Jones Patronymics

One of the reasons that patronymics is so important to Jones genealogists is because of the impact that it has played in the creation and development of the "Jones" surname. As we've mentioned, the Jones family surname is derived from variations of a father's first name of John or Jon.

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For an broad overview of patronymics, be sure to read our article titled Patronymics Overview.

If you are lucky enough to trace your Jones family back as far as the 16th century you may discover that, in an earlier time, your Jones ancestors did not use the family name of "Jones".

In fact, in Wales prior to the 16th century, there really was no such thing as a family name, a surname or a last name. Most individuals in this earlier time were referred to by their patronymic name. A patronymic name would have been something like "John, son of Evan" or "Thomas, son of John", and so on.

In short, you'll only be able to use a family name to trace your Jones ancestor's back in time to where they abandoned the use of patronymics as a naming convention. For most Joneses of Welsh the use of a surname only began to occur in the 16th century. For Joneses of English origin, this started much earlier, as far back as the 13th century.

So how does the Patronymics naming convention work? Well, let's say that we have a father named "John Evans". Let assume that John married and had a son. If that family used the patronymics naming convention, their son would be given a name which was combined with the father's first name, not the father's last name. Let's assume that his son's first (given) name was "Thomas". In this case, John's son "Thomas" would be referred to as "Thomas, son of John". That would be how Thomas would be referred to in social circles and early records.

Beginning in the mid-16th century, the Welsh used a more anglicized naming convention for offspring, which combined a person's first name with a last name. The reason they did this was largely due to the impact of English laws and mandates that were imposed on the Welsh in the 16th century, beginning with the "Acts of Union" of 1536. The use of a last name in Wales was more slowly adopted in the rural areas.

By about the mid-19th century most Welsh families had adopted the more anglican naming convention involving the use of a last name.

One of the more popular surnames that was settled upon during this time was the family name of "Jones". Again, this was primarily due to the impact of patronymics as well as the popularity of the first name of John at this time. It was at this point that "Jones" would become the settled last name and would then be passed down from generation to generation.

There is a great book titled "Second Stages in Researching Welsh Ancestry" (edited by John and Sheila Rowlands) which goes into more detail about how certain surnames were "settled" upon. The following is an example based on an extract from this book:

Century
Family #1
(more urban)
Family #2
Family #3
(more rural)
1600's
Hywel ap John
Hywel ap John
Hywel ap John
John ap Hywell
John ap Hywell
John ap Hywell
David Powell
David ap John
David ap John
Thomas Powell
Thomas David
Thomas David
1700's
William Powell
William David
William Thomas
Issac Powell
Issac David
Issac William
John Powell
John David
John Issac
Thomas Powell
Thomas David
Thomas John
1800's
John Powell
John David
John Jones

This chart may be a bit confusing, but it illustrates a couple things. First you can see the settling of three different family names over time that began with the same Welsh name of "Hywel ap John". All three families started out using patronymics, but eventually adopted the more anglicized method of naming which included a consistent or settled upon last name.

Secondly, this chart shows three different families, living in three different regions in Wales. "Family #1" became an early adopter of the English (anglican) naming convention of a settled last name.

"Family #3" was a family that adopted the anglican naming system at a much later date, well into the 18th century. The reason this family adopted the anglican naming convention was likely because Family #3 lived in a more rural area. The wealthier class and urban dwellers were the first to adopt the anglican naming convention in Wales. With Family #3, you can also see the settling of a family name to "Jones" from the name "Hywel ap John".

Once again, it also illustrates the fact that if you were to do a search for ancestors through a search using a settled last name, you would only be able to trace Family #3 back to the 1800's, Family #2 back to the late 1600's and Family #1 back to the mid-1600's.

This doesn't mean that you won't be able to trace a specific family line any earlier than this. It just means that you won't be able to do this by searching for a last name like "Jones" or "David", etc..

It also points out that genetically, a Jones family member is as likely to be related to another Jones family ancestor, as they are to an ancestor with a different last name, like Powell or David or etc...

This last little detail may be a bit hard for some to digest, but again do not worry, there are many research options that can be used to uncover your true Jones family line in earlier times that did not use a surname.

We'll be discussing more options for how to continue your Jones family research for a family line dating back earlier that the 16th century soon.


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