Using DNA to Research the Threlkeld Surname and Multiple Variants
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The panoramic image in our header is a portion of a photograph taken 16 October 2009 by David Iliff, and used under Wikimedia Commons license CC-BY-SA 3.0. You may also use that link to download a full-sized version of the photo.

Taken from about three-quarters of the way to the summit of Walla Crag, you are looking northwest over the town of Keswick, nestled between the fells of Skiddaw and Derwent Water in the Lake District, Cumbria, England. Bassenthwaite Lake is in the background and, less than 2.5 miles east-northeast of the location shown at the right-hand side of this photograph, lies the historic township of Threlkeld.

Surname Etymology

County Cumbria with Location of Threlkeld The surname Threlkeld is of place-name origin. The word itself is a combined form of the Old Norse þrǽll [thraell] (meaning a serf, or serfdom), and kelda (meaning a spring, fountain, or well). This derivation links the origination of the name to the era of Norse activity in England, circa 793 to 1066. It is believed that "thraell" was the term by which Norse settlers generally referred to the native Britons (Robert Gambles, 2013. Lake District Place Names. Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria: Hayloft Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-904524-92-3).

This Old Norse origin is one reason there are so many variants of this surname. Phonetic Anglicization of the Norse terms led to different spellings of the name even as long ago as the 13th Century. See the section on Surname Variants for more information.

The original adopters of the surname chose it due to the manor and township of the same name in the County of Cumberland (now Cumbria), England. In turn, the manor was named for the tributary that runs from Blencathra, by the chapelry of Threlkeld, and then feeds into the Glenderamackin, the name of the river before it is joined by St. John's Beck to become the Greta.

Though originating in northwest England, the greatest prevalence of the surname is now in the United States where over 2,700 people bear the name, and where it ranks well down the list as 12,622nd in frequency. Not a common name, still it appears all over the world, from Scotland to South Korea, from Norway to New Zealand.

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Geography and History

The historic county of Cumberland was located in the most northwestern corner of England. It served that administrative function from the 12th century until 1974, when it was merged into the county of Cumbria.

Topological View of the Region around Threlkeld As Cumberland, it was bordered on the north by the Scottish counties of Dumfriesshire and Roxburghshire; on the east by Northumberland; on the southeast by Durham; on the south by Westmorland and Lancashire; and on the west by the Irish Sea.

There have been human settlements in and around the Threlkeld area for at least 2,700 years, as evidenced by the Iron Age settlement below what's called Threlkeld Knotts. This was a substantial establishment with some 40 hut circles as well as the enclosures above the quarry. The "Knotts" portion of the name is another Old Norse derivation: knǫttr, meaning a ball, or hard round mass.

In 945, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that the area had been ceded by King Edmund of England to Malcolm I. This is the first known use of the word "Cumberland" in relation to the region.

In 1085, King William the Conqueror ordered the "Great Survey" of most of England and parts of Wales that came to be known as the Domesday Book. At the time, much of the yet-formed English county was still part of Scotland and, unfortunately for family historians, not included in the survey.

Possession of the region moved back and forth between Scotland and England. Henry II regained claim in 1157, and made it into two counties, Westmorland and Carliol. Sometime shortly before 1177, the name "Carliol" was dropped and it became County Cumberland. In 1237, with the Treaty of York, the border between Scotland and England became permanent.

When the county was created, existing baronies—which originated from military subdivisions for the standing defense from Scottish incursions—became wards, and the wards subdivided into administrative parishes. If you know your Edgar Rice Burroughs and the tales of Tarzan, here's a bit of trivia for you. The township of Threlkeld, along with several others, were in the ward of Leath, and the parish of Greystoke. Yes, that Greystoke. A few miles east-northeast of Threlkeld is Greystoke Castle.

Today, Threlkeld is sparsely populated. However, situated as it is inside Lake District National Park, ringed by the highest peaks in England—including Blencathra just to the township's north—the area is widely acknowledged have some of the most picturesque scenery in the country, and is a popular tourist destination. The region is also famous for its association with the early 19th century works of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the other Lake Poets who lived there.

If you ever plan a trip to the UK, a visit to Threlkeld—and a night or two at one of the comfortable accommodations—should definitely be on your itinerary.

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Early Lineage

The following brief summary of some of the earliest recorded users of the surname is transcribed from "The Threlkelds of Threlkled, Yanwath, and Crosby Ravenworth," by William Jackson, the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society, presented 7 July 1887.

William Jackson QuotationHenry de Threlkeld (20 Edward I; 1292) — is said to have been Sheriff of Westmorland. He probably was under Sheriff at this time, when the office of hereditary Sheriff was jointly held by Isabella de Clifford and Idonea de Leybourn as coheiresses of their father Robert de Veteripont. (Nicolson and Burn's History of Westmorland and Cumberland, Vol I, pp. 273 & 610.)

Henry Threlkeld (32 Edward I; 1304) — had a grant of Free Warren at Yanwath, Crosby Ravensworth, Tebay & Rounthwaite. (Nicolson and Burn's History of Westmorland and Cumberland, Vol I, pp. 492 & 498.)

Willilm Thurkild (33 Edward I; 1304-5) — Abbas de Sancto Albano Inq. ad quod damnum de tenementis adquisitis de Roesia quae fuit uxor Willielmi Thurkild. (Calendarium Genealogicum, p. 128.)

Emma Threlkeld (10 Edward II; 1316-7) — was a wife of Robert de Newbiggin. They had a daughter and heiress Emma, who married Robert de Crackanthorpe. (Nicolson and Burn's History of Westmorland and Cumberland, Vol I, p. 366.)

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The Surname: Variants and Related Names

It certainly is not unusual to find spelling variants of any given surname, or families purposely changing a surnames spelling upon emigration. The Old Norse origins of "Threlkeld," however, have led to an unusual number. Even old spellings from the local region included Trellekell (1197 Pipe Rolls), Threlekelde (1247), Thurkild (1304), and Threlcot (Speed Map of 1610).

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A Few Notable Threlkelds

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Panorama of Derwent Water

Photo taken 25 June 2009 by David Iliff, this is a panorama from the north shore of Derwent Water, one of 21 large water bodies in Cumbria's Lake District. The photograph is used under Wikimedia Commons license CC-BY-SA 3.0. You may also use that link to download a full-sized version of the photo.