Email from Daniel Morgan, March 2014

Hi Jane.

It's always nice to hear from another Sercombe descendant.

I believe you will find that the parents of Henry Auton Giffard
Sercombe were William Goode Sercombe and his wife Emma Giffard. Emma's maiden surname is presumably the source of Henry's second
middle name. I don't know where the unusual name Auton came from.

This branch of the Sercombes had multiple connections to the Giffards.
In addition to William marrying Emma, William's brothers Edward
Sercombe and Baijer Otto Sercombe married, respectively, Caroline
Giffard and Eliza Giffard. I am pretty sure that Emma and Caroline
were sisters. I am not sure whether Eliza was another sister or
perhaps a cousin.

You will find on my webpage that the parents of William Goode Sercombe
were Thomas Filmore Sercombe and Elizabeth Otto Baijer. The earliest I
have traced this family back to is the marriage of Robert Southcom or
Sercom and Welthen Bridges, in Exeter in 1640.

If you have any questions as you dig through my webpage, feel free to

Best regards,



Frequency and Distribution of the Surname Sercombe
(Edited extract from A Compilation of Sercombe Families website)

Sercombe is an unusual surname. In 1881, only about 500 people called Sercombe (including variant spellings) were alive in Britain, out of a total population of almost 30 million. There are probably only a few more today: about 150 Sercombe households are listed in British telephone directories, and a surname database based on official British government data counts 583 Sercombes, 20 Surcombes, and 11 Sircombes (it is said to overcount by about 7 percent). The name is found in even smaller numbers in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States, presumably all British emigrants and their descendants. (Switchboard has U.S. telephone listings for 40 Sercombes, 2 Sercombs, 1 Sircom, and 1 Sircomb. PaginasBlancas has telephone listings for 5 Sercombes in Argentina.)

Within Britain, the name is quite geographically concentrated. In 1881, about 74 percent of the 500 British Sercombes were living in the county of Devon or had been born there. Many of the remainder were in nearby Gloucestershire and Somerset, which together accounted for another 11 percent. Thirty years earlier, in 1851, of the fewer than 300 Sercombes in Devon, almost all were in the city of Exeter (about 24 percent) or the nearby rural parishes to its south and west, particularly Dunsford (26 percent). The mobility of modern society has made the pattern less extreme, but it remains: in the decade from 1996 to 2005, 38% of Sercombe births in England and Wales were in Devon, and more than half of those were in just the Exeter registration district.


Was there just one original family called Sercombe, from whom all subsequent Sercombes are descended, or were there several independent origins of the name? I am still far from finding out, but I do already know that at least 163 of the 500 or so Sercombes alive in Britain in 1881 were descendants of John Syrcombe, who had six children at Dunsford between 1714 and 1730. At least another 113 were descendants of Richard Southcumbe or Sircombe, who had seven children at Tedburn St. Mary, the parish immediately north of Dunsford, between 1603 and 1619. Almost certainly more than half of all Sercombes alive today are descended from these two men.

Spelling, even of surnames, was not standardized until at least the 19th century. Before then, people just spelled the way they heard. You may find the same person's name written as Sercombe, Sircomb, Surcum, Syrcombe, or even occasionally Sharcombe or Circum. Later, particularly as literacy became more universal, the spelling Sercombe became standard. Just because you find the same spelling for several generations of your ancestors, don't assume it was always that way.

The problem of irregular spellings has an interesting silver lining. Before about 1700, but only very rarely after that, it is common to find spellings like Shercombe and Shercom, with SH instead of S. This is surely a clue to the name's early pronunciation (especially because some of the possible locations for the origin of the name are still spelled Shircombe today). Similarly, the frequent absence of the final B in records going back to at least the 1600s demonstrates that this letter was already silent by that time, despite its survival into the standard spelling today.

There are several early examples of families who were sometimes called Sercombe and sometimes Southcombe. Today, Southcombe is a distinct surname, associated with North Devon. It is not yet clear, however, whether these two surnames truly share a common origin. It is possible that the confusion was sometimes only a recordkeeping error, though even that may be a clue to early pronunciation.


The surname Sercombe is clearly geographical in origin. The word combe means "a deep hollow or valley", or specifically, in the South of England, "a hollow or valley on the flank of a hill" or "a steep short valley running up from the sea coast". It is found as an element of many English place names, especially in and near Devon. When English surnames became established, typically in the 14th century, it was common to take the name of the place where one lived. (It was also common, especially in larger settlements, for migrants to take the name of where they came from but had now left. For our purposes, the two are equivalent.) So probably the surname originated in one or more places called something like Sercombe.

[copyright: Daniel Morgan]