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About the study
The Serpell One Name Study aims to identify all Serpells. whether living or dead across the world. The name itself is relatively rare and around 1500 individuals have been identified so far as having lived between 1570 and the present day. The earliest origins of the name, or variations of it, occurred in Cornwall in the mid 17th century.
There have been a number of variants of the Serpell name. These include Surple, Serple, Sirple, Surples and Serpel. It would appear that many of these variations came about due to illiteracy. In some 17th century documents the name is spelt differently on the same page. The modern spelling of Serpell seems to have settled down in the mid 18th century.
It is not clear where the Serpell name originated. I have traced it back in Cornwall to the mid 16th century. Roger Serpell, who began studying the family in the 1950s believed that they may have been Huguenots fleeing from Catholic persecution in Europe. However the family appears to have been settled in Cornwall before the persecution got underway. There are similar surnames in France, Italy and Germany wlthough no link has yet been made.
Distribution of the name
Prior to the late 18th century all occurances of Serpell were in Cornwall. However the name began to spread elsewhere in the UK from this time appearing in Devon and then further afield into Lancashire and Cheshire. Serpells were part of the mass emigration from Cornwall in the mid 19th century as the mining industry collapsed. They appeared in the United Sates by the 1830s, Australia in the 1850s and Canada in the 1860s. One family went to Chile in the 1890s and their descendants still live around Santiago.
The Serpell One Name study now has details of some 1000 members of the family together with their spouses. Almost every single Serpell, living or dead, is descended from just one couple who married in south east Cornwall in the 16th century. However, one group of Serpells living in South Wales seem to have acquired the name because of a spelling error by a 19th century recruiting sergeant. That group are of Irish descent and are not connected to the Cornish tree.