BerksFHS Logo  

Berkshire Family Historian
June 2001

upBerks FHS indexContents

Berkshire Family Historian Main Page

June 2001 Contents

Starting a one-name study - from a Little Red Book to a 7,000-name computer database

David Wornham

What follows is an account of how I organised a one-name study. It certainly is not the only way, but it's a system I used and it continues to be successful.

I was exceptionally fortunate to find that my family had kept a 'little red book' with family events recorded from the baptism of my Great-Great-Grandfather, Jonathan Wornham, son of Thomas and Sarah, on 8th December 1805 in Bishopstone in north Wiltshire. This record was started by his sister Mary (baptised 8th November 1807) whose original photograph I have on glass.

Photo of Mary Wornham - original on glass

Mary Wornham 1807-1857

Twenty years ago I began to collect every reference to my name I could find. My records now include over 7,000 names with dates from 1374 (Richard Warnham, Prior of Reigate Priory) and 1537 (a christening of Robert Wornam in Kingston on Thames) to the present day. They range from the armorial Wyrdnam/Wirdnam agricultural families from Grove, Wantage, in the 1450s to the seventeenth century London Wornum family who include the inventor of the upright piano mechanism and the Keeper of the National Gallery. Another Wernham branch includes two retired professors of philosophy and a Canadian High Court Judge.

My mother sparked my interest by producing a typed family tree from the 'little red book'. I then recorded all Wornhams from British telephone directories and, heartened by the small number of around 30, I wrote to them inviting them to send their family details. I was surprised and pleased to receive about 30% replies, especially as the first letter was from a former colleague, Roger Wornham, proving that he was a third cousin, although we had earlier concluded we were not related.

Those not replying were telephoned, and I have received only one rebuff of 'sorry, but I don't want to be involved'. Others I visited personally, and despite the misgivings of my wife and mother, I found everyone not only welcoming but apologetic for not answering my earlier letter.

I discovered the gravestone of my G-G-G father, Jonathan, which also commemorates his wife Arm and his sister Mary, located in the cemetery in Wantage. Jonathan was a baker and the licensee of The Kings Arms public house in Wantage, which remains there today.

I have since broadened my search to include similar sounding surnames and have now made contact with, and included details of, W*R*N*Ms in many English counties and also Scotland, Wales, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and the United States of America. My initial letter included the following:

'I have, since 1980, been researching all known variations of Warnham, Wernham, Wernom, Wirnam, Wirnham, Wirdenham, Wirdnam, Woornam, Wornham, Wurnham, Wyrdenham, etc., whenever or wherever occurring. Whether or not people have an interest in family history, I believe that everyone should record names, dates and places of birth, marriage and death of those members of the family we do know, together with any family stories, traditions, and photographs, so they are not lost to future generations. As an amateur family historian specialising in my family surname, I am pleased to record, compare and analyse all variations of the surname whenever and wherever found and serve as a reference for queries from others. I welcome and encourage anyone with a W*R*N*M connection to send their family details for inclusion, whether or not they are interested in researching themselves.'

All details gained were initially transferred onto hand-drawn charts, one for each parish or one for each family with proved connections, with each individual having an entry on a card index.

Computer records

Gradually as my interest in computers grew I considered that a computer application for my records was a logical step. I first used a standard database, laboriously using reference numbers to link parents and siblings then, with a printout, scissors and glue constructed a family tree. On 'promotion' to PC compatible computers I purchased the 'Pedigree' family records software package which I have since used.

Our research has taken us often to the Berkshire and Wiltshire County Record Offices to examine parish registers, census records, wills, land deeds, maps, the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and other Mormon records. I currently have an extensive database collection of over 50 branches of disconnected families.


All my correspondents are warned that the accuracy of the information I give them is not guaranteed as much of it has not been checked against original sources. As with all family history research, many links have to be assumed and often cannot be proved. On this basis, entries are believed to be accurate, or probable, unless a 'c.' (circa) or a '?' indicates an estimation. Official registers should be checked for confirmation of any details.

Direct family links

With variations in name spellings my direct family has links with Hertfordshire, Edmonton, Lewisham and Woolwich in London Duston in Northamptonshire, Wantage in Berkshire and Bishopstone (six miles East of Swindon) in Wiltshire in the eighteenth century. There are possibly two earlier generations in Welford and Wickham in Berkshire, determined by the same names disappearing from those parishes and appearing in Bishopstone at the same time with no trace of them to date elsewhere. By recording all W*R*N*M connections I have traced many distant cousins and have produced a massive record with provable connections to my family.

Residence records

We have been fortunate to discover the following records from the Wiltshire County Record Office for Wiltshire for my direct ancestors:

1. A map dated 1758 of the'family plot' [now just a lonely copse outside the remaining village in Bishopstone, Wiltshire], with John Wornham [my G-G-G-G-G'father] shown as tenant on 14th June 1737, for a cottage and garden, quantity 0.0.95 [perch?], Quit rent 0.0.6 (sixpence).

2. A lease dated 1772, Bishopstone, Wiltshire. 'John Wornham, no.120, All that Cottage or Tenement Outhousing and Garden Ground thereunto belonging cont. 25 perch. Yearly value 2.0.0' (signed Thomas Wirnham)

3. A beautifully written Indenture [Lease] 'Counterpart of a cottage late Grays, to Thomas Wirnham Labourer..... Lives: Thomas Wirnham aged 44, James Wirnham aged 6 and William Wirnham aged l0. Fine 3.3.0, Rent 0.0.6" (signed Thomas Wernom) dated 14th April 1782.

Origin of the family name

The origin of the surname is not known but there are a number of interesting possibilities. The Warni (or Varni), sister nation of the Englii (later Angles) in Holstein continue to inhabit the region, later called Meeklenburgh. The Warnon River and town of Warnemunde preserve these ancient tribal names. It is known historically that the fertile Thames Valley was a natural attraction for invading tribes. ('Races of Mankind, Their Origin and Migration': Calvin Kephart PhD) (Ref. WJW: W.J.Wernham, b.1893).

I have been sent the following (translations are invited from our scholarly colleagues): 'Diversa terrae homasia servitia diversorum in Horsham Wernham at alibi consess epo cisestren in escambio pro avocations ecetiae de rustinton per epum concess abbati de sagio et priorl prioratus de Arundel quae est celia eiuso abbathiae' (Ref WJW: PRO)

'Ham' means place, so Warn Ham or Warnham, etc. may have meant the residence of a person called Warn. There is a village in Sussex, England, called Warnham. Whilst there currently appears to be no member of a W*R*N*M family resident there is a Warner and some Wenham families. Whilst these names have not been included in the research to date there is perhaps some justification for their inclusion in future. Surnames were often acquired from the place of origin. So, if a person named Adam moved away from Warnham, he would have been initially known as 'Adam from Warnham', eventually becoming 'Adam Warnham'.

Surname spelling variations

Although it may be natural to assume that a surname spelt differently from ours infers no relation, it should be remembered that standard spelling is a fairly recent development. When few people could read or write, their baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded by local clergy or parish clerks who wrote what they heard and variations in the spelling of surnames have been found in baptisms of children from the same family. If you imagine varying accents or pronunciations it may be understood how Warnham can become Wernham, Woornam, Wornam, Wornham, Wirnham, Wirdnam and Wyrdenham, which have all been found in family research. I have found some records with the entry spelt one way and the signature in another.

At one time the lower case letter 'e' would be written as an 'o' with the 'tail' going through its centre, whereas an 'o' would have its centre unobstructed. The letter 'e' could, therefore, be later misread as an 'o'. One family story states that, on emigrating to America, a Wernham family were informed that 'we spell it as Wornham here' so were registered with, and kept, that spelling!

Armorial bearings

The Wirdnams who were Lords of the Manor of Charlton and Priors Hold in Grove near Wantage in the fifteenth century held a coat of arms:

The Arms of Wyrdnam / Wirdnam of Charlton, Wantage, Berkshire, England from before 1455 to 1555 from page 59 of the 'Heralds'Visitations Of 1566', By William Harvey

The Heralds' records state that this Wirdnam family became extinct but, with the name and location near Wantage we cannot dismiss the possibility of some connection with present day families, whether or not through marriage or, as so quaintly put in

Wyrdnam/Wirdnam Arms

Wyrdnam/Wirdnam of Charlton, Wantage, arms c1455-1555

former years 'whichever side of the blanket'. I have on record a current Wirdnam family who, with one tentative (unprovable) link to Thomas, b. circa 1505, can trace their line back to them.

Trouble at the manor

Not all was well with these 'Lords of the Manor'. William Wirdnam, born circa 1525, 'from Farnborough'who married Maria Boswell, was made Steward by the Dean and Cannon (sic) of Windsor in 1558. (see 'Reflected in Wantage' pp.133.137). He became a Governor of the Town Lands but, in 1596, a deputation indicted him for being a 'common barretor' (misuser of public funds). The Manor Court Rolls 16og - 1624 reveal many transactions of land and there appears to be a vain attempt to audit the tenancies before handing them over to new Wilmot tenants. An Act of Parliament Of 1597, believed to have been engendered by William Wirdnam's misuse of the Charity lands of Wantage, named him as'notorious', and established the Town Governors.

The Internet

With the advent of the Internet I have been fortunate to find a friend willing to input my details and we are now the proud owners of a web page at Although our direct line 'outside' research now appears to have come to a natural stop in the eighteenth century as records then are sparse, a circular to previous correspondents requesting email contact has produced a welcome crop of new contacts. The most unusual of these is a large family of Wornums in the USA who are descended from a black slave named Ben who probably took his surname from his master. We also expect to spend many hours searching the 1881 Census, American, Australian & New Zealand and British Vital Records CD-ROMS.


I wish to thank many people who have assisted with sending family details, certificates and photographs. They are too numerous to mention, but special thanks are due to Polly Lawrence, B.Sc., of Wantage and Elisabeth Garnish of Wantage (who later moved to Belgium) for sharing the detailed research they undertook when discovering the chequered history of the Wirdnam Lords of the Manor of Priors Hold, Charlton, near Wantage. Finally, to my wife, Brenda, who has not only shared my interest, but has taken an active part in the research by delving through manuscripts in record offices whilst I was off enjoying myself on outings with our two sons.

Web-page produced by DandyLion Services
Please contact the webmaster with any queries
Berkshire Family History Society 2001

updated 20th August 2001