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  • English Origins: HEMINGWAY

    George Redmonds

    Published Date : June-July 1988
    It has been written that the Hemingways of America, including all spelling variations, are descendants of Ralph Hemmenway, who settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1633/4. To someone unfamiliar with North American records, this seems a most unlikely claim, for the surname is numerous in England and it is difficult to believe that only one branch of the family made the voyage across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, there is a very real possibility that the Hemingways of America do share a common ancestry, not from Ralph Hemmenway perhaps, but from an inhabitant of the ancient parish of Halifax, Yorkshire, some 700 years ago.

    Firstly, if the spelling Hemingway is to be used in this account, the variant forms of the name Hemingway encountered in English sources should be noted. If we acknowledge the choice of one “in” as against two, and the habit of omitting the “g,” the name can be said to have been remarkably stable, but one or two unusual variations mark its history after ca. 1500, all of them in some way involving the suffix.

    Not surprisingly, “way” was occasionally confused with “wray,” the element found in Thackwray/Thackeray. In a less predictable development, the suffix “way” was often replaced with “ley,” a common name element, due to the linguistic similarities of the consonants “r” and “I,” e.g.:

    1581 Robert Hemmingwray (Keighley parish register)

    1695 Richard Hemingway/Heminlay (Selby wills)

    There was also a tendency to treat the name suffix “way” similarly as “wood,” “worth,” or “wick,” all of which lose the “w” in colloquial speech, if not in standard English. This pattern gave rise to variants less easy to identify, e.g.:

    1684 Isake Hemeny

    1733 Richard Hamena (Hartshead parish register)

    Although it is recognized in Britain that Hemingway is of English origin, it is seldom listed in works of reference and little has been written about its distinctive history. The fact is that even now West Yorkshire is its real “home” with several hundred families living in towns and villages close to where the first Hemingways are recorded and most of the evidence points to a single origin.

    In 1309, Thomas and Richard de Hemmy(n)gway were fined at Hipperholme for allowing their beasts to stray. The inference from the “de” is that they owed their surname to a minor locality in the neighborhood of Hipperholme, but no such place can be identified now in Yorkshire or any other English county. It is likely that it was depopulated and abandoned during the great bubonic plague of 1349-50. The meaning would be “Hemingr’s way” for this was a popular Scandinavian personal name, still in use in Yorkshire as late as 1300.

    Other references show that the “de Hemmy(n)gways” continued to live in Hipperholine as late as 1358, but soon afterwards they must either have moved into the adjoining township of Southowram, or possibly the boundary between the two places was redrawn, for in the Poll Tax of 1379 two married men, John and William de Hemyngway, were assessed under Southowram. A third man, also John de Hemynway, lived nearby at Cleckheaton, but the surname occurred nowhere else in Yorkshire. This area was the seat of the family’s expansion for the next several centuries.

    References to the family in the 1400s are sporadic but establish that the Hemingways continued to live in the same area. Between 1456 and 1474, for example, a John Hem(m)yngway of Southowram witnessed several deeds and another John Hemingway was said to be of Thornhills in Hartshead parish. So popular was John as a first name that John Hemyngwaye of Northowram gave it to two sons both of whom survived.

    The 16th century tax lists or subsidy rolls show that a significant ramification took place in the reign of Henry VIII, with little change in the pattern of distribution. The 10 local Hemingways taxed in 1545 lived in Southowram (5), Northowram (3), Gomersal (1), and Sowerby (1), and the most prosperous of these were John Hemmyngwey of Southowram, with goods valued at £20, and John Hemyngwey of Northowram (p8). However, at least one family had moved to Spofforth near Wetherby, a distance of some 24 miles, by this date.

    If the subsequent distribution of the surname [100] Hemingway in Yorkshire is studied for the period prior to 1630, it becomes clear that Southowram’s position in the Calder Valley is of great importance. The river runs from west to east, from bleak and inhospitable moorland to fertile farmland. Although Southowram continued to be the family’s main stronghold, the dispersal eastwards is most marked. Some families, notably clothiers, settled in the west in the Heptonstall area and one or two moved either north into Bradford or south into Huddersfield, but the migration downstream to Birstall, Mirfield, and Dewsbury was more significant and there were soon other major concentrations of the surname close to Selby (30 miles) and Wetherby (24 miles) and one or two Hemingways even settled in the commercial centers of York (36 miles) and Hull (60 miles). By this time a much wider variety of Christian names was in use, embracing Abraham and Edward (Southouwram), Henry, William and Thomas (Selby), James, Richard, and Robert (Halifax). Ralph on the other hand was not a popular name in that area at that time, and this may be one of the most significant clues to the precise origins of the emigrant, Ralph Hemingway.

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