By far, Williams says, the greatest number of names have derived from the Locations section of the mnemonic. "Thousands of family names around the world derive from British or Irish place-names. In medieval times, people moving into towns from the country often used the name of their village as their surname. Their descendants used the same name in their turn and the descendants of these descendants later settled throughout the world. The original Washington must indeed have come from Washington in County Durham, the original Lincoln came from Lincolnshire and so on."
Although the English started using surnames around 1100, these names often changed from generation to generation and hereditary surnames only came into general usage from the mid-1400s. Modern bearers of these Norman surnames can often trace their names back for more than 900 years and can thus often learn where their forebears lived, although the name itself was not territorial in the same way as a Scottish clan name.
At first thought taking a surname and locating it on a map of England sounds fairly simple. The problem is that map-making is a much younger art than most people realize. European countries, for instance, were not mapped until the late 1500s when the science of surveying sprang into being. The earliest records containing an accurate picture of England comes from the Domesday Book.
In about 1086 William the Conqueror ordered that a survey of the lands of England be made. The survey was to include ownership, extent, and value of the properties. Nearly 10,000 place-names are recorded in the Domesday Book. Thousands of these names survive as surnames, linking people all around the globe with the often tiny villages where their ancestors lived in England so many centuries ago.
Forgotten spellings (such as Eurvicscire for Yorkshire, Grantebrige for Cambridge, or Snotingham for Nottingham) reveal the original meaning of the names.
Thanks to John Garnons Williams, a series of 44 exquisite hand-drawn decorated maps of the counties of England as they had been in the days of William the Conqueror are now available at quite reasonable cost. To make the maps more accessible, he supplies a translation "Key Map" showing the equivalent modern place-names with each purchase. Williams published these maps to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book and they may be viewed on his Web site www.maps-maps-maps.com.
The maps are a major artistic work as well as a matchless historical resource. The borders of the maps and other rustic scenes have been inspired by the Bayeax Tapestry (which was actually made in England not France). As a result of Williams's work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
The Web site offers several links to English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh maps. Clicking the "Questions? Search Engine" button will take you to a page at the bottom of which you may plug in the surname of interest and find out if that surname is mentioned anywhere on Williams's site.