|Table of Contents
family history researched and compiled by David Genn and his
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2 Anjou, France
3 Yorkshire, England
4 Virginia, British America
5 Maryland, British America
6 Falmouth, Cornwall, England
7 Pernambuco, Brazil
8 Liverpool, Lancashire, England
THE GENN FAMILY OF CANADA
1 - Origins - Pre-1600
history researched and compiled by David
Genn and his cousins.
If you wish to contact us regarding
this story or any other family connection that we may be heir
to, please write to:
Genn, 7894 East Glen Place,
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The bearing of surnames, or family names, became common in
all classes of English society in the late 12th and early
13th centuries, although there was nothing official or static
about them. A man may very well be known at different times
or in different places by different names. It was not until
the introduction of the compulsory keeping of parish registers
in 1538, that the process of surnames became fixed.
The name GENN can be found in several parts of England and
its actual date and place of origin has been shrouded in some
mystery. Was there a single individual who chose the name
first, and from him all Genns have descended, or was the name
created in different places at different times by unrelated
In order to assess these questions, a careful examination
was made of the occurrence of the name, and similar names,
from parish records of christenings and marriages, the data
base being the International Genealogical Index (IGI).
In a later chapter, we establish our direct Genn ancestry
in Virginia in the year 1684, so for this exercise, we have
only considered events that took place in England before 1700.
On the suspicion that the name GENN had evolved from other
similar names, the following names were included in the analysis:
GYN, GYNN, GYNNE, GYNE, GYNES, GIN, GINN, GINE, GINNE, GEN,
GENE, GENNE, GENN, GENS, GENES, and GEENS.
This gave us a data base of more than 1100 events (births,
christenings, marriages) which took place in some 177 parishes
in 15 English counties spanning the time period from 1540
The first step of the analysis was to draw up a chart for
each parish showing who married who and when, and what children
belong to what parents, and how the name was spelled for each
The next step was to print up a very large map of England
(scale, 3 miles = 1 inch.) and identify each parish. The map
was then marked with the name spelling used in each parish,
and the date beside each to indicate the first occurrence
of each spelling. Some parishes recorded only a single event
(a marriage or a christening) while others disclosed a significant
number of related people spanning several generations. These
larger groups were also located and noted on the map. Having
completed all of this, the picture became much clearer, and
the following conclusions became evident.
The first set of conclusions was that GEN and GENNE occur
somewhat intermixed, and by about the year 1600 they had both
evolved into GENN. Nearly the entire population of GEN, GENNE
and GENN was found to occupy a small strip of eastern England
140 miles long by 25 miles wide, extending from southern Yorkshire
in the north-west, across Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, northern
Cambridgeshire, a corner of Suffolk and ending in Norfolk
in the east.
There were two significant population centers. The first one
occupies an area between Sheffield and Huddersfield in the
West Riding of Yorkshire and centers on the parish of Kirkburton.
Before 1600 the spelling for this area was predominately GENNE.
The second population center focused on the town of Soham
in Cambridgeshire. The pre 1600 spelling in this area was
found to be predominately GEN.
An isolated population of GEN, GENNE and GENN was also found
to occupy the northern tip of Cornwall in the parish of Kilkhampton
and the adjoining Devonshire parish of Bradworthy, five miles
distance from Kilkhampton. These Cornwall
The second set of conclusions was that GYN, GYNN and GYNNE
occur quite intermixed, and similarly, about the year 1600,
they evolved into GINN. The population of GYN, GYNN, GYNNE
and GINN occupy the county of Hertfordshire and the adjoining
southern part of Cambridgeshire. This territory adjoins the
southern boundary of the GEN, GENNE, GENN zone but only a
few parishes include persons of both populations. The two
Why did these families appear to change their name spelling
in the 1500s and 1600s? They probably didn't do this intentionally.
Changes in spelling have occurred in many surnames. Usually,
when an event needed to be recorded, the person spoke his
version of his name to a scribe or cleric and the cleric wrote
what he heard. How it was written depended on pronunciation,
accents and literary custom at the time.
Variations were sometimes adopted by different branches of
a family. Hence, the connections between Genn, Gen, Genne
and Gene, and possible connections to Geen, Jenn, Jenne, Jennes
and numerous others. We must assume that as most communication
in those times was verbal rather than written, then how a
name was spelled didn't carry much significance to the population
at large. When an event had to be recorded, such as a christening
or a marriage, the spelling was at the discretion of the church
official (the word cleric evolved into clerk) responsible
for keeping the records. The English language was changing.
Words were losing their final "e", and "i"
was replacing "y". To wit, "ye olde curiosyte
shoppe". As a result GENN and GINN just evolved with
"A Dictionary of British Surnames" by Percy Hyde
Reaney provided the following excerpts:
- Henry, Francis de Gene, 1255, Rotule Hundredorum, Staffordshire.
- William Gene, 1275, Rotule Hundredorum, Suffolk.
- Thomas Gennes, 1297, Minister's Account of the Earldom of Cornwall.
- Alice Genne, 1327, Subsidy Rolls, Suffolk.
- Thomas Genne, 1378, Register of the Free Men of the City of York.
Some additional early references were documented by Cousin John R. Genn during a visit to the Guildhall, London, as follows:
1236 - Eboracum. Henricus de Dayvill allormaint Gudinum clericum contra Agnetem (Agnes) Genne de consuetudinibus et serviciis de tenemento in Gergrave.
1281, 10 June - to Richard Holebrok, the king's steward,order to cause an inquisition by oath of verderers andforesters and others whether William Genn (Genu) of Druyestok, imprisoned at Rokynham for a trespass committed in the forest of Roteland, is guilty or not.
1285, 20 June - Confirmation of the following charters: acharter of Manassas, count of Guisnes, and Emma the countess,daughter of William de Artas, his, wife, in favor of St.Andrew and the nuns of Radigaffeld, dated, AD 1120. Note: The Latin that followed referred to "Emma, comtissa de Gennes" and the place as "Radyngefelde" and "Raddingefeld".
1297, 19 July - to the Abbess of Fontevrault, whereas the king upon the voidance of the priory of Aumesbyay orderedthe abbess to send to him in England from her house of Fontevrault a suitable nun for the rule of the priory, and she sent to him lady Joan de Genes for this purpose.
1382 - to Guy de Brien and his fellows, justice of the peace in Somerset. Order not to trouble ... William Gene (and others) ... for a certain trespass, whose names are not delivered in the parliaments of 5 and 6 Richard as principals, ringleaders, abettors or procurers of the late traitorous insurrection to be excepted from the king's grace.
1402 - to William Gascoigne and his fellows. Order by writ of nisi prius to cause as inquisition between the king and Henry de Broghton and Thomas Genne, the younger chaplains, executors of Joan, wife of Donald de Hesilrig, knight, whether Thomas, earl of Kent, who forfeited to the king, did make to the said Joan for life a feoffment of the manor of Aton in Clyvelande, co. York.
1413 - to the sherriffs of London. Like writ, mutalis mutandis, by mainprise of John Genne, 'baker', William Augewyne, 'horner' in favor of William Milton otherwise Barnatynge in regard to Thomas Childe of New Sarum 'mercer'.
1459 - Edward Genne, citizen and draper of London, to Guy Fairfax, 'gentleman', Thomas Belett, 'mercer' and William Dodde 'habberdassher' citizen of London, gift with warranty of all his goods and chattles within the realm or elsewhere, and he has put them in posession thereof by delivery of one silver spoon, and because his seal is to many unknown he has procured the seal of Richard Alley one of the aldermen of London to be hereto attached.
It has been suggested that a Genn helped with the stained glass windows in Ely Cathedral, constructed in the early 1100's and located near Soham, Cambridgeshire, a major center of early Genns.
Also mentioned were an Isabella Genn who died in 1603 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, London and a Henry Genn buried in Leicester Cathedral at about the same time.
Other name dictionary evaluations were:
A Glossary of Cornish Names by J.Bannister reports:
GENN, n.f., GWEN, white; CIEN, a ridge; I.GEN, a sword; or from St.Keyne.
A Dictionary of Family Names by M. A. Lower suggests:
GENN, this name, which is Cornish, and rare, is believed to be the Celtic form (or rather root) of Planta
Note that in some villages in Yorkshire, the G in Genn is still sounded soft.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines GIN as a mechanical device or engine. It reports the word as having had a variety of forms over the centuries, such as: GINNE, GYNNE, GYN, GYNE, GYNNE, GINN. This list has remarkable similarities to the GINN group of names found in Hertfordshire and counties to the south (see page 5). Chaucer made reference to "gynne, gonne, nor skaffaut" as
equipment for warfare, "gynne" being an engine (catapult) and gonne being a gun or cannon. From these words can be derived the professions of ingyners and gonners and the family names of Jenner and Gunner. Once again we are reminded of the Jenn/Genn connection of Kilkhampton, Cornwall (see page 5). This analysis has provided no comfort in discovering the roots of the GEN, GENNE, GENN family of Yorkshire and Cambridge.
Many English surnames find their origin in the inanimate, such as HILL, RIVERS and FORD. Some identify a trade or craft, such as COOPER, FLETCHER and SMITH or as we have seen, JENNER and GUNNER. The Yorkshire family of GEN, GENNE and GENN does not fit easily into one of these categories. The Dark Ages saw many people identified by their village or place of origin. A careful search through the index of a large atlas enticed us to take a closer look at a detailed map of France.
We found the town of Gennes located in Anjou on the south bank of the Loire River between Angers and Tours. Its population is currently less than 10,000. Just north of Angers we find Gennes
A review of the documentation provided in the chapter on Yorkshire suggests that the usual spelling of the name before 1600 was GENNE. This realization led us to an investigation of the name in this form and it was found that Genne was a distinguished family from Anjou, a former province of France with its capital at Angers. This would account for the concentration of places that have incorporated Genne in their name. The name in this form is decidedly French.
The French use of the name is pronounced with a soft ?G? as in "general". The Canadians, Americans and Australians pronounce Genn with a hard ?G? as in "gun". We note, however, that in some parts of Yorkshire Genn is still pronounced with a soft ?G?. This suggests that the switch to the hard ?G? was a more recent event and, therefore, does not challenge the Anjou hypothesis. The Cornish also appear to use the hard ?G?.
The GENNE spelling is found among the Huguenots (French Protestants) who migrated to England and other parts of the world after 1685. This event would be too recent to have accounted for our beginnings, but it does suggest a connection worthy of investigation. Chapter 2 provides some background information on the Genne family of Anjou.
The GENNE spelling appears in American colonial records at the time of the Revolutionary War with Elnathan Genne who was enlisted as a private in Colonel Thomas Marshall's regiment on 11 June 1776 and also Ignatius Genne who was enlisted as a private in Colonel Abijah Stearns' regiment of guards on 14 April 1778.
The GEN spelling was also investigated. It was noted that this is the common form of the name before 1600 in Cambridgeshire and also in Lincolnshire to the north. This spelling is also thought to be French, and from the Languedoc region of southern France. It is considered to be an uncommon variant of Geon, Geans, Jean, Jeane, Jeans. The pursuit of a meaningful connection between the name in this form and our Yorkshire cousins was less than fruitful. The occasional appearance in Yorkshire of the GEN form might better be explained as an early attempt to anglicize GENNE.
The name GENN is also found in eastern Europe. Genns, seemingly from Vilna, Lithuania, and of the Jewish faith, have migrated to Germany, Russia, Israel, South Africa and United States. We are told that Genn in Hebrew is spelled Gan, means garden, and refers to the Garden of Eden. Leo Genn, the British film star of "Quo Vadis" was of this extraction. There is the remotest possibility that the Vilna Genns also have their roots in Anjou.
There are 107 addresses listed for Genn in the USA. Most of the ones in the New York area are of the eastern European
There are also 53 addresses listed for Genn in Australia. Many of these claim their heritage from two brothers who emigrated from Yorkshire in the 1860's. These may eventually prove to have a kinship with the Canadian Genns.
It would appear that two Genns had arrived in Australia as convicts considerably before 1860. George Genn arrived on the Duke of Portland, 10 November 1807, sentenced to life. James Genn of Sheffield arrived on the Morley, 3 March 1828, age 24, educated, Protestant, single. His trade was steel drawer and soldier. His offense, desertion and his sentence, seven years.
A review of current English telephone directories gave the following count for households with the name Genn: Yorkshire 17, Kent 7, Derbyshire 4, Cleveland 3, London 3, East Sussex 2, Devon 2, Hertsford 2, Lancashire, Dorset, Middlesex, North Humberside, Surrey, Hampshire, Staffordshire, and Cornwall, each with 1, but none in Cambridge. After 668 years of continuous propagation the Genns are, at least on English soil, an endangered species.
And finally, Joe Woy Genn was buried in the Chinese Cemetery in Victoria, Canada, 3 September 1930, the funeral being conducted at Sands Funeral Chapel. His father is identified as Joe Yen Foun. We construe from this that Joe was the family name, Genn was a given name, and therefore, we need not concern ourselves at this point, with Oriental cousins. Joe Woy Genn was born in China in 1880 and arrived in Canada at age 30.
The crest and Coat
The Genne family of Anjou do, however, carry an ancient Coat
Also listed in Burke's GENERAL ARMOURY is the name Le Genn and described as "Argent 3 lions rampant sa. William le Genne (Acre Roll dated AD 1192).
Revised: 01 April 2000