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Research into possible Origins of the Hairsine/Haresign Families

A Family from Flanders?

Compiled by Robert C. Hairsine Bob Hairsine <bob@cads.co.uk>

edited and with additions by Edward (Ted) Nobbs <xnobbs1@btinternet.com> (remove the x to email me)

AcknowledgementsWe acknowledge an enormous amount of help.

Introduction: Possession of an unusual surname increases any natural curiosity about ancestors and origins and should make tracing them easier. Certainly a lot of curiosity has produced a lot of information but so far only limited success in forming a clear picture of our forebears and their lives. The unusual name has always suggested a foreign origin but there was no tradition of this in the writers family.

However in 1988 the results of our searches of the civil registration index and present telephone directories began to underline the concentration of Hairsine names in the East Riding of Yorkshire and of the presumed variant Haresign in the Lincolnshire Fens. It was apparent that relevant areas of Yorkshire had been subjected to extensive land drainage works in the 17th and 18th centuries contemporary with the more well known drainage of the Cambridge and Lincolnshire Fens by the Dutch engineer Vermuyden and his successors. In fact Vermuyden's earliest English work was at Hatfield Chase and northward to the Humber from 1626 onwards. Was there a significant association between the family and the fens?

Background reading established that Vermuyden's partners - the "Adventurers" and "Participants" were Dutch or Flemish and none of their names seemed to be easily corrupted to Hairsine. [Ed. We have lately come across families called HARSIN in US who tell us they are descended from a Garret HARSIN bn 1757, grandson of a Bernard HAASENS born 1649 in Netherlands , whose son Garret HARSING immigrated to USA before his marriage in 1707. This name might corrupt to ours...] However, many of the workforce and subsequent immigrant settlers of the 'improved lands' were of French or Walloon origin. They were Huguenots or Protestant refugees driven out of what is now Belgium and Northern France by the persecutions of the Catholic monarchs of France and of the Spanish controlled states of the Low Countries. They came either directly from the continent in the period 1626 - 1650 or by way of other places in England such as Canterbury where they had arrived from about 1560 onward.

Searching Sources

A search was begun into the extensive publications of the Huguenot Society and similar sources such as the Calendars of State Papers Domestic. This work is continuing. The following publications have produced particularly useful information:

The presence of these Hairsine derivative names at Thorney in the period 1655 to 1681 and at Sandtoft in 1663 raises the strong possibility that the family were involved in the Sandtoft settlement near Hatfield and that under pressure from the hostile indigeneous population some migrated south to Thorney to establish the Haresign variant line whilst others moved north into the East Riding of Yorkshire to found the Hairsine lines.

There is a good parallel for this north and south migration from Sandtoft in the Beharrel family whose movements have been traced by Mr and Mrs Gordon Beharrel of Shrewsbury and Mr and Mrs Frank Dickenson of Harrogate. However, a search of the registers of Wawne and Swine in East Yorkshire (whence migrated the northern Beharrels) has failed to reveal any Hairsines or similar names so it seems unlikely that the two families moved into the East Riding together.

Further information on the immigrant community at Thorney has emerged in the form of Hearth Tax returns for 1662 and 1664: 'Widow Harresigne householder with one hearth' and 1666: 'Jacob and Abraham Harsigne both householders with one hearth'. By 1724 there were Harsines/Haresigns at nearby Whittlesea in Cambridgeshire and they appear in the registers of St Marys Church there for the next 100 years. By that time Haresigns were also established not far away at Gosberton and Donnington in Lincolnshire. It therefore seemed likely that it would be possible for the Lincolnshire Haresigns to trace their lines back to the immigrant settlement at Thorney c 1655 or earlier. However, the earliest direct ancestor is Isaac HAIRSINE baptised in Whittlesey S Mary son of..... missing!

The origin of the Yorkshire Hairsines was proving more difficult to establish until burials of John, James, Judith and Hester Hersine were found at Hatfield 1658.These are the earliest references which can confidently be assigned to the northern Hairsine family. A marriage of Susanna Hairsignes and Henry Howdale turned up at Drax 1687. Finally was found the entry "1688 Matthew son Matthew Hairsigne of Brockholes was baptised at Drax", and other entries at Drax were subsequently found.

See Bob Hairsine's LINE

Other possible Variants and Connections

Research into other publications of the Huguenot Society and other bodies has revealed a number of other possible Hairsine variants. The most numerous and interesting of these are the Hersent or Hersant family which came to Southampton from Sotteville near Rouen in the 1560's. They were prominent in the Southampton community as cloth merchants and elders of the Walloon Church for about a century after which the name disappears. The Hersants had connections with the principal French Church at Threadneedle Street London and this provides a possible connection and line of research. Certainly some of the Sandtoft settlers had connections or origins in Canterbury so why not Southampton?

Much depends on a lucky reference being found in the records and how the Southampton name was pronounced. Sometimes the name is spelt Hersen or Hersan so possibly their sound was very similar to that rendered Hersin or Haresign etc in the Fens. [Ed. A recent discovery has been in a book "Huguenot Refugees and their Descendants in GB by Rev David Agnew pub 1874, giving many names of refugees being naturalized. In it I found the name HERISON as being among the Directors of the French Hospital in London for the aged and poor descendants of the French Protestant Refugees, so it is obviously a refugee name. It sounds so like our names that I cannot but think that it is a variant.]

Origin of the Name : Given the near certainty that the Hersin family arrived in England from Flanders sometime between 1560 and 1650, there are a number of interesting possibilities emerging across the water for closer investigation in due course. Some of these relate to the origin of the name. It is noteworthy that a large proportion of French surnames are derived from placenames and, pursuing this, it was first noted that there is a town called Hirson in north eastern France near to the present border with Belgium. This seemed a likely candidate for an early place of origin being phonetically quite similar and not too far from the centre of Protestant activity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

However more recently the Larousse Encyclopaedia and the Michelin 1:200,000 tourist and route map no 236: France Nord has revealed a village named Hersin near to Bethune, Arras and Lille. The coincidence of spelling is very encouraging to say the least. According to the 1963 Larousse, the community of Hersin-Coupigny in the Department of Pas-de-Calais then had a population of 8600 and principal industries coal mining, steelmaking and clothing. Of further interest is another community a few kilometres east called Mazingarbe with 10300 population, coal mines and chemical industry. Clearly this area must now be considered useful rather than picturesque!

More to the point is the fact that one Jacob Hersin and Marie Masengarbe lived at Thorney in the Cambridgeshire Fens and their daughter Marie was baptised there on 21 March 1669. Masengarbes are found in the Sandtoft Register as early as 1646 and at Thorney 1656.

It should not be assumed that the immigrants came directly to England from the area around Bethune although it is but a short distance from the very centre of Protestant activity and persecution during the Wars of Religion. Generally speaking surnames became commonplace in north west Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Noble families took the name of their lands initially using the prefixes 'of', 'de', 'du, 'van' or 'von' as appropriate. When commoners adopted placenames as surnames it was usually because the place was where they had come from before adopting the name. Occasionally the male child of a liaison between a nobleman and a common girl would adopt a version of the fathers name as his surname. The chances are that the Hersins and Masengarbes did originate in the settlements so named but were living elsewhere by the time of their emigration to England.

John Peters recounts in his book 'A Family from Flanders' how he established that his DelePierre ancestors came to England from La Gorgue on the River Lys north of Lille by way of Calais and Leyden in the 1630's. However the family could be traced further back to Espierres in the fourteenth century;- hence the earlier version of the name: De L'Espierres. (the 's' is silent). In order to make further progress on this front it will be necessary to make contact with archives and historical societies in France Belgium and Holland and John Peters and other writers have provided some pointers as to where to start.

Miscellaneous Information

© Copyright Robert C Hairsine.