English Ancestry


Find your ancestors from England. See if you are related to royalty. Learn the origin of your English name.

Although economic and political values led to much of the English migration to the New World, religious persecution in England was undoubtedly the main cause for immigration to the New World.

King James I, who believed in the divine right of kings, thought he was allowed to disobey Parliament because he answered to no one but God. He started a conflict with Parliament that gained momentum under Charles I's reign.

This conflict finally sparked a civil war lasting seven years, during which time the government unsympathetically persecuted its citizens, driving many of them out of the country.

Beginning in 1606, English people began emigrating from England to the United States.

Imigration to the United States increased after 1815 when it became a means of relief to the impoverished. Imigration also increased during the California gold rush and peaked in the 1880s.

The English were the first non-Native Americans to settle the area that became the United States of America.

From the first permanent colonies established at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 and at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay in 1620-1622 to James Oglethorpe's settlement in Savannah, Georgia, in 1732, English joint-stock companies, proprietors, and Crown officials sought to create a modified version of their native society in their American colonies.

While many Englishmen came to America to exercise their own religion, and others sought liberation from the religious intolerance on both sides of the Atlantic, most English settlers were drawn by the economic opportunities and cheap land.

Despite their diverse origins, the majority of colonies came under royal control, established the Church of England Episcopal Church after 1776, and created laws that adapted and imposed the English systems of law, governmental administration, education, commercial and financial management, and agriculture, as well as the arts and popular entertainment.

The group of single men sent by the Virginia company in 1607 to find gold and create a profitable trade failed, and the survival of the colony was doubtful, even under royal proprietorship, for two decades.

It was not until the late 1620s, when stability agriculture and a profitable tobacco export began attracting an annual English immigration of several thousand men and women, that the success of Jamestown was assured.

This rate of English immigration to the Chesapeake area was maintained until the early part of the next century, when it expanded as England suffered economic difficulties. After Maryland and Delaware were founded, the latter by Catholics, indentured Englishmen and working-class families constituted a majority of the new English settlers.

In addition to the small number of gentry, clergy, lawyers, officials, and minor aristocratic families who settled in the Chesapeake basin to develop plantations, over 30,000 male and female prisoners convicted of serious felonies were transported to Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania between 1717 and 1776.

Most of the prisoners and indentured servants, as well those as those who paid their passage to the Chesapeake, were young men with some training, possessions, and vocational skills.

Although all colonies from Virginia to Georgia received a stream of English prisoners and indentured servants, many were successful in attracting the younger sons and poorer cousins of gentry and merchant families.

In the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sizable numbers of Scots, Germans, French, Irish, and Scotch-Irish settled in the South, and they accepted the culture and institutions already established.

Pilgrim and Puritan settlement in Massachusetts Bay attracted over 20,000 settlers from East Anglia and the counties west of London between 1620 and 1642.

During these decades English settlements were planted in New Hampshire and Maine, and several English communities were established in Rhode Island and Connecticut by religious reformers who were not tolerated in Massachusetts.

Unlike the southern colonies, most of the New England settlers were older and came to America with their family, friends, and assorted relatives. In some instances whole congregations immigrated to New England in this period.

The influences of the clergy and the government was strong throughout the region, and successful efforts were made to convert Indians to Christianity.

English settlers from Virginia migrated into North Carolina in the seventeenth century, and English immigrants settled in all of the colonies between Connecticut and Maryland in the middle decades of the century.

When an English fleet captured New Amsterdam in 1664, renaming it New York, their countrymen already comprised a majority of the city's population and were well established in New Jersey.

While Pennsylvania, founded by English Quakers, attracted large numbers of German, French, Welsh, Scottish, and Scotch-Irish settlers, the colony retained its English character throughout the colonial period.

In the late seventeenth century most English immigrants were younger men who came from the rural areas of southern and south central England. Unlike the New England farming families, most who settled in the region from the Chesapeake to Charleston came as indentured servants and had training as farmers, skilled tradesmen, laborers, or craftsmen.

By the last decade of the century, when the English and their descendants comprised 90 percent of the European settlers, Southern planters began importing slaves and the number of new indentured servants decreased.

In the eighteenth century, many of those who indentured themselves to get to America were older than those who came before them and were accompanied by their family or related to the families in whose employ they remained.

In the eighteenth century, people from London and the northern counties comprised the majority of English immigrants.

The percentage of women increased slightly, from about 15 percent to nearly 25 percent of the English settlers.

English Americans began to intermarry more frequently than any other European group. This was partly due to the increased numbers of mobile tradesmen, craftsmen, and merchants among the new English Americans.

After the government began transporting felons to the colonies after 1717, the number of unskilled settlers increased in the New England and middle colonies that were willing to accept them.

Economic and political troubles brought new spurts of English immigration in the 1720s and in the decades preceding the American Revolution.

While English settlers and their descendants constituted only about 60 percent of the European settlers and half of the four million residents living from Maine to Georgia, according to the 1790 census, they had ensured the dominance of English institutions and culture throughout the new republic.

English immigration to America sharply decreased between 1780 and 1815, as a consequence of English involvement in India and Latin America, events surrounding the French Revolution and Napoleonic conquest, and a "second war of independence" with the United States.

During the War of 1812 British aliens were forced to register with local marshals; many English merchants were kept from their trade and forced to relocate; and for the duration of the war English aliens were treated with suspicion, and their freedom of movement was severely restricted.

In the decades preceding the war, London prevented English craftsmen from immigrating to America and restricted the number of settlers each ship could transport. Despite the general decline in immigration to America, several short spurts of English immigration to America occurred.

One such increase developed at the end of the Revolutionary War, and another resulted from the monarchy's suppression of English radicals in 1793.

Although German, Irish, Scandinavian, Mediterranean, and Slavic peoples dominated the new waves of immigration after 1815, English settlers provided a steady and substantial influx throughout the nineteenth century.

The first wave of increasing English immigration began in the late 1820s.

It  was sustained by unrest in England until it peaked in 1842 and declined slightly for nearly a decade.

Most of these were small farmers and tenant farmers from depressed areas in rural counties in southern and western England and urban laborers who fled from the depressions and from the social and industrial changes of the late 1820s-1840s.

While some English immigrants were drawn by dreams of creating model utopian societies in America, most were attracted by the lure of new lands, textile factories, railroads, and the expansion of mining.

The Chartist movement in the late 1840s, with its massive urban protests, spurred another period of English immigration, which peaked in 1854 and coincided with the waves of Germans and central Europeans who fled to America after the failed revolutions of 1848.

With this new influx, as with the previous one, there was a preponderance of English people traveling with one or more family members, and the number of industrial workers, tradesmen, and craftsmen outnumbered farmers more than three to one.

Along with its economic appeal, America attracted English settlers because of its similar language and customs and the popular admiration for "things English," especially in its large cities and in the South.

A number of English labor unions, Poor Law authorities, charitable organizations, and utopian colonization schemes also encouraged English resettlement in America.

During the last years of 1860s, annual English immigration increased to over 60,000 and continued to rise to over 75,000 per year in 1872, before experiencing a decline. The final and most sustained wave of immigration began in 1879 and lasted until the depression of 1893.

During this period English annual immigration averaged more than 80,000, with peaks in 1882 and 1888. The building of America's transcontinental railroads, the settlement of the great plains, and industrialization attracted skilled and professional emigrants from England.

Also, cheaper steamship fares enabled unskilled urban workers to come to America, and unskilled and semiskilled laborers, miners, and building trades workers made up the majority of these new English immigrants.

While most settled in America, a number of skilled craftsmen remained itinerant, returning to England after a season of two of work.

Groups of English immigrants came to America as missionaries for the Salvation Army and to work with the activities of the Evangelical and Mormon Churches. The depression of 1893 sharply decreased English immigration, and it stayed low for much of the twentieth century.

Throughout the nineteenth century, England was the largest investor in American land development, railroads, mining, cattle ranching, and heavy industry. Perhaps because English settlers gained easy acceptance, they founded few organizations dedicated to preserving the traditions of their homeland.

While the English comprised only 15 percent of the great nineteenth-century European migration to American, those going to America from England made up less than ten percent of the people leaving England between 1820 and 1920.

These migrations in the late nineteenth century were important in that they altered the distribution of English settlers in America.

By the end of the century the middle-Atlantic states had the largest number of English Americans, followed by the north-central states and New England.

The growing number of English settling in the West and Pacific Coast regions left the South with the smallest percentage of English Americans by the end of the century.

In the twentieth century, English immigration to America decreased, a product of Canada and Australia having better economic opportunities and favorable immigration policies. English immigration remained low in the first four decades of the century, averaging about six percent of the total number of people from Europe.

English culture, literature, and family connections became widely coveted in the early decades of the twentieth century, due to a number of well-publicized marriages of wealthy Americans to children of English aristocrats and to the introduction of Western history and literature courses stressing America's English heritage in colleges and in the public school curriculum after World War I.

During the decade of the Great Depression of the 1930s more English returned home than immigrated to the United States. For the first time, more English women than men immigrated.

This decline reversed itself in the decade of World War II when over 100,000 English (18 percent of all European immigrants) came from England. In this group was a large contingent of war brides who came between 1945 and 1948. In these years four women emigrated from England for every man.

Although total English immigration increased to over 150,000 (the level maintained in the 1920s) it was less than 12 percent of the European influx during the 1950s.

In the 1960s English immigration rose by 20,000 (15.5 percent of all Europeans migrating) and continued in the next decade.

This was because of the so-called brain drain of English engineers, technicians, medical professionals, and other specialists being lured to America by multinational corporations.

In the three decades since 1970, English immigrants, who were about 12 percent of the total arriving from Europe, were usually unmarried, professionally trained men and women.

While the average age of immigrants rose in the last decades of the twentieth century, the number of married people and children continued to decline, and immigrants continued to merge almost imperceptibly into American society.

The periods of increased English immigration in this century are notable because they involved more people from middle and upper-class groups whose migrations raised political issues in England, not because the level of immigration was significant.

For most of the period between 1921 and 1969, when immigration quotas were based on the country of origin, England did not fill the generous quotas granted to it.

Despite the slight decline in English immigration under the current immigration structure adopted in the 1970s, 33 million Americans identify themselves as being of English descent in the 1990 census.

They constitute the third largest ethnic group in the United States, and despite the fact that the Southeast is the region of the nation with the largest number of Americans of English descent, the states currently having the largest number of English Americans are California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Ohio.

 

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