The oddest surname I’ve found in my ancestry so far just has to be on my mother’s side of the family – Sheepwash. With the help of a number of fellow researchers I’ve managed to trace my ancestors back to about 1731 when John Sheepwash was born in Faversham in Kent.
With such an unusual name you’d think it would be easy to find the surname’s origins, but there are a number of variant spellings and it seems to have caused confusion at census enumeration time! Census transcribers also seem to have struggled with the spelling. There is a possibility that the name was also written as Shipwash, but it seems to have settled as Sheepwash by the mid 1700s.
Numbers of “Sheepwashes” in the English census according to http://www.ancestry.co.uk
If, however, you use http://www.findmypast.co.uk the numbers are as follows:
It’s always useful to be able to check out at least 2 different sources of information. Subscribing to several websites can be extremely expensive but public libraries and archives often offer free access to some of the major commercial sites.
My great grandmother, Alice Sheepwash, a widow living with her 5 children, including my grandfather Frederick (born 1898), is shown in the 1901 census as Sheetwash. I imagine the enumerator struggled to understand her East End accent and made the best guess he could. It would have been good if her occupation had been a laundress (!) but she was actually a “monthly nurse”.
Maybe the unusual nature of the name was one of the reasons for several of the branches of the family deciding to use Neville as their surname rather than stick with Sheepwash. I haven’t managed to work out exactly why they decided to change, although my mother always said that it was because of the teasing the children received at school.
As far as I know the name has no connection with the village of Sheepwash in Devon – but there’s always more to find out.