Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
Variants: Goteham, Gotham
Category: 2 - A study where research using core genealogical datasets and transcriptions is well under way, but currently in some countries only.
DNA website: www.familytreedna.com/public/gotham
Contact: Dr Teresa Goatham
If you are interested in your Goatham or Gotham genealogy I hope this study can help you. I think most of us are interested in family history, i.e. how our ancestors or others lived, not just the genealogy, i.e. how they were related to one another. A One-Name Study can help with both. Having a good idea of all the people with a name at a given time it is usually possible to identify events with people, which often cannot be safely done if you are researching only one line. (On occasions they cannot be so ascribed - but it is having the overall picture that allows one to see that there is more than one possibility, and to avoid mistakes). It also makes it easier to work out who was who when several people were given the same name around the same time in the same place - even with a rare name not an uncommon occurrence. It can also discover where people got to who changed their surname, often due to illegitimacy, or Christian names, possibly wanting a more fasionable-sounding name.
As I expect is the reason for most one-name studies, I (Teresa Goatham) have started the Goatham / Gotham surname study as a result of researching my own Goatham family history. I had a particular interest in those with the name Goatham from my first interest in tracing my family tree in about 1977; I was told all Goathams were related (by my Dad) and was interested in finding out if that was true and if I could link us all up. My Dad had no interest in genealogy but had been told by a relation, identity not remembered, sometime in his (to then) 56 years; there was no obvious way to find out who might have done some research leading to this conclusion and where the fruits of it might be. Others I have been in contact with have heard the same - but no one knows the origins.
As I started to accumulate information which might have referred to Kent Goathams, but which turned out not to, and as it helped to have a picture of Go(a)thams elsewhere (mainly Devon) to see if I could work out where strays fitted in, in 2014 I decided to formally make a study of all the Go(a)thams (etc.) and registered my study with the Guild. That means I have now deliberately gathered data on these other Gothams even where it is relatively recent and clearly does not refer to Kent Goathams.
Much more about this study can be found in a section of my website
I am happy to widen it to include the research of others - contributions from others are not only welcome but will be full acknowledged. I will, though, be trying to ensure that it is a quality study, and only include information either that is reliably sourced and / or well argued, or with suitable warnings. That said, if you wish to include data from here in your own family tree, or are just looking out of interest, please be aware there probably are mistakes. Full details of sources will be added to my tree, but sources often do not prove links.
Wherever I am aware of uncertainty I note it, but mostly before the introduction of censuses we have but one source of a link of parent to child: the child's baptism. When several people with the same name and of similar age lived near each other later in life it can be hard to be sure which was which. The precise parish they lived in and names they gave their children can be useful, but inevitably sometimes by chance the less likely is what happened. If I could work out the chance of being right and only added what I was 99% sure was accurate I could be wrong one in a hundred cases, and there are far more than one hundred links on my trees!
Sections on this page: Data Variants Origins
The majority of data I have so far relates to England, although I do have a little from other countries, probably including some to most of those no longer living from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. What is listed here relates to English records.
As you will see if you read what follows, I have yet to add source and record details for a lot of events on the trees on my website. Although adding all of them will take a fair amount of time in most cases I should be able to check the details for individual events quite easily so please do ask if there any particular events you are interested in.
Also please contact me if what follows suggest I may have data of interest to you that I have not yet added to my website.
I have details of many PR entries, probably for most of the surviving English Parish Register entries. I have found many of these through using indexes; I have started browsing for missing entries but much more remains to be done. I have barely started viewing Bishop's or Archdeacon's Transcripts to fill in gaps in the registers.
Most events are on my tree; many source details and exact transcriptions to be added. Of course, it is obvious from the date and place what you should be looking at if you want to see the entyr for yourself. What is more important is the 'proof argument' - why I believe this particular event belong to this particular Nnnn Go(a)tham. In most cases I have not added a proof argument - the details in the entry and the overall picture speak for themselves. Where is is not clear, or where I am aware that there are online trees which may mislead, I have added proof arguments. These do not always prove. They may show why a person is the most likely. They are not just for the benefit of visitors to my site - they help me assess can new evidence.
I have most of these for the UK Go(a)thams, some (possibly all available) for Canada and have started collecting those for the USA.
Source details and transcripts not yet added to my tree in most cases, but I plan to add all eventually.
I am interested in the wills etc. of:
Since most will indexes only include the testator's name I am probably missing most wills where a Goatham was mentioned but not the testator; * I would be very pleased to hear of any you have come across. *
I have transcribed most of the pre-1858 of the above, and some post 1858, and hope to add to my website soon (where not already present, and no particulars of living people will be included).
I have a copy of bills and answers for all of the Court of Chancery and of Star Chamber cases where a Goatham or Gotham is mentioned in an index. I also have copies of a couple of sets of depositions for Court of Exchequer cases where a Gotham was a deponent, as listed in the Bernau index. I have started transcribing these and will be adding to my website, but it will take some time. I have started looking for decrees and orders and other index entries relating to these cases, but most of this remains to be done.
Unfortunately not all names in these records are included in indexes, and with millions of documents clearly reading through all is out of the question. The indexes are being improved and more put online so I will be repeating my searches from time to time. In addition, in time I may look at some likely documents - based on place, date and the names of close relations, but as some index entries only have a county, the surnames of first plaintiff and defendant, and a date range I am not likely to find all.
References to merchant and Royal navy sailors, to fishermen and boatmen and to ship owners are extensive and come in many different guises. I have copies or details of a good number of records relating to Go(a)thams, with a a number of other references to follow up. These include references found Keith Matthews name file for Gotham. Most if not all of the 'following up' involves visits to archives, and when looking at the archives some references can be quite time consuming to find (e.g. the entry in bundle of merchant ship muster rolls where a reference has no folio number).
If anyone would like to help with this I would be pleased to hear from them.
I have started looking for these in Kent and in Devon, beyond the close family ones I know of, and have photos / records of inscriptions of a few (most not yet added to my website). I also know of a few Liverpool ones through websites. I am sure there are more to be found - I would be grateful for details / photos that I can add to the person / people on a tree. I suspect most will be in Staffordshire, not an area convenient for me to do much searching in.
I had hoped to search for more Devon gravestones on a holiday in Devon in May 2015, but the weather and poor evening light were against me. I visit Devon often and hope to do better on a future visit.
It was, though, not uncommon for people to be buried in common graves and far from everyone had a gravestone. Do not assume there will be one for your ancestor. It seems that infatns were frequently buried with other unrelated infants, so they are mostly likely not to have a gravestone, but may still be commemorated on a gravestone with other family members.
I have not begun investigating these. Kent and Devon have both been amongst the last counties for the Manorial Documents Register to be updated and digitalised. At the time of writing Kent is still in progress. The results for Devon went online in 2017 and it was very disappointing to learn that virtually nothing is known to survive for Abbotskerswell. There are, though, some surviving manorial documents for manors in other parishes where Gothams lived which I plan to see.
I have copies of a variety of other records relating to Go(a)thams, some with details on my website, most not yet there. They date from the C16th to the C20th century, and include work and school records, indentures for property leases, court roll entries.
I also have a 'to do' list of many more records to see.
The variants in use today (Goatham and Gotham) have in the past both been used in Devon and Kent. Other variants include (list not exhaustive):
(Gottam is also an Indian surname; it appears to be from an Indian deity, not a variant of Go(a)tham from an English settler in that country; it is not a registered variant and the Indian surname is not part of this study)
When spellings became standardized, mostly in the C19th, Goatham became the spelling for the Kentish Goathams, Gotham for those in Devon and the Midlands. Where did this leave a family from Devon who had moved to Deptford in Kent (well west of the Kent 'Goatham' territory?). As befits their involvement with both counties they used the two spellings throughout the C19th!
I am not sure if the name Gotha from Cornwall or Gatham from Topsham (Devon) are really variants of the same name, though I think both sometimes used Gotham. More about this to be added to my website in time.
It is clear there is more than one origin for the name. As well as being a locative surname, in several places on different occasions the name is the result of Anglicization or the adoption of a different (English) name, in place of a completely different one that could have caused difficulties in the English-speaking USA.
There are a number of possible places both in England and on the Continent that could have given rise to the name. These include:
And the Shropshire / Staffordshire origin? - I have no idea, but they are closer (though not close) to the Nottinghamshire village and also a Gotham in Derbyshire, either of which could be the origin. There are some similar sounding names in that area (Cottam, Cotton etc); I do wonder if the name arose as a variation of a name more common in the area. It is clear that in some families the names were confused, and some Gothams became Cottams in the C19th.
A family of Gothams in C19th Lancashire seem to have acquired the name Gotham as a variant of an Irish name - probably the name most often spelt Gaughan but commonly Gougthan where this Gotham family are found. Similarly a family with Irish roots used the name Gothan, usually then a variant of Gotham, in Stockton in the C19th. In the USA some Godams from Germany became Gothams, and some Russians decided to change their name, and choose Gotham and quite probably there are Gothams there who also choose the name or whose name is also an Anglicized version of another name.
There is also more than one possible meaning, deriving from goats or Goths, though older spellings suggest the name was pronounced as per the animal, not the human tribe!
No Go(a)thams are believed to have achieved fame of any sort. Amongst those for whom records survive of criminal activities, perhaps the most interesting is one Edward Goatham of Ramsgate was given a large fine for selling smuggled liquor. I suspect a much wider involvement of Goathams in smuggling. Co-incidentally, or maybe not, given the common coastal link, it seems at least one Gotham in Devon was also a smuggler.
A more heroic figure is Ashley Goatham, a victim of the 1879 Anglo Zulu War. While 'googling' him will bring up many results, it is the letters he sent to his family that have attracted notice rather than any particular part played in the war. Their eloquence disguises his humble origins; clearly he was an intelligent chap.
Perhaps as interesting is finding how individual Go(a)thams lives were affected by events that must have touched all of our families: by plague, the Reformation, the Civil War as well as C18th and C20th wars, attempting tax evasion c.1600, and last but by no means least disputing inheritance.
While the name 'de Gotham' can be found in the East Midlands in early records, some at least almost certainly referring to the Nottinghamshire village, there are only a few instances found of the surname Gotham in the area. It seems there was a surname from Gotham in Notts. but it never became numerous and probably died out in the C16th.
A few scattered 'de Gothams' may well have only had the name as a byname, not an hereditary surname.
The other Medieval Gothams for whom references have been found were nearly all in Devon, mostly around the Teign estuary. One stray was in Bristol, a mariner who sailed to Iceland; his occupation suggests he could well have been from the Devon family.
(i.e. approximately 1500 - 1800)
In this period there appear to have been three main areas where the surname Goatham / Gotham / Goteham / Gottam etc. was found: Devon, Kent and Shropshire / Staffordshire. So far, I am aware of the name found in Devon records back to the C13th, in Kent from the early C16th and in Staffordshire / Shropshire from the early C17th. Given the very small numbers it is quite possible that the name was in Kent much earlier, but records have not survived or I have not so far discovered them. The same applies to Staffordshire / Shropshire, especially as I have yet to consult any early indexes for this area.
Prior to the C19th the name seems to have been most common in Devon, followed by Kent, then the Midlands. In the C19th this changed. Numbers in Devon declined, due to a combination of lines dying or daughtering out and the higher than average rates of migration from the county (both internally in the UK and externally i.e. overseas). In Kent the Goathams had mostly lived in unhealthy marshy areas in the North and East of the county, where life expectancy is known to have been much lower than average, probably due to malaria being endemic, combined with other factors. A move to Bredgar, at the foot of the North Downs, by two brothers in the late C18th was followed by numbers increasing rapidly, and all bearing the Goatham version of the name now descend from one or other of those brothers. In the Midlands industrialisation in the late C18th was accompanied by Gottams becoming Gothams in Stoke-on-Trent, where the small long-standing population was joined by an emigrant from Devon who proceeded to have a large family and a significant effect on numbers there. A brother of this incomer to Staffordshire moved further north, to Liverpool, and increased the numbers there, although the first Gotham event I know of in that city was 1703. It seems several mariner Gothams from Devon found their way to Liverpool (as Teignmouth declined as a port very many mariners from the area made the moved), although only one has left 'Gotham' descendants.
At present I know little detail about the distribution of Go(a)thams overseas.
A few Goathams have emigrated to various parts of the world though in a number of instances the name has not survived. In addition, the aforementioned Ashley left a family in South Africa. Several times a Kent Goatham has emigrated to the US, but only Goatham descendants of one of these survive, and that line looks set to 'daughter out' eventually. There are now many more Gothams in the US than in England, but I have not yet started looked seriously at the distribution of Gothams in North America. Many, though certainly not all, of these appear to descend from one John. The varied origins suggested by different researchers points to no one really knowing; most often claimed is a John who clearly died as a youth in Devon! My research suggests two Johns with a good claim - one from Kent, one from Devon. I hope DNA tests may help add weight to which he was. There are also a few Goathams in Canada.
A Goatham from a family originating from Devon was transported to Australia but appears to have left no descendants. Others with the names Gotham and Goatham have chosen to settle in Australasia. The giving of family (or occasionally other) surnames as a second Christian name, found from the C18th century onwards, but particularly popular in the C19th has resulted in a number of people having the middle name Gotham or Goatham. I am including these people in my study. A Potter family who emigrated to Australia was particularly found of using Gotham as a middle name, and one branch eventually combined the names to form the surname Gotham-Potter. These descend from a Potter = Gotham marriage in Teignmouth, Devon in 1824.
Page last updated: 25 Aug 2019
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