Select Francis Surname Genealogy

The popularity of Francis as a name derived in large part from the fame of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.  The name was also associated with the Knight Templar Crusaders at that time.  In addition to Francis in England there was Francois in France, Francisco in Italy, plus numerous similar forms elsewhere in Europe.

However, the English Francis had an alternative derivation from Le Franceys or Franceys, meaning “the Frenchman” in England

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Select Francis Ancestry

EnglandThere were Franceys or Fraunceys (i.e. the Frenchman) in England in the 12th and 13th centuries who subsequently became Francis.  They appeared at an early time at Meaburn in Cumberland and Coughton in Warwickshire.  The forebears of two notable lines were: 
  • John le Fraunceys who was born at Osmundeston in Derbyshire in 1224.  His descendant Sir Robert Francis of Foremark Hall in Derbyshire was a knight and sheriff of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the early 1400’s.  Robert’s grandson Sir John, who died in 1464, made his home at Burley in Rutland.  One line of this family migrated to Sussex where Edward Francis was the Steyning MP in the early 1600’s.
  • and Ebrordis Fraunceys who was born in Bristol around 1240 and later became its mayor.  His son Adam migrated to London in the early 1300’s.  And his son Sir Adam Francis prospered as a mercer and twice served as the Lord Mayor of London.  He was by the mid-1300’s one of the richest men in London. 
Later Francis in England were to be found in two areas mainly – a smaller concentration in SW England and a larger concentration in SE England around London. 

SW England
.  Francis was a popular given name in the west country (as with Sir Francis Drake) and this sometimes translated into a surname. 

William Francis, born at Gwennap in Cornwall around the year 1590, appears to have been the forebear of a later line of Cornish miners: 
  • Henry Francis married Ursula Tregonning there in the early 1700’s.  
  • while the brothers Henry and Absalom Francis, together with their offspring, took their mining expertise to Wales and to parts further afield in the early/mid 1800’s.
A Francis family built Chevithorne Barton, a gabled manor house near Tiverton in Devon, in 1610.  They sold the house (which still stands) in 1664.  Another Francis family has been traced to the village of Bradworth near Holsworthy in NW Devon and to John Francis who married Elizabeth Petherick in 1714.

The villages of Ansford and Castle Cary in Somerset contained a number of Francis lines. 
Isaac Francis was born in Ansford in 1681 and buried there in 1753; while Thomas Francis was born in Castle Cary around 1741 and died there in 1817.  And a Francis family were millers at nearby Lovington. 

SE England
.  The early sightings were in Essex.  Robert Francis was recorded as the bailiff of Colchester in 1349.  His son Thomas became a wealthy merchant.  He served as the bailiff of Colchester twelve times and as its MP fourteen times over a period lasting forty-five years.  He died in 1417 but left no sons, only three daughters.

Another disappearing Francis line was to be found in the village of Shaddingfield in Suffolk where they held the manor of Francis in the late 1300’s.  In the next century the estate passed into the Cuddon family through marriage with the Francis heiress. 

The Francis surname was numerous but not very conspicuous in SE England thereafter.  The main numbers in the 1881 census were in London, followed by Essex and Kent.  One local notable was Joseph Francis who was twice mayor of Southend in the early 1900’s. 

“Joseph Francis, born in 1849, was the mayor of Southend with some repute for having held the position throughout the Great War.  However, this came at a certain price as he was lampooned by the local press for being too old.  He also endured a near miss when a bomb landed yards from the Civic Office in 1917, with himself being thrown to the floor.” 

James Francis from Terling in Essex took his family to New York in the 1850’s.  But they did not stay there long and returned to Hastings in Sussex. 

.  Francis has also been a Welsh surname.  DNA testing has shown that Francis here has Celtic origins and is thus genetically different from the English Francis of probable Norman descent.  The name is found primarily in south Wales. 

From Carmarthenshire came Enoch Francis, the famous Baptist minister of the early 1700’s; from Pembrokeshire Dick Francis, the well-known crime writer. 

But the largest Francis numbers in Wales have been from Glamorgan, in particular from in and around Swansea - a booming area in the early 1800’s.  The Francis name had already become evident in outlying parishes such as Llansamlet and Llangfelach by the mid-18th century.

One notable Francis family there had English origins, coming from Castle Cary in Somerset. 
John Francis left Somerset for Swansea in 1811 and prospered there as a coach-builder: 
  • his elder son Grant was an antiquarian, active in local Swansea issues 
  • while his younger son Duffett was an accomplished portrait painter whose legacy in Swansea is the Deffett Francis Art Gallery. 
Ireland. A Dublin-based Anglo-Irish family from Devon included among their number:
  • the Rev. John Francis, the rector of St. Mary’s church in Dublin in the early 1700’s.   
  • his three sons - Tench who emigrated to America, Richard an eminent lawyer, and Philip a clergyman now remembered for his translations of Horace.  
  • and Philip’s son Sir Philip, a well-known pamphleteer and Whig politician in London in the late 1700’s.
Elsewhere the Francis name in Ireland was mainly found in Armagh and Down.  James Francis was born in Armagh around 1755, Jacob Francis in Down in 1781.  Both had descendants who emigrated to America. 

.  The Francis name was first notable in New England and then out of Maryland and Virginia. 

New England
.  There were three early sightings of Francis in New England, all apparently from Norfolk:
  • John Francis by 1631 in Braintree, Massachusetts
  • Richard Francis by 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • and Robert Francis by 1651 in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  
Robert Francis and his wife Joan had one son, John, who had fourteen children by his second wife Mercy, including their eldest son John. 

“John Francis, born in 1684, was a man of great muscular strength.  Many stories were related of his extraordinary athletic feats.  He was the owner and landlord of the old Wethersfield Inn.  He was three times married.” 

In 1829 five descendant brothers left W
ethersfield, Connecticut for points west, three of them ending up in Springfield, Illinois.  Another brother Charles was a pioneer settler in northern Indiana.  The family line was covered in Charles Francis’ 1906 book Descendants of Robert Francis.

.  There were two notable Francis lines that started out from Maryland. 

Tench Francis from Ireland had arrived there around 1720 as an attorney for Lord Baltimore.  He later moved to Philadelphia where he was the attorney general for Pennsylvania from 1741 to 1755.  His son Tench Jr. was a prominent Philadelphia merchant.  The line through his son John then moved to Rhode Island.  John's son John Brown Francis was Governor of that state from 1833 to 1838.

William Francis, possibly of Welsh origins, had come to Cecil county sometime in the early 1730’s.  His son Henry fought and died during the Revolutionary War. 

“Captain Henry Francis was shot through the head and died at the Battle of Shallow Ford in 1780.  His sons Henry and John also fought in the battle.  Henry Jr. was only a few feet away from his father when he fell.  John then shot the soldier who had killed his father.” 

Henry migrated to Kentucky in the early 1800’s and his son Pearl to Missouri in the late 1820’s.  Pearl’s son William Francis set off for California at the time of the Gold Rush, but then returned.  He died at the end of the century, a respected county judge in Clay county, Missouri.

Virginia.  There was one notable line out of Virginia.  Thomas Francis had come from Virginia to Kentucky in the late 1700’s, marrying Polly Broaddus in Kentucky in 1815.  While Polly was giving birth to twelve children in Richmond, Thomas bought and ran a popular tavern there.  He later became the local sheriff. 

His grandson David Francis, born in Richmond in 1850, was to distinguish himself nationally as a politician and diplomat.  He held several positions, from Mayor of St. Louis to Governor of Missouri and US Secretary of the Interior.  He was the US Ambassador to Russia at the time of the 1917 Revolution. 

Meanwhile Joseph Francis, of reported German extraction, migrated from Virginia to Kentucky in the early 1800’s and later settled in Clay county, Indiana.  His son and grandson, both named William, were farmers there. 

South Africa
.  Thomas Francis and his family from London were among the 1820 British settlers to South Africa, sailing there with Willson’s party on La Belle Alliance.  He made his home at Grahamstown on the Eastern Cape: 
  • his eldest son Thomas, nine years old when they left England, became a tailor there.  
  • while a younger son Frederick, born in South Africa, moved to the Orange Free State and died an old man in a Boer concentration camp in 1901. 
Australia.  Thomas Francis was a convict from Warwickshire who arrived in NSW on the Admiral Barrington in 1791.  He married Honora Collins, a fellow convict from Ireland, a few years after the birth of their first child.

They seemingly had a fiery marriage.  Some of their children were registered as Francis, others as Collins.  Both Thomas and Honora were buried in Castlereagh cemetery.  Their descendants are now spread over every state in Australia and in many locations overseas.  Jack McNamara, a fifth-generation descendant, published a family line in 1998.

Arthur Morley Francis,
also from Warwickshire, was a pioneer in Queensland, arriving there in 1862 and living at first with his family in tents on the coast.  Francis Lookout near Brisbane was named after them

Select Francis Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Francis Names

Sir Adam Francis who twice served as the Lord Mayor of London was one of its richest men in the mid-1300’s.
Enoch Francis
was a prominent Welsh Baptist minister and preacher in the first half of the 18th century.
David Francis
was an American politician and diplomat who served as Governor of Missouri, US Secretary of the Interior, and US Ambassador to Russia at the time of the 1917 Revolution.
Connie Francis
, born Concetta Franconero
, was a chart-topping American pop singer of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Dick Francis
was a steeplechase jockey who became a widely-read British crime writer.  His books were set around horse racing.

Select Francis Today
  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 27,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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