Articles Index

The South/Bysouth Families of North Hertfordshire 

Up to the late 1800s, the South family often used the name Bysouth. There seems to have been little consistency as to how each of the surnames was used and in this article, Tom Doig, looks at the confusion but comes to no positive conclusions!

South/Bysouth Families

One important branch of the South family originated in the villages on either side of the A10 [Ermine Street] just to the south of Royston in Hertfordshire.  The communities at Barkway, Nuthampstead, Barley, Reed, Therfield and Kelshall were strong in Souths and most, particularly Kelshall, list a South on almost every page of their parish registers. Almost as common as the Souths were the Bysouths and it is an open secret that they were one and the same family.

One of the earliest Bysouths to be found in Reed was Edward.  He was born around 1538 although no record of his baptism survives - the Reed parish registers commence around 1539. Edward's second son, also Edward, was born around 1570 (there is some confusion regarding his date of birth.) This second Edward married - again the marriage registers have not survived - and his wife produced at least eight children including Joseph Bysouth who was baptised on 28.11.1608 at Reed.

In turn, Joseph married - again, we don't know the name of his wife - and had six children and it with Joseph that the problem begins. He usually calls himself Joseph Bysouth but, on occasions, the name Joseph South creeps in.  When Joseph's son, Richard Bysouth was baptised on 1.10.1654 at Reed, the clerk anticipated the confusion and noted in the margin of the register, 'out of the South cometh' - a very perceptive comment!

From this time onwards, the South/Bysouth families are quite happy to use whichever surname is convenient.  For example, when Richard Bysouth was buried in 1685, he is called Richard South. The difficulty continued for another one hundred and fifty years although, in Barley, Sandon and possibly other villages, the Souths became a separate family. The Bysouths flourished and populated Reed, Barkway and Nuthampstead.

In 1841, the first census to record and save details of individual families was taken. This gave the Souths and Bysouths an ideal opportunity to muddy the waters even further. William 'Bysouth', born 1815, the son of John & Kitty Bysouth of Mole Hill Green (now Morrice Green), Nuthampstead, is listed with his wife, Jane, and four children.  This is not strictly true for he calls himself William 'South.'  In later census, he reverts to the Bysouth surname.

The problem is not confined to Hertfordshire.  Benjamin Bysouth was born at Nuthampstead but moved just over the border to Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire when he married Eliza Ann. In Cambridgeshire, he used the surname 'South' and on of his sons founded the successful bakery at nearby Ashwell in Hertfordshire under the 'South' name. So clearly, when researching the South family, we disregard the Bysouths at our peril!

The South/Bysouth problem is not unique in north Hertfordshire for there is a similar confusion with the Andrews/Anderson families.  The two surnames appear to be quite interchangeable. For example, there was Esther Mary Anderson (or was she Andrews) who married George Bysouth (or was he South) at Reed in 1865.  I'm not sure that I am mentally strong enough to investigate the parents of the couple too deeply - that way madness lies...    


Tom Doig

September 2000


Articles Index