As we first look at our family trees, looking for deep ancestors, it is tempting to focus on the spelling of the Surname. For Ralstons, Roulstons, Rolstons, Rollestons, etc, this can be a pitfall.
For men, the spelling of their surname does not necessarily mean the same thing as genetic descent. For a start, the spelling of surnames only became more standardized with the growth of bureaucracy (ie, taxation) and literacy in the 19th century. Many of us will be familiar with how other people write our names based on what they hear, even today.
The Scottish family surname usually spelled RALSTON originates from Renfrewshire, just outside Paisley. We take our name from a location named 800 years ago after the person, Ralph, who occupied land as a farm there. See ‘Useful online’ sources. In that era, Ralph was pronounced "Rolfe" and therefore we have the typical RAWLston or ROLLston pronunciation in America and some other part of the English-speaking world. There are other pronunciations as well as a dizzying array of spelling variants.
The first families to adopt the name, we think, used it as a placename appended to their christian name. Historical examples include:
--Thomas de Roulstone [1296 Thomas de Raulfeston (del counte de Lanark)]
--1272 Nicholaius de Rauliston,
-- and 1219 Jacobus de Raulyston, dominus ejusdem
The placename theory is the prevailing thinking. Over time and in successive generations the names were simplified to simply "Ralston," or variations thereof. There may have been only one surviving Ralston line that gained its name in this manner. But we have to allow that there may have been multiple Scottish genetic lines that took their surname from the Scottish estate east of Paisley called Ralston or Raulstoun.
We cannot ignore the fact that there is a parallel source of the Ralston/Rolston name that originated in England. There is more than one English town called "Rolleston". These towns, by oral tradition, also took their name as a derivation of "Ralph's town" or "Ralph's farm." Some maintain that spelling, or nearby variants such as Rolston or Roleston. But those that emigrated to Ireland sometimes changed to Roulston, which effectively blurs the boundary with Scottish Ralstons, some of whom also took the Roulston spelling in Ulster or Ireland.
Because there is not yet a separate Rolleston Surname Project, and because the Rolleston name so broadly overlaps the Scottish Ralston, Roulston and Rolston names, particularly in Ulster, we are actively recruiting any Rollestons, as well.
One main clan of Scottish Ralston's expanded during the 1500s, moving out from Paisley to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Beith in Ayrshire.There was further expansion in the 1600s when families migrated to Ayrshire,the Mull of Kintyre in Argyll and to Ulster (the north of Ireland closest to Scotland). These are the RM269 Ralstons. [See Results section.]
During the 1700s and 1800s many migrated to North America (and later to other parts of the English-speaking world, including Canada, New Zealand, and Australia), both from Scotland and from Ulster. And that is where it starts to get complicated.
From Ulster some migrated with a different spelling of the surname – ROLSTON and ROULSTON were common examples. The spellings were changed for various reasons, but in most cases, the family involved was attempting to keep their native pronunciation, even if that meant changing the spelling.
But, as mentioned above, during the 1600s another family of ROLLESTONs or ROLSTONs had moved to Ulster from the Midlands of England. They mainly settled in Donegal to the west, whereas the Scottish Ralstons had stayed mainly to the eastern counties. Since reliable records of Ulster and Northern Ireland are difficult to come by, these variations appear to be evenly mixed across the northern half of the Irish Isle.
So, Ralstons, Rollstons, Roulstons from Ireland, of whatever spelling, might have distinctly different genetic origins.And of course, the same could be said about some of those who migrated directly from Scotland. Although current research suggests relatively few of the Renfrewshire Ralstons colonized Ulster.
Many of the North American Ralstons and Roulston who came from Ireland or from Ulster have turned out to be haplogroup I-M223. This is currently (2018) the largest subgroup of the Ralston Surname Project. While it is initially tempting to link these Irish Rolstons and Roulston to Scotland, we are thus far have no conclusive data that this is the main source of "Ulster-Scots" was Scotland This is one of the theories we are trying to test, using yDNA as the new tool.
Many Ralston/Roulson researchers have discovered how difficult family research can be on the island of Ireland, and most particularly, Northern Ireland. Key records have been lost, most notably, in a 1922 records fire.
Those North American, NZ and Australian Ralstons who emigrated directly from Scotland (with no stay-over in Ireland or Ulster) have an easier time finding their Scottish roots, relatively speaking, as Scottish records are more complete.
We hope that our research and sharing of data can help those Ralstons, Roulstons and Rollestons of Ireland or Ulster, to be better able to sort out their connects to English or Scottish roots.
We feel fortunate that the Ralstons and Roulstons who have thus far been tested seem to fall into just a handful of clans or patrilineal lines. This makes us more optimistic (perhaps naively optimistic) that we may be able to sort out all the Ralston lines.
The key to our eventual success is to recruit more male Ralstons, Rolstons, Roulstons, and Rollestons to be tested. We now have an motivated team of Ralstons (from Maine, Tennessee and from New Zealand) as well as a key member/resource in Donegal, Ireland. We are in a prime position to make real progress.
If your brother or male cousin or Ralston Uncle has been tested, then you are already "on the team.". But if no male Ralston of your clan has been tested, and if you have an interest in getting past the "roadblock" in your deep family tree, now is the time to join. It costs nothing to join the project itself, though there is no value in joining without a yDNA sample to match with other Ralstons. Thus, participation does come at a financial cost. Your project managers are all three volunteers, who gain no profit from this enterprise.
The minimum basic test is the 37 marker yDNA test. If you can afford 67 markers, there may be additional value to testing more markers. If you want to join the Ralston Surname Project and share in the information we are gathering, please order from the following link, where you can get a discount on your initial testing.
NOTE TO ROULSTON MALES
You may notice that FTDNA also sponsors a Roulston surname project. We are aware of that project, and agree that it is somewhat redundant. We may someday undergo merger. It is a smaller project and the manager of that project is very nice. But our project also includes Roulstons, and our project is being more actively managed at this point. So, please join our Ralston Surname Project first. Once you are in, it is easy to add yourself to additional projects. There are hundreds of ongoing projects.
If, by chance, you are already a member of the Roulston Surname Project, we would request or suggest that you go ahead and join our Ralston project. It costs nothing to belong to additional projects. By joining us, you increase your likelihood of gaining new and useful knowledge about your Ralston, Rolston or Roulston lineage. You would also be helping us to beef up our statistical analysis.
Note to Rolleston Males:
As outlined above, we will not be able to fully understand the Ralstons without understanding the Rollestons who arose in England, and most particularly those who had a stayover in Ulster and the northern counties of Ireland. So, please join us. You will be helping others, while helping yourself.