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About us

Surname project for Ralstons. All variations of spelling. For North American Ralstons, Roulstons, Rolstons, and Rollestons the names may have come from Scotland, or Ireland, or England.

SEE Also our private website: https://ralstonproject.com/


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.

There is widely shared lore and legend about the Ralstons of Renfrewshire and how they got their surname.   We are not certain how much of it is literally true, but it is so widely known, that we should share it here.


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.

From the 19th century Scottish antiquarian author Crawfurd (Crawford):

From the lands or barony of Ralston near Paisley, Renfrewshire. Crawfurd says Ralph, a younger son of one of the earls of Fife, obtained a grant of the lands from the High Stewerd, but Nisbet says this is not favored by their arms, for they do not carry the lion rampant, the arms of the old earls of Fife, but three acorns on a bend, intimating that they are of the same stock with those of the surname Muirhead. The first of the family recorded is said to be Nicholas de Ralstoun who witnessed the donation of Fulton by Sir Anthony Lombard to the monks of Paisley in 1272 (RMP., p. 51). Thomas de Raulfestone of Lanerkshire rendered homage in 1296 (Bain, II, p. 204), and Jacobus de Raulyston, dominus efusdem, witnessed the election of an abbot of Paisley, 1346 (RMP., p. 10). John Raleston or Raliston of that Ilk was one of the arbiters in a dispute between the burgh of Renfrew and the abbot of Paisley in 1488 (ibid., p. 406-407), Robert Ralston was clerk to the bishop of Caithness in 1504 (OPS., II, p. 623), Hendrie Ralstoun witnessed letters of reversion in 1519 (Pollok, I, p. 241), and Hugh de Ralston of Ralston was killed in the battle of Pinkie, 1547. The estate of Ralston was sold by the family in 1705 to the earl of Dundonald. William Ralston Shedden Ralston (1828—1889) was a distinguished Russian scholar and folklorist. Railstoune 1550, Ralfahstoun c. 1440, Rallstoun 1684, Ralstoune 1656. Raylston (of that Ilk).

The above text represents the legend of the origin of the surname, and should not be taken literally, though there are likely some key features that are correct.   Scholarly work by GSW Barrow of England suggests that the "younger son" aspect is likely correct.  And the key concept of having land granted by the regional Lord is correct.   The mention of Earl of Fife or MacDuff in some accounts sounds romantic, but they are not geographically correct.  It is more likely that retainers of the early Stewarts (Stuarts) such as Walter I (Walter FitzAllen) would be the grantor of feudal lands, in exchange for providing knights for battle and other fees.

It may have been "Raoul" rather than "Ralph", but of course, we will never know for sure.


Unrelated to the Paisley or Renfrewshire Ralstons of Scotland, 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.

We know that a version of the Rolleston surname survives in New Zealand.  We are not sure that there are surviving Rollestons or Rollestones in England, Scotland, or Ireland.  But please let us know if we are wrong about that.

The few Rollestons we have found thus far in Ireland do not appear to be related to the Scottish Ralstons or the English Rollestons, but rather, to the Irish Rolstons, Roulstons, etc.

Because there is not yet a separate Rolleston Surname Project, and because the Rolleston name so broadly overlaps the Scottish and Irish Ralston, Roulston and Rolston names,  particularly in Ulster, we are actively recruiting any Rollestons, as well.  From anywhere in the English-Speaking world.



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 (2021) 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.   To be clear, none of the Irish Rolstons, Roulstons or Rollestons have a genetic relationship with the Paisley, Beith, Ayrshire or Argylle Ralstons.


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.

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, Rolston or Rolleston 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.  

But if you can afford it, please go for the 111 marker test, or even the BigY 700 marker test.  Keep an eye out for sales and special promotions, that pop up during the year.



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.