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About the study
Some surname dictionaries give the meaning for Shail as to shamble or stumble. Others, from ME Shale (shell) as in phrase 'valyed not a schale' not worth a shell.
I think, the name has more prosaic origins. Probably geographical, a heap of shale rocks.
History of the name
A few Shales of note:
Charles Shales (1670-1734) a goldsmith and banker. He married the daughter of a baronet and seemed to be a very litigious person.
Tom A Shales (1864-1953) a London based vaudeville and theatre comic actor.
His brother Edward Shales (1861-1926) was a London stage manager for over 20 years.
Tom Shales (1944- ) is the American Pullitzer prize-winning critic and newspaper writer.
Original Shales sired a breed of trotting horses.
The numbers and frequencies of Shale and variants name in England & Wales in 2002 were:
Combining all the variants, the ONS gives a total of 1230.39 living people and 46 305 since the start of parish registers in the sixteenth century.
Distribution of the name
In Britain the surname spellings have localised into specific geographical areas. Shail/es are south west particularly Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset. Shale for the Midlands. Shales in the east especially Norfolk and Lincolnshire. London, of course, has all of them.
There is evidence of limited migration to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In North America, there seem to be concentrations of Shails in Illinois, Utah, Missouri and Pennsylvania, and Shales in Ontario Canada.
Further research is ongoing.
GRO Indexes from 1837-2004 have been recorded. Grants of probate since 1858 in England and Wales. Census records 1841-1911 England and Wales. USA census 1841-1940. Canadian census 1870-1921. IGI, various BMD certificates, earlier probates, and parish records.
Many are assembled into extended families.
I am always looking for more Shale information, wherever in the world they occur. And I will try to help provide more information where I can.