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About the study
British Society of Genealogists Information Leaflet No. 7 - 'The Relevance of Surnames in Genealogy'
'Unfortunately only a very small number of pedigrees of British families can be traced to the person who first used the surnames they now bear. Many surnames have been corrupted to such an extent that their original forms may only be discovered after quite considerable research. This may involve tracing the pedigree step by step from the present backwards in time, not only to detect the changes but also to discover the area of the country from which the family came. Present day forms of a large number of surnames are due to the spelling of 16th or 17th century parsons, or even to the registrars of births in the 19th century. They had no guide to the spellings of names and attempted to reproduce phonetically the sounds they heard, as the great majority of the population were illiterate and had no notion that any one spelling of their name was more 'correct' than any other.... However, the most authoritative work is P H Reaney and R M Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd edn. 1991) which lists the surviving spellings of many surnames as well as giving referenced examples from the earliest times.'
"A Dictionary of English Surnames", Reaney & Wilson, (Oxford University Press)
- Yvo de Rodham 1204 (Assize Rolls for Yorkshire)
- Matilda Rodeham 1430 (Testamenta Eboracensa)
- William Roddam 1673 (Register of Freemen of the City of York)
From Roddam (Northumberland).
In the north-east of England the Anglo Saxon (Germanic) word Roddam/Rodham means 'clearing in the forest' whilst in the Norfolk region of the south-east, the phonetically similar word Roddan means a 'raised river bed section'. Grodham or poor village, the Irish "Rodain" and the Scandinavian "Rödhamn" meaning 'red harbour' are also close enough to evolve into the same names.
Historical occurrences of the name
The 18th and 19th century publications 'Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry'; 'Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners Of Great Britain and Ireland', and 'British Public Characters' list the Roddam line from Roddam, Northumberland which culminates with Admiral Robert Roddam.
The Northumberland County Historical Society's 'History of Northumberland' Volume 14 details the history of Roddam village, Ilderton Parish and the lineage of the family Roddam. The 'View of Northumberland' published 1776 records the township under the spelling of Rodham so it is obvious when reading these volumes that the names Roddam and Rodham were interchangeable, dependent on the author. All these publications document the lineage back to the 10th century via occupancy of the Roddam estate, in Northumberland with the original occurrence of the name Roddam being via a Royal Charter during the time of Athelstane, king of the West Saxons, and eventually England granting 'Pole Roddam' land in Northumberland as guard against the wild Scots. Roddam Hall lies a few miles south of the market town of Wooler, located in the shelter of the Cheviot Hills. Mackenzie (The Story of Northumberland, 1825) described the house as a handsome modern building, and commands a very pleasant prospect of the vale that stretches under it. The 'History of Northumberland' volume 14 details two Charters, or royal proclamations, purported to be by Athelstane in 937 AD and this claim is recorded in a number of other sources, from Burke's Genealogical Histories and the British Public Characters Yearbooks to the Freemason histories. Whilst the Charters themselves are certainly fictious the tale is recorded as far back as AD 1385.
The proclamations are in rhyming verse;
'I King Athelstan gives unto thee Pole Roddam
From me and mine to thee and thine
Before my wife Maude, my daughter Maudlin
And for a certen truth I bite this wax with my gang tooth.
So long as muir bears moss
And cnout grows hair
A Roddam of Roddam for ever mair.'
'I King Athelstane giffes heir to Paulane, Odam and Roddam als gud and als fair als evr tha myn war; and yaito witness Mald my wyff.'
The 'History of Northumberland' records that the medieval Roddam village had never been of great size and had been in decline for some time before being decimated in the attack by Scotish marauders in 1533. It was damaged to such an extent that the main tower structure was uninhabitable till after 1541. The lords Roddam escaped to relatives, the Proctors of Shawdon, but nothing is said of the fate of the villagers. It would seem probable that those forced to leave their ancestral home at this time took their birthplace name with them, which eventually became a surname. The question of where would someone go in the mid sixteenth century would be the same as it is now; where can I find stable employment and a safe living environment?
The oldest evidence of the name Rodham can be found in the UK National Archives at Kew where a debt reclamation by Augustine le Waleys on John de Rodham in 1338/39 clearly shows the spelling variant with the 'h'. The main family groupings during the 16th century are found in several of the parishes on the southern bank of the Tyne and Durham city. During the 17th and 18th centuries the groups move with the lead mining industry of Allendale, Stanhope and Weardale then onto the coal mining lifestyle of central Durham and North Yorkshire.
Historically the names Rodham and Roddam have been limited to barely one hundred different family groups with immigration to the United States and Australia accounting for an additional number but overall these are in total no more than the UK numbers. With County Durham being one of the major hubs for the name there are still less than 2000 individual instances of the name variants in parish records from the mid 16th century.
Distribution of the name
The occurrence of the name Rodham in the UK is primarily found in the Counties of Durham, North Yorkshire and Northumberland, with the latter 19th century Census' showing Durham with almost 50% of the total individual count. The north eastern coastal region of the United States and the state of New South Wales in Australia also account for the largest proportion of the Rodham name in those countries.