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About us

Project background.
The origins of the surname Nason are somewhat uncertain, as is its meaning. Although it is a relatively rarely occurring name, there is no comprehensive genealogy linking the world-wide diaspora of Nasons, in the British Isles, North America, and former British colonies.

Still more obscure are the origins of the earliest English Nason, who probably lived in the fifteenth century somewhere in the Midlands. A possible interpretation of the limited data we have is that the English Nasons had their origin in central Europe. From there, the line could stretch into southern Europe and into the Classical ages.

Nason Migration.
A general migration of the surname from England can be outlined roughly: at least two Nasons left Warwickshire in the 17th century, bound for North America. Irish Nasons migrated to North America circa 1800 (anecdotal evidence suggests that an earlier English migration established the southern Irish Nason lines). Possibly concurrent with the migration of Irish Nasons to North America circa 1800, it is known that at least two Irish families migrated to England, where they are found in C19th censuses.

Toward the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, further English Nason migrations to North America and British colonies took place. It is now beyond doubt that some Mason migrants from Britain were descended from Nason ancestors. Ellis Island records show that Italian immigrants carried with them surnames that, because of their similarity, could have been anglicized as Nason, although no evidence of such a process is currently known.

Internal migration.
The history of the surname within the British Isles is not so easily described. The earliest known documented Nasons were born in the mid-15th century, probably in Warwickshire. The small numbers of Nason families in the Wellesbourne area increased from the mid-1500s and appear to have spread into adjacent counties, where a continuous, if not yet fully connected, presence is found into the present day.

In the 17th century, Nason events are found outside of the main locus of activity in Warwickshire. London, whose streets were paved in centuries past with the same gold we see today, was always a magnet. But the presence of small numbers of Nasons in Hertfordshire, some southern counties, and the West Country in the 1600s has no ready explanation. The 18/19th century expansion of Nason events in Essex may provide a hint (see DNA Study).

In North America today there are approximately 12,000 Nasons. A rule of thumb suggests that 35% of names in the source data are living male adult name-bearers; thus in the USA there are 4200 such males. The majority are probably descended from English or Irish Nason lines. In other former British colonies, the much less numerous incidences of the name arose, of course, from more recent migration.

In the British Isles there are approximately 580 Nasons of which, using the 35% rule, 203 are adult living males. However, since analyses of modern databases indicate that Essex Nasons constitute approximately 20% of the total British Nason population, the total of ‘real’ Nasons may well be less than 170 adult living males.

Within the British Isles, although the name is relatively rare, the connections between various Nason populations are still not clear. Establishing the origin and the historical and modern distribution of the surname in England, are, therefore, essential to most, if not all, Nason genealogies, where ever they may be found.

The DNA Study.
It is expected that DNA analysis will confirm the Irish Nason connection with the early English Nasons and suggest the number of generations from the present to a single ‘Most Recent Common Ancestor’ (MRCA) for all British Nasons, a result that will be significant to Nasons everywhere. In addition, there are problems of a more parochial character that will also yield to DNA analysis.

Within the northern English geography of the Nason surname, and in the period 1600 to 1854, the surname MNASON is also found, usually in a context where both Nason and Mason occur. There are currently two conflicting interpretations of this phenomenon: that Mnason is simply an orthographic convention for ‘Nason’ or that the Mnasons were genealogically distinct from Nasons. DNA analysis already suggests that the Mnasons were genetically Nasons.

The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a further complication. Families recorded earlier as Mnason were latterly recorded as either Nason or Mason, a process that seems to have been concentrated between 1750 and 1800. Subsequently the families permanently adopted one or other of those surnames - as noted above, some of those who adopted the surname Mason migrated to the US and British colonies.

A DNA match has been found between an American Mason and an English Nason, and suggests an MRCA approximately 9 generations from the present. There is also little doubt that some present day Masons in England and the Antipodes are descended from families previously recorded as Mnason and Nason.

There is yet one more genealogical diversion for Nason researchers. The Nasons of Essex (England) may well be descended from 17th century Huguenot NEZON migrants; that surname was initially recorded as Naizon but became anglicized as Nason.

Further C19th migrations within England brought descendants of both Midland Nasons and London Nezons into southern England and, presumably therefore, such mixing might have occurred in other areas. It is known that some Essex Nasons migrated in the late 19th century to Australasia and so it is possible that others might have migrated elsewhere. DNA analysis would distinguish descendants of these differing origins.

The surname NEZON itself may well be the French version of Nason and, therefore, share the same deep root proposed for the ‘real’ Nasons of 15th century England. It is possible that DNA sampling at a fine resolution could identify a common origin somewhere in Central Europe in the mediaeval period. A low resolution English Nason DNA signature finds what appears to be a significant number of matches with signatures found in Poland and East Germany.

For a rarely occurring surname, Nason seems to have accreted more than its fair share of genealogical mystery. Much of that mystery may well be susceptible to solution by DNA science, which is becoming a significant tool in genealogy.

This study, to be carried out using the commercial services of Family Tree DNA, is aimed at confirming or adjusting existing genealogies and connecting them together. The process promises the construction of a homogeneous network of Nason histories, out of the current state of ambivalence. Such an objective will, of course, require underwriting by a significant number of Nasons contributing to the database.
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