Having finally decided to embark on a one-name study of the name Shepheard I now have to formulate what the limits might be in terms of variants. In an article in volume 12 Issue 4 of the Journal of One-Name Studies, (October-December 2015), titled The Shepheard Surname: An Unlikely Name for an ONS?, I indicated that I thought there was merit in such a study, but only for the specific spelling of my name.
So, that is what we will do! I say “we” because I intend to enlist my daughter to assist in the recording of data and organizing of a website. That will reduce my work-load (Yeah, right!) but mainly it will ensure that there is someone to take over when I am gone. There is no rush there.
In the study, I will consider including other individuals with variants in spelling, but only if it can “be demonstrated that individuals with those different names had ancestors or a significant number of other family members who spelled their name as Shepheard.” One example in my family was first cousin, five times removed, John Shepheard (pictured below), who I like to say was born with an ‘a’ and died without it. I wrote about him the in the JOONS article.
The next matter is to decide where to start; that is, what geographic region will be reviewed first. The natural place is Devon, England, where my direct line originated and where I have data back to the early 17th century. As I demonstrated in my 2015 article, the county represents the highest concentration of people with our version of the surname into the 19th century. Censuses from 1841 to 1871 showed the largest number of Shepheards of any county in England. That turned over in 1881 when Middlesex took over as number one.
Records for many Devon parishes only go back into the 1600s. Only three parishes have information further back than 1550, so our data for early families is limited. In Cornwood parish, where my ancestors lived for several hundred years, almost all records kept in the parish were destroyed in a fire in the churchwarden’s house in 1685, resulting in virtually nothing past that year.
By far the greatest proportion of Devon Shepheards were born in Modbury parish. Baptism records there go back to 1601. Between then and 1730, there were 265 Shepheard baptisms listed (2.04 per year). During that period there were also 102 marriages of Shepheard family members, 56 men and 46 women. There are several variants of the surname in the parish but they are intertwined and I have assumed that, because of the small size of the parish and the concentration of individuals, they are all related and members of the Shepheard family. From 1720 to 1820, there were only 83 Shepheard babies baptized in the parish (0.83 per year). I do not yet know why the numbers were falling off.
I have been going through English census records, surveying the lists by county and year. I am in the process of downloading images of the census pages that show Shepheard individuals from which I can start to construct families. I am also obtaining the pages from baptism, marriage and burial registers across England that list every individual Shepheard, as far back in time as there may be available.
With even just one spelling variation, there is an enormous amount of information available. The first year (few years?) of this study will likely be just identifying sources of information and compiling the records that show where individuals and families lived. As well as where they are now.
I am sure this is going to be both interesting and frustrating. The main goals are to find Shepheard families as far back in time and possible and, hopefully, determine how or if they are connected.
Wish us luck!