Thursday, August 4, 2022

Stuck on the Stevens Surname


When stuck on a research project, my philosophy is to start right where you are: with square one. Since I cannot shake loose of this research wrestling hold my brick wall opponent has me locked in—lack of any further information on my husband's second great-grandfather—that first step is to look at the history of the man's surname.

I have certain go-to websites for checking the basics on a surname I am researching, so that is where I first headed to learn what I could about the Stevens surname. Granted, researching the Stevens line is not exactly as hopeless a proposal as researching, say, Smith—but it does have its challenges.

One challenge is the well-known alternate spelling of Stephens (but there are others). In addition, the surname turns out to have a wide range of geographic origins (perhaps explaining some of those spelling variations).

When I research the background and history of a surname, I bring my question first to a search engine to see what will come up. Among the usual resources are and Wikipedia—and that was much the case with today's exercise.

The Ancestry entry for Stevens didn't contain too many surprises. According to, Stevens is a patronymic form of the given name Steven; no surprise there. The surname can claim roots not only from England, but from Flemish, Dutch, and German origin. To complicate matters, several other countries' similar-sounding surnames may have morphed into the very English-sounding Stevens, either by virtue of their phonetic state or their like meaning (such as the Serbian Stevanović).

Likewise, the Wikipedia entry on Stevens didn't add any surprises. It identified Stevens as an English language surname (no surprise there!) meaning "son of Steven" but did add one interesting detail: that the surname was brought to England after the Norman Conquest.

In Forebears, the surname distribution website, below the customary distribution map are entries about the Stevens surname from several old resources, including books dating back to the mid 1800s, such as Patronymica Britannica and An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names. One book which caught my eye, though, was Charles Wareing Endell Bardsley's A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, originally published in 1896 (with this 1901 revision available online).

Why that particular volume? After all, my father-in-law's eight great-grandparents were all born in Ireland. And yet, something showed up in this last revision of my husband's DNA ethnicity report which gives me pause. Considering something is just not adding up in this John Stevens' immigrant story, we may as well take a look at every hint we can find. We'll attend to that very task, tomorrow.


  1. You always give good ideas. Thank you! I forget about researching those surname origins.

    1. Glad to hear that was a helpful reminder, Sara! In reality, these are the tactics I use when all else fails. I am hoping background information will provide some direction.


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