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About the study
Many different spellings occur in older documents but there is generally no consistent variant that continues for more than a couple of generations and I suspect that most of the differences are caused by mis-hearings of heavily accented speech and the lack of agreed spelling conventions in times past. Even today, I find my name is spelt incorrectly or, worse, mis-pronounced when being read from a computer screen by call-centre employees!
The commonest deviant spellings that I have come across are: Whitmarch, Whitemarsh, Witmarsh, Whitmash and Whitmaich. There does not appear to be a geographical bias in the different spellings. In the BMD records I have collected, the deviant versions comprise no more than 6% of the total.
It is most likely that the Whitmarsh name is based on a location - i.e. dweller by the White Marsh - but no particular location has yet been identified. The name appears to originate from Hampshire, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire (possibly from several locations). The only locations using the Whitmarsh name identified so far are a Whitemarsh Farm in Sedgehill and Witmarsh Bottom, West Dean - both in Wiltshire.
In A Dictionary of British Surnames by P.H.Reaney it is suggested that the name derives from a Henry de Wytemeers who appeared in an Essex Feet of Fines in the 13th century. I am sceptical of this, primarily because I have found little evidence of historical links to Essex but also because of the mainly lowly origins of most Whitmarsh families that I have discovered.
My late father suggested that there may be a connection to St. Witta who is the patron saint of the church at Whitchurch Canonicorum in Dorset. Whilst this is based in a county that has contained many Whitmarsh families, and it has a nice romantic touch, I am not sure of the validity of this suggestion.
Historical occurrences of the name
The Whitmarshes do not appear to have made much mark in history, but I live in hope!
Many of those who learnt French in British schools in the post-war period may recall the text books produced by W.F.H Whitmarsh.
Fans of Formula 1 will be familiar with the name of Martin Whitmarsh, team principal for the Mclaren Mercedes team.
Whitmarsh is not a common surname - based on data from Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2002 there were some 1,261 Whitmarshes in Great Britain, representing around 0.002% of the population. The name was ranked 5,482 in order of frequency.
I have identified the following numbers of Whitmarshes from the various British censuses:
1841 - 488; 1851 - 541; 1861 - 520; 1871 - 584; 1881 - 722; 1891 - 752; 1901 - 853; 1911 (partial data) - 913.
Thus, there was a steady growth in the size of the family but I have not yet determined how this compares with the growth in national population.
In the United States of America, there were some 2,487 Whitmarshes in 1990, representing around 0.001% of the population. The name was ranked 17,489 in order of frequency.
Distribution of the name
All of the Whitmarsh entries from the General Register Offices for England & Wales (from 1837 to 2005) and Scotland (1855 to 2006) have been recorded (some 8,800 entries). All the English, Welsh and Scottish censuses from 1841 to 1911 have been searched and a total of some 5,400 names retrieved.
Data from other sources (including non-UK) are being collected on a continuing basis, as and when I discover new sources.
I am looking to collect UK data prior to 1837 but due to family circumstances am unable to get to county record offices. If any researcher would be willing to share their data with me, I would be extremely grateful. I expect that the combined data would be worth more than the separate datasets.
I will of course be pleased to help anyone researching their Whitmarsh roots.