Saturday, 29 December 2012

Excuse me; are you Mr. Steers or Mr. Stears?

An enquiry from a Mr. Stears has prompted this post. The focus point of his question was;

Are all the Stears variants linked?

Anyone who researches their history understands that you have to look at variations in spelling of surnames because literacy levels were low and names were often written as they were heard. Add to this the different dialects and you're left with all sorts!

The question however got me thinking; Are there areas where certain spellings are more prominent than others?

To investigate this I used the fabulous service provided at to create the following distribution maps for each of the variants. The maps are based on the data from the 1841 and 1851 England and Wales Census's and records where they were living (not where they were  born). If you hover over the maps you will be able to zoom in and out as required



As you can clearly see from these maps, STEARES is only found in Kent, and later the spelling moves into the neighbouring county of Middlesex.



In 1841 this spelling is only found in Hampshire and Yorkshire, the Hampshire chap having being born out of county. By 1851 there is only one recorded instance in Sussex.



Again, this is a very low frequency spelling that is confined, in 1841, to a few counties in the south of England and one occurrence on the Chanel Islands. In 1851 there appears to be some migration of the spelling into Lancashire.


There are only two recorded STEIRS and they are both found in Middlesex.



It is very clear to see from these maps that the main clusters are found in Yorkshire, Hampshire and Middlesex. In 1851 these clusters remain in Yorkshire and Hampshire, however the Middlesex cluster appears to have moved out into Kent.



The main clusters in 1841 were in Middlesex, Surrey, and Kent. This remains the case in 1851 when they have also spread into the neighbouring county of Sussex with most being located in Brighton.

Working Hypothesis



The hotspots for all variants are Yorkshire and Middlesex, with a spread into Sussex, Surrey and Kent in 1851.

To me this suggests that there are at least two distinct starting points of the surname in England; to the north lies the STEARS, and to the south east lie the STEERS, STEERES, STEARES, STEIRS and STIERS.

Of course there are instances where the same person is registered at birth as STEER, baptised as STEERS, and buried as STEARS!!

In order to make a more certain conclusion more analysis must be done, and this is something that I will be revisiting at a later date.