Rowsell or Rousell? Why I began my One Name Study.

My One Name Study began in a similar way to many others: I came across an ancestor with a particularly interesting surname. After looking further into that person and her ancestors, I also found that I was hitting potential brick walls if I wanted to get back any further. After further research, there seemed to be a whole raft of people with the same surname in certain areas around where my ancestor lived. This led to the question: could they be related in any way? Now, I cannot quite remember the point which I discovered One Name Studies and the process of beginning one, but begin I did.

The beginning of the Rowsell ONS

This all started a few years ago now, without much direction and with less experience than I have now. I am sure that I will look back in a few years’ time and think much the same thing! In any case, I started gathering UK Census information and I also started looking at Parish Registers, wills and a few other bits and pieces. As I said, not much logic and direction. Then, when I visited Family History Live in 2019 I discovered the Guild of One Name Studies (brilliant acronym of GOONS!). After joining the society, their “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” text helped me to structure my research more and I have made better (and more logical) in-roads into my surname search. In fact this was the subject of my very first blog post, two years ago now! My progress is perhaps not as rapid as some, as I have both my genealogy business and my work tutoring with the University of Strathclyde filling my time. But, I try to do what I can when I can, as I am determined to get to the bottom of my Rowsell ancestors!

Mary Ann Rousell (1832-1929)

The beginning of the story starts with the discovery of Mary Ann Rousell on my maternal line. She was the mother of my great-great grandmother (Sarah Hawker), who came from Odcombe, Somerset. Sarah was the ancestor who had an illegitimate child with her sister’s husband. You can read all about that in my previous blog post, A Family Mystery Finally Solved.

Back to Mary Ann then. Having worked backwards through her life, I eventually found out that Mary Ann was born Mary Ann Rousell, in Merriott, Somerset. Her baptism took place in Merriott on 25 November 1832, to Robert and Ruth Rousell. Robert was a weaver.[1] She lived with her mother Ruth in 1841 (in Merriott),[2] and possibly lodged with a family in Crewkerne in 1851,[3] the year before her marriage. Mary Ann’s marriage took place in the Beaminster district of Dorset, to Simeon Hawker in 1852. [4] Luckily for me, there was only one marriage ever recorded in the Marriage Indexes for a Simeon Hawker, as the couple were not married in the parish church (I just haven’t gotten around to buying the certificate yet)! The couple then made their lives in Odcombe, Somerset, Mary Ann outliving her husband Simeon and likely passing away in 1929.[5]

Rowsell or Rousell_Why I began my ONS_Shersca Genealogy_M A Rousell
Mary Ann Rousell with her husband Simeon Hawker. I’ve always been impressed with Simeon’s beard! © 2021 Shersca Genealogy

A Rowsell mystery

The mystery for me came with Mary Ann’s father Robert, and his father. I managed to find a baptism that was likely Robert in Merriott in 1791, born to Robert and Hannah Rowsell[6] but no matching baptisms for Robert senior. It is possible he may have come from one of the surrounding villages. My current hypothesis is Seavington St. Mary, but this is really why I began my Rowsell One Name Study. I dearly wish to discover the origins of Mary Ann’s family. As the surname is quite abundant in South Somerset, I felt that a One Name Study would both help me to find Mary Ann’s origins and any connections between the families that share the name. Another important point is the difference between ROUSELL and ROWSELL. You might have noticed that Mary Ann was ROUSELL, whilst her father Robert was ROWSELL. Any interchangeability between these variations is another aspect I wish to discover. Did the families with different variants specifically use that variant and no other, or were they liable to change over the years and different circumstances? Illiteracy and local pronunciation may have had an impact on this, but from the beginnings of my research, it seemed that the different variations were more common in certain areas.

At this point, I must not forget the third variation of ROWSWELL. Of course, there may be other spellings such as ROUSEWELL, and then there is the issue of ROSWELL, ROSEWELL and any possible link to the surname RUSSELL. These issues will be tackled at a later date, and my current efforts are concentrated on the main three variations: ROWSELL, ROUSELL and ROWSWELL.

Somerset Births, Marriages and Deaths

Making my One Name Study official certainly helped me to focus my efforts, and so I have been gathering data from the most obvious place to start: the England and Wales Births, Marriages and Deaths indexes. I have begun with Somerset and then hope to expand those to the rest of the UK at a later date. I am part way through compiling spreadsheets to record the Marriages and Deaths indexes data, but I have now completed the spreadsheet for the Somerset Births index. Of course, there will be further data to collect as further years become available. For now though, I have collected data for all Rowsell births (with the two variants) for Somerset between 1837-2006. I have used various different databases at various points of the research to enable me to cross check entries, and it also became clear that I would need to set some rules regarding the areas considered to be ‘in Somerset.’ Due to the changing boundaries over the years (significant changes happening in 1936 and 1974), I have had to think about which places were within the county at which time and how that will affect my data collection.

As a result though, I am excited to be at the point where I could perform some basic analysis on the numbers of Somerset Rowsell births. At a basic level, I can now tell how many births there were, which district they were located in, and the split between the districts. At the moment, it seems that ROWSELL is by far the most common spelling, followed by ROWSWELL and with ROUSELL the least common. Time will tell what that means for Mary Ann’s spelling of Rousell versus Rowsell, as I also hope to create family trees for the different families- I may be able to discover any links between families and the different spellings used.

Some basic analysis

Looking at the number of births by decade, there does seem to be an increase throughout the Victorian period and a general decline throughout the 1900s. This may tally with the Victorian population explosion and later decline, but what interests me most, is how the births are spread between the different registration districts. Currently, my initial thoughts that the surname is very much a South Somerset name could be correct. The top four districts with between 150 and about 300 births each (looking at the first period of 1837-1936) are: Chard, Taunton, Yeovil and Langport. Each of the other 15 districts of the period all had under 100 births. The chart you can see is a rough layout of these figures (and gave me a chance to play around with pretty pictures!). I am really looking forward to digging deeper into this and then to comparing these figures to what was going on nationally.

Rowsell or Rousell_Why I began my ONS_Shersca Genealogy_Chart
A basic graph which shows the distribution of Somerset Rowsell births between 1837-1936. © 2021 Shersca Genealogy

So, the research goes on. I know I still have a long way to go, but I am definitely looking forward to finding out where this research leads!

© 2021 Shersca Genealogy


[1] Baptisms (PR) England. Merriott, Somerset. 25 November 1832. ROUSELL, Mary Ann. Collection: Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1914. www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 25 July 2021.

[2] Census records. England. Merriott, Somerset. 06 June 1841. ROUSELL, Mary Ann. PN: HO107/940. FL 41. BN 5. ED 19. p. 8. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 25 July 2021.

[3] Census records. England. Crewkerne, Somerset. 30 March 1851. ROUSELL, Mary. PN: HO107/1928. FL 376. SN 105. ED 8a. p. 29. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 25 July 2021.

[4] Marriages indexes (CR) England. RD: Beaminster [Dorset]. 3rd Q., 1852. HAWKER, Simeon. Vol. 5a. p. 637. www.freebmd.org : accessed 25 July 2021.

[5] Deaths indexes (CR) England. RD: Yeovil [Somerset]. 4th Q., 1929. HAWKER, Mary A. Vol. 5c. p. 402. www.freebmd.org : accessed 25 July 2021.

[6] Baptisms (PR) England. Merriott, Somerset. 05 January 1791. ROWSELL, Robert. Collection: Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1531-1812. www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 25 July 2021.

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