The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

SEWELL Co-ordinator's Report March 1993

by Geoff Sewell

As a direct result of a recent enquiry sent out to SEWELL researchers, information is starting to flow in especially from abroad. May I take this opportunity to say thank you to those people who have taken the trouble to write to me and send me information. Please bear with me as I am inundated with work at present but I will reply as soon as I can. In the meantime, I will continue to correlate the information as it arrives and store it in my ever expanding filing system.

I have received many letters from members abroad, particularly New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and USA, many of which link their families to SEWELLs who emigrated from Britain. This type of information is invaluable to my work. Please keep it coming in.

Steve Chapman has sent me a family tree including Anna Sewell of Black Beauty fame. Tradition has it that his family is a branch of that tree, but he can't prove it conclusively. Can anyone help?

Glenys Robinson has sent me material (prime source Viv Page) which links SEWELL to THURSTON (the circus people). Does anybody have any further information that will confirm the link?

I am now convinced that the number of surname variants is much greater than I originally thought. I am rather taken aback by the enormity of the task in hand.

Michael Sewell has produced a SEWELL Distribution Map. The method he used was to consult the IGI to count SEWELLs at different locations around the country, and mark each location on the map with a spot, the size of which represented the number of entries found there. These same locations are evident into the eighteenth century, and even to the present day with of course many more additions. I will give you more information at a later date.

The journal is still very short of articles on the SEWELLs but this will be balanced later by a journal concentrating mainly on the SEWELLs. In the meantime. if you have any material that could be suitable for the journal, however short, please forward it to me as soon as possible.

Don has been abstracting all the SEWELLs (and our other surnames) from all the published pre‑1650 will indexes for the various London courts; the Court of Husting, the Commissary Court of London, the Consistory Court of London and the Archdeaconry Court of London. The most common 14th century spelling was SEWALE, the SEWELLs being thin upon the ground until the 15th century. Don has plotted their parishes and related them as far as possible to routes into London. The evidence seems to suggest that the early SEWALEs derived their name from the Christian name SEWAL, those deriving their name from a place‑name called SEWELL (or something like it) coming into London later. Gradually the SEWELL spelling displaced SEWALE or SEWALL even in families which had previously used that spelling, so that today the spellings SEWAL or SEWALL are relatively rare.

Don is preparing a detailed article on his researches which will appear in a subsequent journal. We are clearly on the verge of some fascinating insights into the development of the SEWELL surname. It looks as if the most common form, SEWELL, has been the great imperialist, often being substituted for earlier names like SEWALE, derived from the Christian name, or (as in my case) SAYWELL, which originally had nothing to do with it. Because there are several places called SEWELL (or something similar) and hence several different stems, the SEWELL surname was more common than the others. Because it was more common it tended to assimilate less common surnames which were somewhat similar and it became even more common.   I am sure this process is the reason why the SEWELLs now greatly outnumber the SOLEs, SAULs and SOLLEYs.

When we have done all the genealogical work and can separate out the families which were ancestrally SEWALs, SAYWELLs or SOWELLs, we might find we are not such a big tribe after all but a federation of smaller ones.

Return to The Sole Society Home Page