Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
This One-Name study of the FULL surname is based upon a 30 year interest in researching my English heritage. My father immigrated from Devon, England to the United States in the late 1930's but rarely spoke about his early life and I was too young to formulate any questions. Unfortunately, he passed away early at age 55 long before my interest in researching family history and without me questioning him about his early days. A trip to Devon to visit my aunt and first cousins for the first time in the mid-1980's instigated my investigations. Never did I realize it would be a lifelong and life changing quest.
The English Full surname is found mainly in Devon and in much smaller numbers in the United States, Australia , New Zealand and Canada. The Full surname is also found in Germany but whether or not there is a linkage between the English and German surname is unknown. If there is a linkage, it would have to be much earlier than the 16th Century when the earliest English historical records have been located so far. Of note is the fact that the majority of the Full surnames in the United States are of German origins whereas those in Australia, New Zealand and Canada have roots in England due to immigration around the English Empire.
I have had much help from many fellow researches along this journey without whose help this study would not have been possible. In particular, I would like to mention and credit Norma Rendle, Joan Adams and Norman Full for their most appreciated research and support.
One would think that it would be easy researching a four letter surname. Well, you would be wrong! Other than the scarcity of consistent and accurate records in England prior to 1837, the other major difficulty in researching the Full surname has been the numerous instances of incorrect transcriptions from the hand written script records into digital formats on the popular websites, such as Family Search, Ancestry.com, Find My Past, FreeBMD, etc. Even the General Register Office online is prone to these transcription errors. Transcribers (God bless them all for the efforts!) often transcribe the inconsistent first capital letter, so that names like: TULL, YULL and HULL are often transcribed as FULL. Other common mis-transcriptions are FALL, FELL, FUEL, Field, etc. as Full. Consequently, I have inspected the original records whenever they are available to get accurate transcriptions of the surname and forenames and counts. I make it a point to submit corrections to the hoisting websites if they have this facility to help those researchers following me.
However, once all the transcription errors have been eliminated there are a few surname variants that are observed. The one most noticed is FULLE. This surname is mostly observed outside of Devon and these has not adequately investigated yet. However, I have also observed that "Full" is sometime transcribed as "Fulle" and back and forth depending upon the recorder. The trailing "e" may be just a handwriting quirk.
The surname deviant of FULLS is interesting. I traced the origins of this surname to a Richard Full, born about 1824 in Broadhempston, Devon. His name was recorded as "Richard Full" in the 1851, 1861 and 1871 Census. However, when he married Martha Harding in 1855 his name was recorded as "Richard Fulls". Subsequently, his two children were recorded as "Fulls" and the surname persists even today in Devon as "Fulls" by the stroke of a clerk's hand.
The geographical origin of the surname FULL is a uncertain but the earliest record of FULLs in England are found before 1500 AD in the southwest county of Devon in small village of Stoke Gabriel along the banks of the River Dart. The surname appears to have been well established at that time since significant land holdings were documented in the Full family prior to 1600 AD.
Some surname history sites speculate that the FULL surname is a shortened version of Fuller, Fullard, Fullerd and others. However, I find no evidence in my research to support these speculations. I currently believe that the FULL surname is actually unique since there are few instances of these other surnames in Devon where over 75% of the Fulls are found historically.
As to the possible meaning of the FULL surname, several surname dictionaries speculate that it relates to the “fuller” occupation, i.e. one who bleaches or softens, i. e. fulls, cloth. Devon is well known as a woolen cloth producing region as early as the 12th century, so the origins of the name could possibly be related to this industry. However, none of the earliest Fulls found in the 16th century were associated with this industry. Documents of the time show that these early Fulls were residing in the Stoke Gabriel area and were making their livings in the farming, maritime and fisheries industries. So while the surname origins may be from the fulling industry, it cannot be substantiated. I tend not to think this as its origin.
The surname FULL is also found in Germany particularly in the Baden-Wurttemberg and Bavarian regions. The current name has the meaning of “satisfied’ or “complete” which is consistent with the current common usage and meaning in the English language as well.
Early English Full Families
John Full, born bef. 1485 Stoke Gabriel
As previously stated, the earliest Fulls in England were found in small towns in the southwest county of Devon, notably in the villages of Stoke Gabriel, a fishing village along the River Dart, and Paignton, a small fishing village on the English Channel. The earliest documented individual was a John Full born circa 1485 in Stoke Gabriel whose name was found in the Devon Lay Subsidy Rolls of 1525. He is the first in a long family line spanning at least 9 generations after which a lack of parish register records fails to allow further tracking. This family owned considerable land holdings in and around the Stoke Gabriel area. The family appears involved in the Newfoundland fisheries industry along the River Dart and Dartmouth as evidenced by several family members’ signatures on an 1652 petition to the House of Lords requesting protection from acts of piracy on these fisheries by Turkish pirates. One descendant, Lewis Full, Esq., one of the signatory, is listed in the 1673 book “Britannia, or a Geographical Description of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland with Isles and Territories” as one of Devon’s nobility and gentry. During the 1600’s, many members of this extended family moved to towns and villages to the north and west of Stoke Gabriel, such as Berry Pomeroy ,Totnes, Ipplepen, Staverton, Woodland and Dittisham among others. What led to this migration is unclear but it is known that the salmon fisheries along the River Dart were in decline about this time. By the year 1750, there were no Full families left in Stoke Gabriel.
Thomas Full, born bef. 1588 Devon
Another family of early Devonians Fulls was that of Thomas Full b bef. 1588 who married Alice Short in Berry Pomeroy in 1608. Where in Devon Thomas born is unknown (no positive baptism record could be located) but Berry Pomeroy is within 2 ½ miles from Stoke Gabriel. So it is very likely that Thomas was related to the Stoke Gabriel Fulls in some way. Thomas and Alice produced 7 offspring: 6 sons and 1 daughter. Only one of these sons could be traced past the first generation, unfortunately, due to lack of records again. However, one son, George b1621 with wife Grace moved southeast to East Allington in the South Hams area of Devon. Later generations of this family settled in the village Ugborough and then later again in Plymouth, another important settlement of the Full family line in the 1800’s for its major seaport and employment opportunities.
Richard Full, born bef. 1680 Devon
Richard Full born bef. 1680 of Woodland is the patriarch of the largest branch of the Full family tree and from whom I am descended. Where exactly Richard was born remains a mystery and is the proverbial brick wall of Full family researchers as no baptism record has ever been located by several Full family researchers. What we do know is that Richard married Susanna Crossing in 1700 in Woodland. Richard and Susanna produced 5 offspring: 2 sons and 3 daughters. All offspring descended from son Thomas born in 1703 Woodland. This branch of the Full family tended to reside in Woodland and its nearby towns and villages, such as: Newton Abbot, Ashburton, Teignmouth and Torquay until the 1900’s.
The FULL surname is fairly rare in documented numbers in England and like all family research prior to 1837 suffers from the scarcity and inadequacy of official records. Between the years 1485 and 2000, I have recorded about 2400 individuals with the Full surname. Of these, I have located about 1500 baptism and/or actual birth records or transcripts in Parish Registers and General Register Office records. The remaining individuals were located through marriage, death, census, tax and other records but, unfortunately, there are many gaps and missing records. The average birthrates from both these documented and undocumented sources between the years 1500 – 2000 were quite low at less than 5 births per year on average using the available sources. Peak number of births were recorded between the years 1850 and 1875 with slightly less than 8 births per year on average. (See Figure 1.)
Over the past 30 years of research, I have amassed a considerable amount of data on of these Full families from these and other sources and several constructed family trees.
Demographically, over 80% of Full births before 1850 are found in the county of Devon. After 1850, however, we see a dramatic change in demographics for Devon births marking a high of 84% between 1850 and 1900 and a low of only 33% between 1976 and 2000. It can be assumed that a more mobile society, job opportunities and lower birthrates all contributed to these significant changes.
Figure 1. FULL surname Births from Parish Registers and GRO Records 1.
Total England Births
% Devon Births
Sources: Parish Registers between 1541 – 1836; General Register Office between 1837 – 2000.
I have had my DNA tested by three different companies: Ancestry.com, 23andMe.com and FamilytreeDNA.com (FTDNA). My DNA Haplogroup group is R1b1b22a1a2f* per 23andMe and R-M269 per FTDNA terminologies. The companies use different nomenclatures but found the same results.
I have joined the Devon DNA Project on FTDNA, administered by GOONS member Debbie Kennett. Debbie placed me with in the R1b-M269>P312>L21 subgroup of the Devon Project. An interesting finding from this project is that one of my 4th cousins 1x removed was likewise tested with very similar DNA SNP’s to mine giving credence to our relationships from both a genealogical perspective and additionally from a DNA perspective. We both record Richard Full born bef. 1680 as our earliest known ancestor.
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