cromwell family, and was converted into his winter residence by Sir Henry Cromwell, Lord of Ramsey, over the last half of the 16th century. It was here that Cromwell had the Ramsey Abbey Gate House installed after removing it from its original location.

The historic market town of Ramsey, England is a post town in the modern district of Huntingtonshire, situated in the county of Cambridgeshire, and is the seat of the Lords de Ramsey, major landowners in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. The town of Ramsey developed around Ramsey Abbey, and, in 1110, the abbey was granted permission by Henry I to hold its first fair during Easter week. From the Appendix of RAMSEY: The Lives of an English Fenland Town 1260-1600, are found Ramsey/Ramseye inhabitants of Ramsey and the vills of Hepmangrove and Bury - eight from 1380-1436, and two from 1464-1493. In 1380, Brother John Ramsey raised a hue and cry against Nicholas Brouse; in 1435, Alice Ramsey held a messuage (plot of land with a building); in 1440, Agnes Ramseye held a plot of land; in 1473, John Ramseye held the office of hay warden. Other Ramsey place names within the district of Huntingtonshire are the villages of Ramsey Forty Foot, Ramsey Heights Mereside and Ramsey St. Mary's.

Among the Ramsey armories in the General Armory of England is Sir Thomas Ramsey, Knight, Sheriff of London 1568, and Lord Mayor 1577, and his brother, William Ramsey, sons of John Ramsey, Esq. of Eatonbridge.

The first of the name recorded in Scotland was Simundus de Ramesia, who witnessed the Charter of Livingstone to the Abbey of Holyrood dated 1140. Neish de Ramsay was a physician to Alexander II, King of Scotland, and was granted lands in Bamff, Ardormie, and Kinkeadly in 1232. The Ramsays have held the lands of Bamff from 1232.

Among the Scottish Peers were Sir George Ramsay - Lord Ramsay of Melrose in Roxburghshire, 1618; Sir John Ramsay - Lord Bothwell, 1486; Sir John Ramsay - Viscount Haddington (Earl of Holderness in England), 1606; William Ramsay, Lord Ramsay - Lord Carrington and Earl of Dalhouise, both in Edinburghshire, 1633. George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhouisie, was Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia and Governor of Canada 1819-1828. James Hubert Ramsay, 17th Earl of Dalhouisie, is the current Chief of Clan Ramsay.

Within the field of Scottish literature is Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), poet of Crawford, Lanarkshire, who started the first circulating library in Scotland. Among his works was The Gentle Shepherd, long ranked as the best of all pastoral comedies. He died at 'Ramsay's Lodge', Castle Rock, Edinburgh. In the field of science stands Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916), of Glasgow, who became a professor of chemistry at several schools before becoming professor of University College, London. As an experimenter, he is known for his studies of inert gases and the discovered of helium. Along with his work with Lord Rayleigh, came the discovery of three more gases, neon, krypton, and xenon. Both Sir William Ramsay and Lord Rayleigh received the Nobel prize in 1904.

William Ramsay, of Galloway, Scotland, came to colonial Virginia, where he was one of the founding trustees of the town of Alexander in 1749. During the French and Indian War, he served as Capt. of the militia, assistant commissary. He was Overseer of Alexander 1765-1760, Lord Mayor of Alexander 1761, as well as a member of the Committee of Safety and the Committee of Correspondence. As Justice of Fairfax County, Virginia, he assisted in the organization of the Fairfax Independent Company in 1769, and in 1774 was a signer of the 'Fairfax Resolves.' He also served as Alexander's first postmaster. During a return visit to Scotland, he was made Burgess of the towns of Dumfries and Kiroudbrigh. William Ramsay's son, Colonel Dennis Ramsay, also served as mayor of Alexander, and was a pallbearer at President George Washington's funeral held at Alexander.

Dr. David Ramsay (1749-1815) was born on the farm of Ulster Scot parents in Lancaster County, PA, and is credited with being the 'father of American history.' He graduated from Princeton in 1765, and the Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1773. After supporting himself as a teacher, he established his medical practice at Charleston, SC, from where he served in the state legislature, and became a leading voice for American Independence. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress for two terms, and, in his latter term, served as president pro tem in the absence of John Hancock. During the Revolutionary War, he served as field-surgeon, and, when Charleston fell, he was taken prisoner and held at St. Augustine, FL for nearly a year. During the war, Dr. Ramsay collected his material for its history, and, from his voluminous writings came his History of the American Revolution (3 Vols.), History of the Revolution in South Carolina, and his biography on the Life of George Washington. He was also instrumental in establishing the Medical Society of South Carolina.

Name frequency

SCOTLAND, ENGLAND, and WALES - Ramsay in Scotland numbered 7,519 in the 1901 census, composing .17% of a population of 4,470,512. In England's 1911 census, Ramsey was enumerated at 6,588, making up .09% of 33,874,691. From a population of 2,460,733, the 1911 census of Wales shows Ramsey enumerated at 111, providing a population frequency of .0045%. Of the 111, 27 were native to Wells.

IRELAND - Census records for Ireland before 1901 were mostly destroyed by fire in 1922. Ramsey, in Griffith's Valuation (1848-1864), represented .0048% of land occupiers and lessors. Ireland's civil registrations began in 1864. For the period 1864-1958, Ramsey births were at 2,303, representing .024% of 9,461,858 registered births.

UNITED STATES and CANADA - Ramsey is most populous in the United States. In 1940, Ramsey composed .32% of the US population, being enumerated at 42,231 from a population of 132,164,569. The 1880 US census data show Ramsey farmers made up 44% of the US population. This percentage is analogous to the large number of generational farming families who followed the migration pattern during the 17th century, from the Lowlands of Scotland and Northern England to the plantations of Ulster, Ireland, followed by their second and third generation descendants to colonial America. From the 1901 census of Canada, Ramsay made up .033% of the population, with 1,773 of 5,373,315. In the 1911 census of Canada, Ramsay shows a lowered frequency at .026%, with 1,943 of 7,223,678.

AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND - The 1903-1980 electoral rolls for Australia show Ramsay with 25,386 on roll, representing .036% of 69,587,156 registered voters. The 1853-1981 electoral rolls for New Zealand show Ramsay with 10,337 on roll, representing .049% of 20,839,233 registered voters.

Data Source:

Distribution of the name

SCOTLAND, ENGLAND, and WALES - In 1901, Ramsay in Scotland had the highest distribution in Lanarkshire and Angus (old Forfarshire), being absent only in Caithness and the Herbrides. From the 1998 surname distribution at Royal Mail Postal Area level, Ramsay is found throughout Scotland, having the highest distribution in Perth (Perthshire), Falkirk (Stirlingshire), and Edinburgh (Midlothian). In England's 1901 census, the highest concentration of Ramsey was in the northern counties of Durham, Yorkshire, and Lancashire, being complimented by Northumberland situated on the border with Scotland. The highest, single density was in London, with England's southeastern counties of Essex and Suffolk representing a good proportion of the Ramsey population. In 1911, Ramsey in Wales was found mostly in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire.

IRELAND - Ramsey births in Ireland, 1864-1958, show the highest distribution in counties Antrim, Donegal, Londonderry, and Tryone.

UNITED STATES and CANADA - In 1940, Ramsey in the United States had its highest distribution in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and California. At the taking of the 1911 census of Canada, Ramsay was most represented in the province of Ontario followed by British Columbia. Many of the early Ramsay arrivals to Canada came directly from Scotland.

AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND - From 1903-1980, Ramsay in Australia was concentrated within the states of Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. Within New Zealand's provinces, with the exception of Nelson, Ramsay was found widely distributed for the period 1853-1981, having the highest concentration in Hawke's Bay, Otago, Taranaki, and Wellington.

SWEDEN - Emigration records, from 1783-1951, identify 73 Swedish Ramsay/Ramsey emigrants, mostly arriving to the United States.

GERMANY - The 1942 German telephone book shows von Ramsay in the cities of Berlin and Hamburg. From the 1998 telephone book, von Ramsay is found in the rural and urban areas of Germany as well its major cities, with listing from Hamburg in the north to Munich in the south, and from Dusseldorf in the west to Berlin in the east ('Prof. Udolph' at


  • Ireland Wills and Administrations 1673-1900
  • Ireland Censuses and Census Substitutes 1614-1837


Surnames carried by the paternal lineage are transmitted by the male Y-DNA chromosome. Found within surname groups are 'genetic clans' identified by DNA analysis as haplogroups, which represent genetic lineage founders. Currently, there are six haplogroups represented within the Ramsay/Ramsey DNA Project, with participants' research interest in Ireland, Scotland, England, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada. For Ramsay/Ramsey DNA Project results and how to become a participant see Links below.