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  • Writer's picturejoyce hampton

Huguenots - the elusive ancestors - part two

Last month, I posted a blog about the briefest of introductions to the Huguenots and a little of their history but of course we need to delve further now into how you identify a Huguenot ancestor.

First of all, dates are very important as the main years of Huguenot arrivals were from the 1680s to the 1720s although you may well find evidence of earlier Huguenot and Walloon arrivals, but the numbers of refugees were a lot smaller in the earlier years. It is, however, always worth investigating further. People sometimes assume that the Huguenots in particular were still arriving at the time or just after the French Revolution of 1789 but although there were quite a number of French refugees fleeing here they were predominately Catholic, including priests fleeing to safety from the terror. Once these Huguenot refugees decided to make their home here and they would often apply for denization. They would have to pay a fee for this status and would be subject to alien rates of tax, would not be allowed to vote nor hold a civil or military order nor inherit land but it gave some rights and feeling of belonging. If you go to the link below you can search their records for possible family ancestors.

Huguenot church records would also have registers of arrivals who settled here, even if their stay was fleeting. Below you can see a woodcut photo of some of the Meraux tokens that these refugees carried with them from their homeland to give to their new place of worship.

I wrote last month that the name could of course be a clue but apart from the mishearing or misspelling of a foreign name by a bored clerk, especially at the end of the day. However, at times when England and France were at War – such as the Napoleonic wars, the English were not keen to employ people with foreign sounding names which their country was at war with so to gain employment Huguenots would often anglicised their names – thus ‘Blanc’ would become ‘White’, ‘Bois’ would change to ‘Wood’ and so on. One sixth of the population of this country can lay claim to Huguenot ancestry and do remember that Huguenot women, as the decades passed married into local communities thus hiding their own Huguenot origins behind an English surname.

The third clue is often the area As I said earlier, they did not just settle in London, there is evidence of Huguenot settlement in many parts of the country such as Hampshire, Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire as well as Glasgow in Scotland and Portarlington in Ireland. Not all areas have any surviving records of Huguenots or Walloons, but the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland does hold surviving registers, and these have been published in the Huguenot Society Quarto Series.

Do go to the Society’s website and if you are already or choose to become a member who will be able to search online some of the Quarto Series which are the genealogical journals of Huguenot families.

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