The Birth of a Surname: The life of Gouly de Chaville.

How often these days do we see the birth of a completely new surname? Surnames started to become fixed around the 13th and 14th centuries,[1] so now there is bound to be less change. However, with migration and marriage conventions changing, perhaps new surnames crop up a little more than we think. There are certainly going to be surnames in England and Wales that we would not have seen even 100 years ago, simply because the bearer has migrated from Europe, Asia, Africa or elsewhere. Double-barrelled surnames upon marriage also create new surnames in their own way, even if they are perhaps hybrids of names we have seen before. But what about when a new surname has come about through a ‘lost in translation’ scenario? That is exactly what the subject of this post is all about.

A chance discovery

In my final post about the history of my house, I came across a rather fascinating name in the tithe record for the Preston Plucknett area of Somerset in 1848. This name was Gouly de Chaville.[2] To my mind, the name automatically sounded French and further research proved my suspicions to be correct. But what about the name itself, ‘Gouly de Chaville?’ It does not seem to comprise the usual forename, surname composition that we are used to nowadays and really denotes that ‘Gouly’ is ‘of Chaville.’ I will come to the ins and outs of the name in due course, but the most fascinating aspect of my research into Gouly de Chaville was the birth of a new surname carried by some of his children. And all of this came from a simple chance entry in a tithe record!

Before I delve further into the life of Gouly de Chaville, I should tell you now that both Gouly and his family were not always easy to find in the records. At times, they were frankly a nightmare! And why was this? Mainly due to the many ways their surname was recorded, both by the original record keeper and also by modern record transcribers. To add to the problem, the family had French origins, but were living in England and Wales. A lack of familiarity regarding foreign names (and in this case, specifically French ones), is a large part of the issue. That aside, there is a wealth of information available for Gouly and his children and they have proven to be quite the interesting study.

Birth of a surname_1_ Gouly house, 1848_Shersca Genealogy
The possible modern location of Plot 135 of the 1848 Preston Plucknett tithes. A house rented by Gouly de Chaville, this is now part of the entrance of Preston Park. The site may have extended into the house in the background. © 2021 Shersca Genealogy.

French Beginnings

It may not be surprising, but Gouly de Chaville did not begin life as ‘Gouly de Chaville.’ His given name at birth was Paul Benoit Joseph Gouly and he was born to Marie Benoit Gouly and his wife Marie Elizabeth Chaudier. This birth took place on 02 February 1797 in a little commune called Viroflay in the Seines-et-Oise department of France.[3] Viroflay is now in the Yvelines department, of Ile-de-France. It is merely minutes east of Versailles and so technically now could be considered part of the suburbs of Paris.[4] Around five minutes east of Viroflay itself is the commune of Chaville.[5] So now, the moniker ‘de Chaville’ makes more sense. But why would Paul Benoit Joseph Gouly have added this to his name? It may be that a Frenchman in England would have wanted to mark himself different to anyone else with his surname, or he may have been proud of his birthplace and wanted everyone to know it.

In either case, when the Frenchman travelled to England, he became known as Paul Benoit Joseph Gouly de Chaville. It seems likely that many an English authority recording his name sought a shorter name and so many variations appear in the records. As I have already mentioned, the Preston Plucknett tithes recorded him as Gouly de Chaville, neglecting his forenames altogether. Whereas in some later census records of the 1880s and 1890s his full name is recorded, but sometimes also as Gouly, Gouly de Chaville or with Gouly added as a middle name. Berkshire newspaper articles more formally call him Monsieur Gouly or Monsieur Gouly de Chaville. From this point on, I will refer to him as Paul.

It is so far unclear exactly when Paul travelled to England, but he first appears upon his marriage to Harriett Maria Sanders on 16 March 1822 in Surrey. The couple were married at St. Giles, Camberwell in Southwark.[6] At the time Paul seems to have been residing in Iver, Buckinghamshire and his surname was this time, merely Gouly. This was only the beginning of his nomadic existence in England and Wales. At this point, you will have to forgive me. I have not yet been able to acquire the baptisms of the couple’s children, due to COVID restrictions. It may prove challenging, as being French, there is the distinct possibility that the family were Roman Catholic. Luckily for me, most of Paul’s life takes place during the years of Victorian Civil Registration!

Children and a move to Berkshire

Paul and Harriett’s eldest child was Emma Maria, born in about 1825, in Uxbridge, Middlesex.[7] She was followed by the eldest son, Edward James in about 1827,[8] then Henry Hugh in about 1829,[9] and Mary Frances in about 1831.[10] Like Emma, the children that followed her were born in Uxbridge, although some records record their birthplace as Hillingdon. These two places are very close to each other. The youngest child, Pauline Maria, was born in about 1837.[11] Further research into the baptisms for the children may yet find that the couple had more children- that could certainly be the case as there is such as large gap between Mary and Pauline.

Then between the birth of Mary Frances and Pauline Maria, the family relocated from the Hillingden/Uxbridge area, to Reading in Berkshire. Pauline was recorded to have been born in Reading. They lived in Berkshire until at least 1841, where Paul and some of his children are recorded on the 1841 Census.[12] Curiously, his wife Harriett was staying in Bristol when the enumerator came to call that year.[13] 1848 was when ‘Gouly de Chaville’ appeared in the tithe records for Preston Plucknett, so Paul at least had moved to the Yeovil area by that time. It has been difficult to say whether the family was a close unit, as Paul often appears on census records alone, or with only a few of his family members. Again, though in the 1841 Census, Paul is known as Gouly de Chaville.

A distinguished man

Before the move to Somerset, Paul seems to have had a somewhat illustrious career during his time in Berkshire, where he offered his services as a private language tutor. This was a career he pursued throughout his life and may account for his nomadic lifestyle- he perhaps would have travelled (to some extent), to where the clients were. But when he lived in Reading, he appears in numerous newspaper articles, but there are some specific articles which are pertinent. Firstly, in 1835, Paul was associated with a Mr. T Burr (son of a professor at the military college in Sandhurst), as Mr. Burr was inviting applications for his military drawing classes via ‘Mons. G. De Chaville, 5 Southern Hill [Reading].’[14] This cements the name of Gouly de Chaville and completely omits any of Paul’s forenames. Perhaps this was a conscious choice on Paul’s part?

GOULY family tree_1_Shersca Genealogy
A family tree for Paul Benoit Joseph GOULY DE CHAVILLE, showing his parents and children. © 2021 Shersca Genealogy.

A further connection with Sandhurst, records Paul as ‘Goulay de Chaville,’ when he again appeared in the newspaper in December of 1836. According to the Berkshire Chronicle, the Queen’s nephew (Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar) was due to attend officer training at Sandhurst. Paul was apparently preparing him for his duties at Sandhurst, whilst the Prince was residing with Paul at Southern Hill in Reading. Quite an illustrious position! The newspaper further described him as the ‘M. de Chaville’ who gave a recent lecture on ‘Volcanoes’ to the Philosophical Institution. It was admired for its ‘elegance and force.’[15]

An issue of name

There are many other newspaper articles that relate to Paul in one form or another; far too many in fact to discuss here. But there is one final newspaper article from Paul’s time in Reading that involves his name. In March of 1838, Paul sent a letter to the editor of the Reading Mercury, asking for a correction to be made. Paul was asking for the paper to stop associating him with another man named Pierre Cheri Barthes. Both the Reading Mercury and the Berkshire Chronicle had been erroneously calling Pierre, ‘Pierre Chaville de Barthes,’ and Paul had taken a real exception to this! He felt that his own name of ‘de Chaville’ had been misappropriated as Pierre Barthes had nothing to do with Chaville. Paul had publicly confronted Pierre Barthes who declined to stop using the name ‘de Chaville,’ so Paul decided to address the problem himself, through the newspapers.[16]

This brings up the issue of why exactly Paul thought that he was entitled to use the name ‘de Chaville’ himself. Was it merely that he was from that area of France and Pierre Barthes was not? According to UK law today, a person can change their surname as they like and the process does not have to be documented (the real difficulties come when trying to change official documentation).[17] The article implies though, that using ‘de Chaville’ as a part of his name was a big issue for Paul, however he ended up with it. It really meant something to him, so perhaps he was showing real pride for his birth country and birthplace.

A new surname

And so a new surname was born. From the family name of ‘Gouly’ in France (which I suspect there may well be living descendants today), to ‘Gouly de Chaville’ in England. Both lost in translation yet deliberately chosen, Paul used the surname of ‘Gouly de Chaville’ until his death in 1890.[18] There is much more to his life: bankruptcy,[19] continuing work as a tutor of languages, as well as travel to Taunton,[20] Poole,[21] Winchester,[22] Aberystwyth[23] and finally Worthing in Sussex, where he died, in the presence of his second wife Annie. Sadly, his first wife Harriett had died in 1864, in Charmouth, Dorset[24] and Paul married his second wife Annie Mason, a year later.[25] I look forward to writing a fuller history for Paul in the future.

But the story is not over yet. The next post will chart the journey of Paul’s children, Emma, Edward, Henry, Mary and Pauline. Their father’s decision in terms of surname also affected the surnames of his children. It actually makes research more complex again, as each child was generally known in the records by different variations of Gouly, Gouly de Chaville, de Chaville and simply Chaville.

Until next time!

© 2021 Shersca Genealogy

[1] Herber, Mark. (2004) Ancestral Trails. 2nd ed. Stroud: Sutton Publishing Limited. p. 3.

[2] Tithe apportionments. England. Preston Plucknett, Somerset. 1848. TUCKER, Robert (Owner) and CHAVILLE, Gouly de (Occupier). Plan number: 135. Collection: Diocese of Bath and Wells; Tithe Maps and appotionments; Tithe appotionments. D/D/rt/A/475. Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton, Somerset, England.

[3] Births (CR) France. Viroflay, Yvelines, Seine-et-Oise. Quatorze Pluviôse Cinq Ans, Republique Française [02 February 1797]. GOULY, Benoit Joseph Paul. Cote: 1140625. [p. 134] Collection: Registres paroissiaux et d’état-civil. Archives Départementales des Yvelines. : accessed 11 December 2020.

[4] Google Maps. Directions from Viroflay to Versailles.,+France/78220+Viroflay,+France/@48.7990216,2.1341261,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x47e67db475f420bd:0x869e00ad0d844aba!2m2!1d2.130122!2d48.801408!1m5!1m1!1s0x47e67c6b79b4bafd:0x7eb214a8a71b03db!2m2!1d2.173231!2d48.79966!3e0 : accessed 30 May 2021.

[5] Google Maps. Directions from Viroflay to Chaville.,+France/78220+Viroflay,+France/@48.8031607,2.1728053,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x47e67b842cd216db:0x550be965d3149c70!2m2!1d2.192418!2d48.808026!1m5!1m1!1s0x47e67c6b79b4bafd:0x7eb214a8a71b03db!2m2!1d2.173231!2d48.79966!3e0 : accessed 30 May 2021.

[6] Marriages (PR) England. St. Giles, Camberwell, Southwark, Surrey. 16 March 1822. GOULY, Paul Benoit Joseph. Collection: London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932. : accessed 09 December 2020.

[7] Census records. England. Charmouth, Dorset. 30 March 1851. DE CHAVELLE, Emma G. PN: HO107/1862. FL 8. SN 38. ED 1. p. 9. : accessed 13 December 2020.

[8] Census records. England. Islington, Middlesex. 30 March 1851. GOULY, Edward Ja[me]s (head). PN: HO107/1500. FL 750. SN 12. ED 68. p. 3. : accessed 07 January 2021.

[9] Census records. England. Chard, Somerset. 30 March 1851. CHAVILLE, Henry Gouly de. PN: HO107/1928. FL 57. SN 75. ED 1b. p. 20. : accessed 07 January 2021.

[10] Census records. England. Charmouth, Dorset. 30 March 1851. DE CHAVELLE, Mary F G. PN: HO107/1862. FL 8. SN 38. ED 1. p. 9. : accessed 13 December 2020.

[11] Census records. England. Milborne Port, Somerset. 30 March 1851. CHAVILLE, Pauline du. PN: HO107/1931. FL 297. SN 81. ED 3c. p. 20. : accessed 08 January 2021.

[12] Census records. England. Whitley, Berkshire. 06 June 1841. CHAVILLE, Gouly de [head]. PN: HO107/25. FL 6. BN 8. ED 10. p. 7. : accessed 01 November 2020.

[13] Census records. England. Clifton, Bristol. 06 June 1841. DE CHAVILLE, Maria. PN: HO107/377. FL 9. BN 2. ED 3. p. 13. : accessed 13 December 2020.

[14] Burr, Mr. T. (1835) Military drawing, sketching, surveying and fortification. Berkshire Chronicle. 08 August, p. 2d. Collection: British Newspapers. : accessed 13 April 2021.

[15] Saint James’s Chronicle. (1836) We have much pleasure in correcting… Saint James’s Chronicle (reproduced from Berkshire Chronicle). 06 Decmeber, p. 2f. Collection: British Newspapers. : accessed 13 April 2021.

[16] Chaville, G. de. (1838) Mr. Editor. Reading Mercury. 24 March, p. 2c. Collection: British Newspapers. : accessed 13 April 2021.


[18] Deaths (CR) England. Worthing, Sussex. 04 May 1890. GOULY DE CHAVILLE, Paul Benoît Joseph. Entry no. 405.

[19] London Gazette. (1851) Whereas a Petition of Paul Joseph Benoit Gouly de Chaville… London Gazette. 25 February. p. 508b. : accessed 13 December 2020.

[20] Census records. England. Taunton (St. James), Somerset. 30 March 1851. CHAVILLE, Gouly de. PN: HO107/1923. FL 23. SN 137. ED 1a. p. 39. : accessed 01 November 2020.

[21] Census records. England. Parkstone, Poole, Dorset. 07 April 1861. CHAVILLE, Paul R Jos[ep]h Goul de. PN: RG9/1340. FL 63. SN 58. ED 9d. p. 14. : accessed 01 November 2020.

[22] Census records. England. St. Faith, Winchester, Hampshire. 02 April 1871. CHAVILLE, Paul B J G (head). PN: RG10/1209. FL 35. SN 41. ED 2. p. 11. : accessed 09 December 2020.

[23] Census records. Wales. Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire. 03 April 1881. CHAVILLE, Paul Benoet. PN: RG11/5445. FL 44. SN 362. ED 1b. p. 6. : accessed 26 November 2020.

[24] Deaths (CR) England. Charmouth, Dorset. 05 February 1864. GOULY DE CHAVILLE, Maria Henrietta. Entry no. 320.

[25] Marriages (CR) England. Parish Church, Christchurch, Hampshire. 20 April 1865. GOULY DE CHAVILLE, Paul Benoît Joseph and MASON, Annie. Entry no. 190.

A meeting of Archaeology and Genealogy

I have wanted to write this blog post for some time, but sadly time has gotten away from me recently! So, what is this blog post about, I hear you ask? Back in March, I attended the Society of Antiquaries Conference: Seals and the People of Britain. This is obviously not one of the usual genealogical conferences in the calendar, but given my love of the Medieval, it was one I had been anxious to attend. Initially, it was due to be held in 2020, but as we all know, COVID put the brakes on that one. So, the organisers gallantly rallied together to produce an online version over two afternoons in March. I was very pleased to hear this, as I had particularly been interested in Helen Geake’s presentation entitled ‘Women and their Seals’ (yes, that Helen Geake of Time Team fame!). When I received the full programme, there were also other talks that captured my attention- it made it all the more worthwhile!

The Society of Antiquaries: Seals and the People of Britain

There were eight presentations overall, as well as the welcome by President Paul Drury and a brief summing up discussion headed by Fellow of the Society, John Cherry. Also heavily involved was Dr. Elizabeth New (also a Fellow). Those of you who use Latin in genealogy will recognise the similarity between ‘sigillography’ (the study of seals) and ‘sigillum’ which is a word often found at the end of documents to indicate that the signatories provided their seals. As I said, Helen Geake’s presentation was one that I was particularly interested in, and was included in the programme as follows:

  • Seals and the People of Britain: A survey of past work and present questions (Dr. Elizabeth New)
  • Seal matrices recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Rob Webley and Laura Burnett)
  • Women and their seals (Helen Geake)
  • Widows and their seals (Alister Sutherland)
  • Seals and Identity: Scottish Women’s Seals in the Archives (Rachel Davis)
  • New Impressions: a fresh look at sealing practices in Scotland (Ella Paul)
  • Irish Personal Seals (Raghnall Ó Floinn)
  • Personal seals: insights into personal culture (Malcolm Jones)

As you can see from the above list, there was a good range of presentations, covering a wide area of seal related material. The relevance to genealogists may not be obvious, but it should be remembered that seals can contain armorial information just as well as other representations of arms. This is perhaps most relevant for Medieval and Early Modern research, but as the range of talks suggest, seals could potentially be used for research in Scotland, Ireland and for women- they were not just used by English men. There are also some post Medieval seals (catalogued on the website I will discuss next).

The Portable Antiquities Scheme

A particularly interesting source that those researching in England and Wales should bear in mind when looking for seals, is the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). A joint enterprise between the British Museum and Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales), the PAS aims to encourage the recording of archaeological finds found by members of the public. This means that the PAS has a record of many different objects which may also be of use to the genealogist too! As well as seals and seal matrices, the PAS has a record of coins, spearheads, buckles and many more objects from across a wide range of periods in British history. Even if these objects don’t lead to a specific ancestor, they could certainly inform background research (although I doubt that any of us genealogists would really be using anything as far back as the Roman period though).

Searching the database

Searching the PAS database, a search for ‘seal’ (with images available) returns just over 14,000 results! A further 2,000 are added if records without images are included. So, there is certainly enough of a dataset to search. You can also narrow the search by time period and by county as well. I found over 400 results for seals from Somerset. As the finds are those found by members of the public, they are returned to the owner after a record is made. Therefore, the details of each object naturally need to be full, with as much detail as possible. A description of the object is there, including materials used, inscriptions added, weight and size. The broad date of the piece can be found, as well as the date the object was discovered. Some even have specific details of where the object was found.

Using the PAS for research

A couple of the presentations spoke about the PAS and the results of research conducted on seals within the database. An interesting question arose of the equality of sealing practices. In earlier historical periods, it is generally expected that men used seals more than women did, and the extant seals do perhaps show that. But the question of status in those women using seals surprised me. Helen Geake’s research raised the possibility of whether higher status women were using seals quite as much as women lower down the social hierarchy, and other questions of a societal nature. That is perhaps a research topic for another day, but these sorts of findings both cement some assumptions about Medieval women and challenge others. These are things that we should be aware of when researching women further back in time.

Photo by Mélanie These on Unsplash.

Other presentations in the conference

Helen Geake’s research highlighted many different aspects of the PAS seals and I could talk about her findings more, but I would probably be here all day! Instead, I will mention Alister Sutherland’s talk about widows and their seals. This was also of interest in the respect of widowhood being a large and important part of a Medieval woman’s life. His research is very specific to areas in Warwickshire and also somewhat earlier than I have focussed upon in the past, but the findings were interesting nonetheless. From what Alister’s research has found, only a small proportion of the seals of widows actually used ‘widow’ as a social identity. There was more of a link to having been ‘daughter of’ and other such identifications. An important possibility to keep in mind when researching Medieval women and having difficulty identifying their birth family. If a seal survives (and can be identified), then perhaps it might give important clues? Another possibility for this lack of identification which interested me, was the economical consideration that a woman may not necessarily commission a new seal upon widowhood. If she rarely needed it, then why get a new one? It was likely a costly business. To me, this is no different to much human behaviour today (although consumerism might have something to say about that). Why buy something new and potentially costly, when the one you have does the job just fine? Especially when the object is rarely used.

Seals in Scotland and Ireland

For me, the presentations concerning Scottish and Irish sealing practices were not so pertinent as I have no cause to use this in my own particular research. Although Ancestry DNA suggests I have Irish and Scottish ancestry (as well as my English and Welsh), I have not come across a single Scottish or Irish ancestor to date! Perhaps I will be proved wrong in the future… In any case, I can appreciate the importance that the findings of these presentations would have to those researching in Scotland and Ireland. I was also greatly impressed by the speakers and enjoyed their presentations. An organisation worth looking at for those interested in Scottish seals is the Treasure Trove Unit. It seems that their database is not online, but they seem to be similar to the PAS. There are other genealogical sources which deal with matters of Scottish seals and the like, but there is not space to discuss those here.

Seals for social history

The final presentation I wanted to briefly discuss was that of Malcolm Jones, which discussed motifs on personal seals and how seals can also give an insight into the owner’s character. They can also be an indicator of wider societal ideas and trends. Again, whilst not necessarily leading to a specific ancestor, this aspect of seals can help us understand the social history of our ancestors and the world they lived in. Malcolm Jones spoke about pet names being used on seals and a use of play on words. Some seals used images and layouts that spoke of a deeper meaning. There were those with Christian symbols or those used to bring luck, whereas others illustrated some aspect of folklore of the time. All useful devises for trying to understand the mindset of our ancestors.

Final thoughts

This blog post has only scratched the surface of the area of sigillography and I highly recommend looking at some of the resources below and in the rest of the post. I would also go and check out any published work from the speakers named above. It may have been a brief snapshot, but I hope I have been able to share my view that seals can be useful not only to historians and archaeologists, but to genealogists as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the Society of Antiquaries conference and I am so glad and grateful that it was able to go ahead (albeit in a digital format). I will be keeping seals in mind when I research- they are another tool that may yield more clues about that elusive ancestor!

Some further useful websites relating to seals are:

Another important source noted by Dr. Elizabeth New, is A Guide to British Medieval Seals by P.D.A. Harvey (check local libraries and online sources).

© 2021 Shersca Genealogy