Select Emerson Surname Genealogy

Emerson is a patronymic name from the northeast of England.  The root could be Emery - from the German personal name Emaurri introduced into England by the Normans; or from the Anglo-Saxon Emars sunu, meaning "son of Emar" or "son of Ethelmar;" or from Haimericus, comprised of haim meaning "home" and rik meaning "rule,"  which was the basis of the Gascon name Aimeric (in Italian Amerigo).

Early Emerys are found throughout England, early Emersons mainly in Durham.  Emmerson is an alternative spelling of the name.

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England.  The Emerson name is thought to have originated in Durham and with Aimeric, the archdeacon of Durham in the early 13th century.  This may explain the subsequent Emerson association with the bishopric of Durham.  The first tracked family began with Ralf Emerson, born around 1500 in Foxton in the bishopric of Durham.

At Hurworth near Darlington in Durham there is a monument to the rather eccentric mathematician William Emerson.  He was a native of this village and was buried in its churchyard.  In the 17th century there were a number of Emerson “merchant adventurers” in Newcastle, notably John Emerson of the Eastgate Emersons. There were also Emersons recorded as foresters at Stanhope in Weardale at this time.  Their numbers increased sharply in the 18th century with the lead mining at Stanhope.  

By the 19th century, the geographic location of the Emerson name was in a line stretching south from Durham to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.  One Emerson family in Lincolnshire traces back to the village of Searby in the early 1500's.  A genealogical survey was undertaken by the writer and photographer Peter Henry Emerson in his 1898 book The English Emersons.

William Emerson from Bedfordshire was an early English settler in Ireland, arriving at Carofin in county Clare in the 1630's.  Two centuries later his descendants, Catholic, made their home at Clifden on the coast in Galway. Tom Emerson was a house builder, as was his son Geoffrey.   His family ran the Ivy Hotel there for many years.

.  Robert Emerson came to America from Lincolnshire with his brother Michael and sister Elizabeth in the 1650's.  They settled in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  One branch of these Emersons migrated to Nova Scotia in the 1760's, but didn't stay.  Later Emersons of this family moved to upstate New York and to points further west.

Thomas Emerson from Durham was the first Emerson ancestor in America of the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thomas arrived in 1636 and settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  These Emersons were all church ministers dating back to that time.  Ralph’s father William was a liberal-minded Unitarian minister, pastor to Boston First Church. Ralph himself became known as a controversial thinker in the late 1830's as he began to espouse Transcendentalism.  Benjamin Emerson’s 1900 book The Ipswich Emersons recorded the family history.

Edwin Emerson, born in New York in 1823, was the patriarch of an Emerson family which spent much of the 19th century living and traveling in Europe and Japan.  His five sons all eventually returned to the United States.  Edwin was one of Teddy Roosevelt's 1898 Rough Riders and later a war correspondent; Alfred an archaeology professor at Cornell University; while Samuel, Harrington and George involved themselves in banking in Nebraska.

Virginia and the South.  The Emerson spelling varied somewhat in the South.  The 1790 Virginia census gave the following names of heads of families: John Emmerson of Pittsylvania; Richard Emmerson of Fairfax; Arther Emerson of Nansemond; and Henry Emberson of Albemarle.  

James Emerson, a Regulator in North Carolina, was captured by the British but escaped hanging in 1771 (a descendant John Hudson Emerson still lives in the area where he was taken).  George Emerson - his name was spelt variously - migrated south from Virginia through Tennessee into Alabama in the 1820's.  Other branches of the family ended up in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

Australia.  John Henry Emerson from Lancashire was a sergeant at the Woolwich barracks when he absconded with army money in 1821 - for which he was tried and sentenced to 14 years' transportation.  In Sydney he appeared to live well.  But he was discovered in 1827 to have been part of a money forgery ring.  This time the sentence was death, although later commuted to life imprisonment.  His life ended in Sydney in 1852 in some degree of respectability, leaving behind a wife and four children.  

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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William Emerson was an 18th century English mathematician.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the American lecturer, essayist and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. 
J.W. Emerson was the American lawyer who founded the Emerson Electric Company in 1890.
Peter Henry Emerson, born in Cuba to an American father, was an accomplished late 19th century photographer and writer in England.
Roy Emerson was an Australian tennis player of the 1960's, holder of twelve Grand Slam singles titles.
Keith Emerson was the founder of Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the 1980's, one of the first supergroups.

Select Emersons Today
  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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