Our family has what many consider an unusually-spelled surname. We don’t think so, of course; we think Shepheard spelled our way is quite normal. Over the centuries clerks and vicars in Devon, England, where our family originated, recorded members of the family under a great variety of spellings. Even today, many people and organizations persist in spelling our name differently. Overall, though, we have resisted the temptation to conform to what these erudite persons believed our name should be.
As far back as 1633 our name has been spelled with the double vowel. I suspect that it goes even further back but I have not yet found documents any older. In that year the name of my 7th great-granduncle, John Shepheard, was entered into the baptism register of Cornwood parish, Devon. The baptism of his brother, William, was also recorded as Shepheard in 1638. William turned out to be a bit of a black sheep in the Shepheard family (no pun intended) when he tried to have a forged will of another brother, Sampson, put through probate in 1685 (see my blog post of November 26, 2013). Interestingly, on all the court records of that case the family name is shown as Shepheard as well – even the documents written in Latin.
Baptism entry in the Bishop’s Transcripts for Cornwood parish, Devon: “John Sonne of Nicholas Shepheard was baptized ye 20th of June”
(image courtesy of Plymouth and West Devon Record Office - PWDRO)
To me, the important records in establishing the spelling of our surname are those which contain actual signatures of family members or that can be relied on as accurate facsimiles, such as marriage entries, wills and other legal documents.
One case where several records exist with signatures concerns my 4th great-grandparents, John and Jane Treby Shepheard. They were first cousins (their fathers were brothers) so we have documents that show both of their names as well as those of their parents. John Shepheard and Jane Treby Shepheard were married in 1791. The entry in the church register has both of their signatures as well as that for whom I believe was Jane Treby’s brother, William. All are clearly spelled their names as Shepheard. In fact, Jane Treby was quite emphatic when she signed her name, using very large letters.
Entry in the marriage register of Cornwood parish, Devon for John Shepheard and Jane Treby Shepheard; both bride and groom signed the register
(image courtesy of PWDRO)
On the marriage entry for Jane Treby’s parents, Nicholas Shepheard and Mary Barratt, Nicholas’ surname was accurately recorded by the parish clerk as shown by his signature. One of the witnesses to this marriage was Mary’s step-father, Arthur Jefferys. Mary signed her name as Barratt but it should be noted that there are other records where, again, those recording information about her used different spellings, most commonly Barret – but that’s another story.
Entry in the marriage register of Cornwood parish, Devon for Nicholas Shepheard and Mary Barratt; both bride and groom signed the register
(image courtesy of PWDRO)
Often a clerk would write the surname the way he thought it was and the individual would sign his name the way it should have been recorded, such as on the marriage entry for John’s parents, Richard Shepheard and Mary Collins. The clerk wrote “Richard Shepard” for the groom but he signed his name “Richard Shepheard”.
Entry in the marriage register of Cornwood parish, Devon for Richard Shepheard and Mary Collins; both bride and groom signed the register
(image courtesy of PWDRO)
Jane Treby, herself, was not so fortunate in always having her last name recorded properly. On her baptism she was identified as Jane Treby Shepard. In spite of the fact that her father demonstrated his surname through his signature, all of his children were recorded in the baptism register with different spellings: Nicholas Shepard in 1761; William Shepherd in 1763 (his burial record in 1796 has the same spelling but a document related to his will shows his name as Shepheard); Mary Shepherd in 1765 (her burial in 1766 was recorded as Mary Shepard); Amey Shepard in 1767; Jane Treby Shepard in 1769; Sampson Shepherd in 1771 (both his burial record and his death certificate also show Shepherd but on his marriage entry he signed his name as Samson Shepheard); Arthur Shepard in 1773 (the entry for his burial shows Shepherd); and Thomasine Shepard in 1775.
Entry in baptism record of Cornwood parish, Devon: “August 11. Jane Treby dr of Mr. Nicholas & Mrs. Mary Shepard” (image courtesy of PWDRO)
There is a reference to Jane Treby on a document concerning a property in Westlake, Ermington parish, Devon. Her name, along with that of her husband, John, and sister, Thomasin, are spelled out as Shepheard but Jane Treby is indicated as having made her mark. It begs the question of whether Jane Treby was completely literate and that perhaps she had practiced her signature before signing the marriage register in 1791.
Part of a release document concerning a property in Westlake, Ermington parish, Devon in which are named John Shepheard, Jane Treby Shepheard and Thomasin Shepheard, all of whom received a payment of £20 from Sampson Shepheard, brother of Jane Treby and Thomasin, upon his assuming ownership of the property (image courtesy of PWDRO)
As a general observation, where family members could read and write, they invariably spelled their name Shepheard. Many individuals were not literate and accepted whatever spelling the clerk or vicar used in the baptism or marriage registers. There are many examples of quite different spellings used for the same individual at different times of their lives.
All images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO). Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.