October 7, 2013

Just where did those Stancils come from?

At 10 years old, my genealogical research started with the STANCIL family of Johnston County, NC. They are my father's family. Thankfully, STANCIL is a somewhat unique name unlike the rest of my family (DAVIS, ALLEN, JOHNSON). That makes the research process just a little easier, although central and eastern North Carolina is nearly overrun with STANCIL descendants, 99% of whom descend from our immigrant ancestor, John STANCIL.

More on John another time. Right now, I'm interested in looking at the origin of the STANCIL name. The name is spelled a myriad of ways - STANCILL, STANSEL, STANSELL, etc. I've even run across a branch of Yankees who spell it STANZEL, though these folks are not born of our STANCILs. After all, they're Yankees.

Surnames didn't exist until about 1000 years ago. They just weren't considered necessary. The world was a much less crowded place and most folks didn't venture more than a few miles from where they were born.  During the Middle Ages, as families got bigger, it became necessary to distinguish between the umpteen Johns in the neighborhood.

Surnames were largely drawn from the father's name: John Peterson, or rather, John the son of Peter.

Or from the father's occupation:  John Shoemaker

Or - in our case - from a particular locale: John Stancil (John from the village of Stancil)

The first written evidence of the 

STANCIL name is found in the Domesday Book, which was a census of England and Wales ordered by the King of England in 1086 AD so he could be sure to properly tax the land held by our ancestors. Here we find reference to "John of Stanchil (the "H" was silent), a Saxon."  

Some three or four hundred years later, we find references in old tax lists and censuses to  the STANSHALL family, mostly in Yorkshire. Romans occupied the area but headed out around 479 AD. The Saxons moved in about 40 years later. Most houses then were made of mud and straw. But the Saxons found something interesting in Yorkshire - a house made of stone, likely built by the Romans.

It is written that this stone house was the basis for the name given to the village. Stone house evolved into "Stone cell" and eventually even later into Stanshall, whereby the village was named.  To shorten this story a bit and make it a little less dry, it is thought that the name Stanshall developed from this ancient stone house in Yorkshire. This village still exists today as the village of Stancil. 

The Stanshalls of Yorkshire moved into other parts of England, and by the 1500s, you can find a large concentration of 'em in Derbyshire - where our family can be traced. Church and Parrish records of the Church of England contain a number of recorded births, marriages, and deaths of individuals named Stansall.

So there you have it. No doubt about it - we're English. Pass the crumpets, please.


  1. The purpose of the h is to signal a pronunciation of hard k. In OE, the letter c before i or e was pronounced ch as in church. You have this same sound in Chingestune, modern Kingston, UK, the town or farm managed by Stanchil before 1066.

  2. My name is Ashley Williamson, before marriage i was Ashley Stancil. My father was Arthur D. Stancil. He died in 1994 when i was very young. I never really knew him except he was in the military and was born in North Carolina. I would love to find more information about my family so i can teach my children of their grandfather. What i did get to see of him he was a very loving man but was always away on the road. Just would love to know if i have more family from his side and to meet them. My mother has kept me in the shadows from knowing of him or his family or his life there.
    You can email me at deswilliamson718115@gmail.com.