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About the study
http://withell.org/ Follow this link to my Withell Webpage which is gradually being updated.
WITHELL was my mother's maiden name and in 1984 I began to search for records of her ancestors in Cornwall.
The project was expanded to a One Name Study and a search for LOST WITHELLS when I realized that although variations of the byname Withiel occurred in CORNWALL from as early as 1200, and became established as a hereditary surname in several areas, by 1990 there were no Withells living in the county. Here was a surname with a history in one area of nearly 800 years, which had completely disappeared from the county.
It became apparent that not all present day Withells worldwide have Cornish ancestry. The surname occurred across the border of Cornwall in the Southern Counties of DEVON, SOMERSET and SUSSEX. Another large group trace their roots to YORKSHIRE in about 1780. A number of researchers worldwide have since contributed to the project and several separate progenitors have been identified.
A DNA project has not been undertaken although such a project could be useful to determine if WITHELL and WITHILL in Yorkshire had a common origin.
The surname WITHELL had a plural evolution but probably derived from a name describing a locality or geographical feature. Evidence of bynames has been found in a surprising number of early documents emanating from different parts of Britain- London, Wales, Oxfordshire, Devonshire, Dorset, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Not all of these occurrences were to be stabilized as hereditary surnames with the spelling WITHELL.
However by the early 19th century, distribution of the modern surname was mainly confined to Cornwall, across the Southern Counties and Yorkshire. Research currently undertaken, indicates separate origins for these counties.
In CORNWALL the name had evolved from the area centered by the village of Withiel which was part of the manor of Widie as noted in the Domesday Book. One authority suggests a derivation from gwydhel, a 'wooded district or forest' while another proposes a compound of the Old English - gwith (trees) and ial (fertile upland). The second part of the name of the town of Lostwithiel seems to contain the same element, suggesting that Withiel may have originally been the name of a large district, reaching in one direction as far as the Fowey. From the evidence found in medieval documents, Ecclesiastical records, Court Rolls, Taxation records, Family estate papers and Parish Registers, it has been possible to research the evolution of these early bynames to the present day surname of Withell.
There were number of mediaeval occurrences of the surname across the SOUTHERN COUNTIES - Somerset, Sussex and Devon. The small parish of Withiel Florey in Cannington, West Somerset, gave its name to Withiell manor and Withiell Wood. These evolved into Withell and Withall but the more common spelling into the 19th century was to be Withall. The Withell found in DURHAM in the second half of the 19th century had originated as Withall in Sussex.
The surname Withell in YORKSHIRE may have evolved from Whit(e)hill or Whit(e)well as suggested by George Redmonds. Medieval documents and the parish records so far searched seem to support this theory. Consistent spelling as Withell appears to have begun in Goodmanham at the beginning of the 19th century.
Further research is needed into the occurrence of variations of *Whitell* in Yorkshire in medieval documents, wills and family estate papers.
Historical occurrences of the name
Distribution of the name
The census returns for UK between 1841 and 1901 reflect a major shift in the distribution of the surname, particularly with regard to Cornwall. During these years the Cornish migration was much more complex, with families moving to Wales, Devon, London, Ireland and Scotland, as well as Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand. Currently there is no incidence of the surname in Cornwall.
Although during this time one Yorkshire family had moved to Canada and several families had settled in New Zealand, the number remaining in Yorkshire has been reasonably stable.
Allowing for some misspelling of entries for known family members, in the 1881 census there were 141 occurrences with the variants WITHELL. WITHEL, WITHILL and WITHIEL. Cornwall had 16, Devon 14, Durham 8, Essex 5, Hampshire 1, Middlesex 7. Norfolk 2, Surrey 4, Yorkshire 54, Glamorgan 27 and Scotland 2, with 1 in the Navy. We have also positively identified family members who had been listed as Withall and Withett.
There have been later waves of migration particularly after WW II when several families of Withells with Cornish descent moved to Australia. A few New Zealand Withells have also emigrated to Australia
It appears that only a small number of individual Withell or Withiel emigrated to US. Some connections have been made but although there were some Withells born in America, the surname is relatively uncommon