Examples of how our ancestor
John Allred's (c1635-1701)
name was spelled

A History of the Allred Family Name

By: John B. Allred
Dublin, Ohio

We most likely got our family name in the early 1500s and our own ancestors gave it to us.

The earliest written record of our family name that I know of was reported by Keith Allred[1] who found a reference to the Allred name on a tax roll in Eccles Parish, Lancashire, in the year 1526. The next earliest mention of our family name was an account of a riot which occurred in 1535 in neighboring Leigh Parish[2]. However, those who recorded these events missed on the spelling of the family name, at least with respect to what we think today. In the case of the tax roll, the name was John Alrede. As to the participants of the riot, the names were listed as John Alerd, the younger, William Alerd, and Egod Alerd.

            How did we get our family name? No one gave it to us. Not the King, not the Church nor anyone else. That is not how it worked. Rather one or more of our ancient ancestors selected that name. Why did we get a family name? Blame that on the King and his demand for taxes. After William the Conqueror of Normandy became King of England by conquest, he ordered a census in the year 1085 to find out just what he had conquered. He asked: "How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire."

In short, the King wanted to know the identity of everyone who could be assessed taxes. The record of the census was called the “Doomsday Book” because everyone had to be included and there was no appeal as to what it said about people and their wealth.

But that census revealed a problem – there was no systematic way to identify individuals. At the time, people were identified by their first name and home village. If there were two men with the same name in a particular village, they would be distinguished by age with the addition of “the Elder” or “the Younger” to their name, even if they were not father and son. Thus, it was not uncommon to see early documents identify a person as “William, the Younger, of Pendleton”. The crown imposed an edict that all should have a surname, also called a family name.

            Family names were, at first, required of people with enough wealth to pay taxes. This did not include our ancestors - they were poor peasants! We were late to the party but we eventually got there because of the Church. After King Henry VIII took over the Church in 1534, his secretary of state, Thomas Cromwell, ordered all churches to record births, marriages and baptisms beginning in 1538. This meant that all church members, i.e. everybody, had to have a name because everyone was required to go to church. The effort at recording the personal information of everyone was not organized well. Record keeping really began with the accession of Elizabeth I on November 17, 1558 and the Act of Parliament of April, 1559 when the establishment of the Church of England was completed.

We are fortunate to have a CD of English Parish records[3], from which I extracted every mention of the Alred/Allred name. The CD includes the county of Lancaster (Lancashire) and the Alred/Allred names are listed in the Church records of three parishes: Eccles, Deane, and Leigh.

It is well established that Solomon was the first Allred who came to the Colonies that eventually became the United States. His father and mother, John Allred and Ellen Pemberton, were both born in Eccles Parish, Lancashire. In fact, Ellen Pemberton’s grandfather was the Eccles Parish Clerk, Thomas Smith. John Allred was born in the small village of Pendleton as was his father, William Allred, and his grandfather, John Allred (b. 1571, d. 1632). With this family history, it was easy for me to assume that our Allred family was clustered around Saint Mary The Virgin, Church, home church of Eccles Parish, Lancashire. And at first glance of the records, this view seems to be confirmed because in the 1500s, there were only 23 entries of our family name in Lancashire and all of those were in Eccles Parish. All of these family entries were spelled Alred (one “L”), none with two “Ls”. But when the records from the 1600s are included, it is obvious how wrong I was!

While all of our direct line ancestors resided in Eccles Parish, there were a lot more Allreds in two other Parishes in Lancashire, Deane and Leigh.  The chart shows that only 21% of the Alred/Allred family lived in Eccles Parish from 1600 to 1700 while 61% lived in Leigh Parish. What’s more, the chart also shows that an overwhelming number, about 84%, of our family was listed as Alred (one “L”) while only about 16% was spelled Allred (two “Ls”).

Do these data show that there are two families with almost identical names in Lancashire – Alred and Allred? Not likely! At the time, common people could not read or write; there were educated scribes to do that. And each Parish had a scribe, called the Parish Clerk, who recorded names in the Church records. It was the Parish Clerk who listened to the spoken name and then decided how to spell it phonetically. Note that you cannot tell the difference phonetically between Alred and Allred, ie. one “L” or two “Ls”. Writer’s choice. In both Eccles and Deane Parishes, with one exception, the entries with the name Allred (two “L”) were bunched together while all the other family names before and after were spelled Alred with one “L”. This indicates that it was the same family and that, for a short period of time, the Parish Clerks chose the Allred (two “Ls”) instead of Alred (one “L”). For some unknown reason, the record from Leigh Parish showed no such pattern. The two spellings were interspersed throughout much of the 17th century.

            Another example supports the conclusion that the two spellings simply reflected the Parish Clerk’s decision and not that they represented two different families. The first time that the Eccles Parish recorded the spelling of family name as Allred (two “Ls”) was a notation of marriage between Katherine Allred and Robert Fletcher, on November 15, 1601. This could have been a mistake by the Parish Clerk, however, because the same church records show a christening of a Katherine Alred (one “L”) on February 28, 1577. Same girl? That seems likely because the name Allred (two “Ls”) did not appear again in the Eccles Parish records until the christening of Jane Allred, daughter of Robert Allred, on December 1, 1644.

With respect to our direct family line, very early the name was spelled Alred with one “L”. Examples of this are the probate record of Solomon’s great grandfather, John Alred (dated 1633), the will of Solomon’s great grandmother, Ann Alred (dated 1637) as well as her probate record (dated 1638). Near the end of the 17th century, the name appeared on original documents more often spelled Allred with two “Ls”, such as Ellin Allred’s burial record (dated 1684) as well as the letter written by John Allred in 1695 which was so important in understanding genealogy of our family. But the entry showing John’s death in 1701 was spelled Alred (one “L”). The earlier spelling with one “L” was sometimes used after Solomon came to the Colonies, e.g. tax records in Chester County, Pennsylvania and land records from North Carolina. 

But over time, most of our family has spelled the name Allred with two “Ls” in both England and the United States. An 1881 census reported only 108 members of our family were in England with half spelling the name Alred and the other half Allred. At that time, almost all of the Alred/Allred family still lived in Lancaster County (Lancashire).

Recent census data, i.e. within the last decade, indicate the transformation in spelling has been almost completed. The latest census in the United Kingdom recorded no one spelling their name Alred with one “L” and 170 spelling the name Allred with two “Ls”. In the United States there were 1,154 spelled Alred and 16,951 spelled Allred.

In this report, I have concentrated on spelling our name with one “L” or two. There are other, relative rare, variations of the spelling of our name, e.g. Alread, Alrid, Olrid, etc., but these can be simply the work of an uninformed census clerk proving the adage that there is no word in the English language which cannot be misspelled. There is another spelling which was common in Lancashire in the 16th and 17th centuries, namely, Aldred, with a “D”. Evidence based on DNA indicate that they too are members of the Alred/Allred family. But unlike the Alred/Allred family which apparently exclusively resided in Lancashire in these early centuries, the Aldred family lived in other parts of England as well. The relationship of the Aldred family to ours will be the subject of a future article.

[1] C. Keith Allred The Earliest Documented Allred Allred Family Organization Newsletter #115, Fall 2018, pg. 5.

[2] John Allred John Allred Was Involved in a Riot in Leigh Parish, Lancashire, England in 1535. #117, Spring, 2019.  

[3] The CD, titled English Parish Records; Lancashire, Cheshire, and Flintshire, was purchased from Ancestry.com but is no longer available. Further, the CD will run on Windows XP but not on later versions of Windows.