Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
Variants: Merie, Merrey, Merrie, Mery, Merye
Category: 3 - A study where research using core genealogical datasets and transcriptions is well under way on a global basis.
DNA website: www.familytreedna.com/groups/merry-dna/about
Contact: Mr Richard Merry
The study has several aims:
* to collect all available records of people with the surname Merry and its historical variants,
* to attempt to form these records into family groupings and clarify their origins, and in the longer term,
* to use DNA testing to confirm family groupings and origins.
The Merry One-Name Study was registered with the Guild in 1989 by Jill Bhar (nee Merry; resident in Canada but with Merry origins in Buckinghamshire). Jill produced a newsletter The Merry Times for some years. This newsletter contains much information about Merrys from various parts of the world. In 2010 the study passed to Richard Merry (resident in Australia but with 16th Century origins in Oxfordshire, and possibly earlier in Gloucestershire) who has corresponded with Jill for many years.
Most authorities (including PH Reaney and RM Wilson, 1997, A dictionary of English surnames) suggest that the name developed as a nickname for a person with a happy disposition (or perhaps a liking for certain beverages), from the Old English myrige , but other possibilities are outlined below. The geographical spread of the surname in Britain suggests multiple origins and it is likely that only DNA studies will resolve this.
Early French and English rolls, calendars and charters record the following early spelling variations of the surname. These records were mainly recorded by the hard work of Jim (whose Merry origins were in Godmanchester) and Marjorie Merry (see the table below). Many are obviously the same individual and sometimes names are spelled more than one way in a document. The most common modern spelling as 'Merry' starts to appear in the 1300s, but still has not settled by 1700. The people who I am fairly sure were my ancestors (Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire) mostly spelled their surname as 'Myrrye' or 'Merrye', sometimes 'Mirrie', in the 1500s.
Early records of the Merry surname and variants
Wikipedia gives the following: 'The Clerk of the Green Cloth was a position in the British Royal Household. The clerk acted as secretary of the Board of Green Cloth, and was therefore responsible for organising royal journeys and assisting in the administration of the Royal Household.' Sir Thomas Merry was knighted 18 Apr. 1617 and was Clerk Comptroller on 6 Jan 1617
For more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerk_of_the_Green_Cloth and http://www.history.ac.uk/resources/office/greencloth_clerk
I would gratefully appreciate any other early references to Merry or variants, especially from Scotland.
There are few records of famous Merrys, though some of those listed above had positions in the English royal court. Several Merrys were associated with the Hudson Bay Company (founded in 1660). Cape Merry in Manitoba, Canada, was named to honour Captain John Merry, who was a Deputy Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company [about Cape Merry, Manitoba] from 1712 to 1728, as was one of his sons. John Merry's father was from Yarmouth (Norfolk) and London, but he claimed ancestry and was granted arms of the Merry family of Barton, Derbyshire. A poet, Robert Merry (1755-98), wrote using the pen name Della Crusca and was a grandson of the above-mentioned John Merry.
The Robert Merry of Robert Merry's Museum, a children's magazine in the USA from 1841 to 1872, was a person fictionalised by Samuel Goodwin (see www.merrycoz.org/MAGS.HTM).
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merry_(surname) provides a list of the following notable Merrys:
* Abdelkarim Merry (born 1955), Moroccan footballer
* Anthony Merry (1756-1835), British diplomat
* Cyril Merry (1911-1964) West Indies cricketer of Yorkshire origins
* Diana Merry, computer programmer
* Gus Merry (c.1888-1942), Welsh dual-code international rugby player
* James Merry: various including: James Merry (born 1982), British actor
* Katharine Merry (born 1974), English sprinter
* Mustafa Merry (born 1958), Moroccan footballer
Thomas Merry (c 1605 - 1682) was an English landowner, mathematician and politician and son of Sir Thomas Merry, Clerk of the Green Cloth.
The most comprehensive treatment of current distribution of the surname has probably been provided by World Names at http://worldnames.publicprofiler.org/ and is based on telephone directories and electoral rolls from 2000 to 2005 (using Onomap, see web site and Mateos, Webber and Longley (2007) The Cultural, Ethnic and Linguistic Classification of Populations and Neighbourhoods using Personal Names , CASA Working Paper 116, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London). This data is presented in frequency per million (FPM, see below). This number should be multiplied by the population of the country to give an estimate of total number. Multiple listings may have resulted in overestimates of numbers.
Although the largest national population of Merrys today is in the USA, in FPM terms (see the table below) the surname is estimated to be most common in England and Scotland, followed by countries that were former British colonies, then the European countries adjacent to Britain where expatriates are likely to reside, although the surname spelled Merry has been recorded in France for at least four centuries. The USA numbers given here must be an overestimate as the year 2000 USA census indicated only 3700 Merrys. There should be Merrys in South Africa, and 15 are listed in the telephone directory. A known Merry family in Japan is expatriate Australian/English (Oxfordshire). The Merry del Val surname occurs in Spain, but is of Irish origin.
[Note that the accuracy of the values provided here for frequency and distribution are not known and should be regarded as a guide only.]
['Population' of country approximate in millions; Total number estimated 2012.]
Regions and cities
According to the WorldNames web site, the highest frequency of the name is found in Nelson City, New Zealand, and several other regional areas in that country have high frequencies, but these regions are small both geographically and in total population. Aside from New Zealand, the highest frequency of the name is found in Maine (USA) and Nova Scotia (Canada), East Anglia, East Midlands, and South-East UK. Ayrshire in Scotland also has a high frequency.
According to WorldNames, the cities with the greatest present-day proportion of the Merry surname are all located in England and probably reflect the region of origin of the name in England, although there is no doubt that the numbers in cities have increased since the early 1800s due to a general migration from rural areas to the cities (including especially London where there are many Merrys, though the frequency per million is low).
Cities with the highest Merry population density:
Leicester, East Midlands, UK
Coventry, West Midlands, UK
Birmingham, West Midlands, UK
Oxford, South-east, UK
Cambridge, East Anglia, UK
Sheffield, Yorkshire and Humberside, UK
Nottingham, East Midlands, UK
Nuneaton, West Midlands, UK
Worcester, West Midlands, UK
Northampton, East Midlands, UK
Census listings: The numbers presented below are approximate as there are known mis-spelling of the name (for instance, my family was recorded as Murry in Oxford in 1881). Census spelling as Merrie is mostly recorded as being from Scotland or Bedfordshire. Spellings generally showed some variability and may include Meery (often from Ireland), Merray and Mery (which is probably European in many instances), and it is not known whether some of these are actual mis-spellings or represent different surnames as they are relatively uncommon. Where identifiable, these variants have not been included in the census statistics shown below.
[Note that in the 1841 census, the small number of Welsh Merry records occur in south Wales in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire. Even in the 1911 census, when Merrys were more widely distributed in Wales (about 100 records), many of the origins of the head of the household were indicated to be counties close by in England.]
The distibution of Merry in England, Wales and Scotland given by the 1881 census (from Archer Software: The British 19th Century Surname Atlas, 2003) is shown below. Total numbers are given as about 2250. The distribution shown is much better defined in the Poor Law Union view, but this is too complex to show here. Note that prior to 1881, for several decades there was considerable movement of Merrys from rural areas of Britain to the major cities and industrial areas, especially London, Birmingham and Manchester/Liverpool.
Census listings: A guide to the numbers of Merrys living in Scotland is provided by the census summaries given below, but the numbers can only be approximate due to mis-spellings and other errors. They are concentrated in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. There was significant migration from Scotland during the 19th Century. Historically the Merrie spelling was most common in Scotland.
According to the 1911 census, there were 109 Merrys, 12 Merreys and 3 McMerrys in Ireland, principally in Dublin, Kilkenny, Armagh, Waterford and Wicklow. The Spanish Merry del Val family has origins in Waterford. In Ireland, the surname has been recognised as associated with the surname 'Houlahan' (with it's various spellings) and Y-DNA testing confirms that at least one known Irish branch matches Houlahan, though others do not.
France and Europe
As noted in the table of frequency by country above, there are Merrys living in several continental European countries. As also noted above, the surname Merry has been recorded in France at least since the early 1600s (there is a place called Merry-sur-Yonne). Mery is not uncommon in France and emigrants may be the origin of the same name as it occurs in more recent times in the UK and North America. Although a connection is not impossible, it will probably require DNA studies to prove one. Other European Merrys are frequently British in origin.
Census listings: Federal Census records for Merry (according to Ancestry) provide the following indication of the surname Merry in the USA. Searching for an exact match for the surname provides results of varying quality as the search engine seems to be variable in its output from the 1900 census until 1920 and included many surnames (up to about 500?) that are unlikely to be Merry and will need to be checked on the original returns. The 1930 numbers may be more realistic.
* The 1910 to 1920 searches included a substantial number of 'not Merry' individuals (see comment above).
According to the year 2000 census web site, there were 3698 Merrys recorded in the USA (1.37 per 100,000 population, the 8242nd ranked surname). Merrey was not recorded. This is at odds with WorldName web site which indicates a low frequency of Merrey in Maryland and New Hampshire. In the USA and Canada there are Merry families whose surnames have been anglicised from a European name.
As noted above, the highest frequency of both the Merry and Merrey surnames in Canada is in Nova Scotia. Canadian census records are being worked on (December 2014) for inclusion in this profile).
Australian censuses are conducted every five years. The most recent was in 2011. Although a few very early muster lists, convict records and censuses exist, since Australian Federation in 1901 and earlier, historical census records for Australia have been destroyed although following public request an optional ability to retain some personal census information (embargoed for a long period) was introduced in 1996. As BMD registration information in all Australian states has also been embargoed for varying lengths of time (till about the 1920s for births and later for marriages and deaths), recent records are more difficult to gather, except for publicly available sources such as post office and telephone directories, newspaper personal notices, cemetery records and so on, where they have been transcribed by local governments or family history groups.
As noted above, New Zealand has a relatively high frequency per million of the Merry surname, though the total number is relatively small.
There should be Merrys in South Africa, and 15 are listed in the telephone directory. Any help that can be offered to locate and identify the origins of South African Merrys would be greatly appreciated. At least one family is known ro be Scottish in origin.
There are occasional records of Merrys from other parts of the world. For example, there is at least one record from Argentina. As noted above, there were two Moroccan footballers with the Merry surname, though this is almost certainly not its original spelling which may ahve been Mehri or something similar .
* Census of Canada (1871 and 1881)
* Various BMD records for the USA, Australian states and territories, and New Zealand.
This One-Name Study aims to accumulate records from all available sources. At December 20174, the study is concentrating on the censuses of the USA and Canada, and Irish data, and constructing family trees.
By 2018, the DNA project had Y-DNA 'fingerprints' for five or six Merry lines - two or three from Ireland, one from Yorkshire, one from Northamptonshire and my own from Oxfordshire. Based on geographical distribution of the surname in the UK, it was thought that the surname had multiple origins and though it is early days, DNA appears to be confirming this.
I personally have had a large amount of DNA testing completed, including 'BigY' through Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). A 5th cousin who lives in the USA has also had some short tandem repeat (STR) marker testing done which proved to be the same as mine (as we would hope!) for 45 markers (common ancestor born Eynsham, Oxfordshire, in 1776). The project has accumulated about 6 other Merry who have had STR marker testing completed (July 2018). Ths results suggest different origins though they seem to belong to haplogroup R1b1a (see below). I believe that DNA testing suggests that most Merry surnames are in no way related to the Scottish Murray surname (which has a large DNA study), as has sometimes been claimed, and that any relationship that may exist dates back many thousands of years and long before surnames were acquired.
More detailed testing of my DNA for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, unique DNA mutations that contain clues to the long-term history of my Y chromosome) indicate that my Merry family belongs to a sub-group of a prominent ('Celtic') male-line DNA group called R-L21 (also called R-S145 or R-rs11799226; or ISOGG haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1b4, though these designations change over time see http://www.isogg.org/tree/ISOGG_HapgrpR.html, a discussion of the origins of the group can be found here: http://www.eupedia.com/europe/Haplogroup_R1b_Y-DNA.shtml but beware of haplogroup name changes as outlined below). More specifically, I belong to the group R-L1066 but I also have two previously unidentified mutations L894 and L895, the significance of which have yet to be determined. In 2017 ancient DNA of the R-L1066 group was recovered from remains at Longniddry, Scotland, which were dated to about 1400 BCE. Irish Type III (R-L226) is a much younger 'brother' subgroup of R-L1066. More significantly, I have no close genetic relatives when compared with available databases of STRs (67 markers), the closest so far being a genetic difference of about 19. This implies branching off from the closest male genetic relatives a long time ago, possibly as long as 3000 years.
I have given some detail of my DNA profile in the hope of encouraging other Merrys to embark on testing and am happy to share any other detail. I believe that it is likely that the Merry surname has multiple origins and that DNA testing will confirm this as paper trails have little hope of connecting many of the Merry families of different geographic origins. Then again, we may get some big surprises!
If you become interested in DNA testing you should be aware that haplogroup names of the form R1b1a2a1a1b4g can change regularly (check the ISOGG web site) and that references of this type can mislead in older discussions of the haplogroups. It is much safer to look for references to R-L21/R-S145 or R-Z253 which do not change. There is much information on these mutations and haplogroups available on the web.
Men of the R-L21 (R-S145) haplogroup are reported to be most commonly found in England and Ireland (25-50% of the whole male population), though they have also been associated with the Picts in eastern Scotland (see A Moffat and JF Wilson (2011) The Scots - A Genetic Journey, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 256pp). A good coverage of the peopling of Europe is provided by Jean Manco (2013) Ancestral Journeys - the peopling of Europe from the first venturers to the Vikings, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 312pp. and her later book dealing with the Celts. R-L21 are also relatively common in coastal western Europe (British Isles, France, Iberia). They are believed to belong to the so-called Celtic people who likely brought farming, possibly metal working and the Celtic languages to Britain at some time 5000 to 4000 years ago.
The following are listed in no particular order.
Rootsweb List (Archive) http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/index/MERRY/
Rootsweb message board http://boards.rootsweb.com/surnames.merry/mb.ashx
British (or American) Surnames http://www.britishsurnames.co.uk/surnames/MERRY/
Disclaimer: Richard Merry, who assembled the information shown above, does not assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information on these pages, nor does he represent that its use would not infringe on privately owned rights. Further, Richard Merry disclaims any and all warranties, express or implied, relating to this website and any information contained therein, including warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Richard Merry shall not be liable for any damages of any kind, under any theory of liability, resulting from user's access to the website or use of any information contained therein.
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