Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Where did the DYER name come from?

© 2016 Christy K Robinson

He signed his name "W Dyre"

Surnames (also called family names) were adopted in the 1200s and 1300s and people took their names from places, trades or professions, the head of the family or clan, and personal characteristics.

Some occupational names we recognize today are Tyler (made ceramic or clay tiles), Cartwright (built wagons), Carter (transported goods by wagon), Carpenter (built houses, churches, ships, and furniture), Mason (stone builder), Taylor (sewed clothing), Hooper (made barrel stays), Smith (blacksmith or metal worker), and many others. 

The Dyer name is not a rare one, and can't be traced back to one progenitor with many descendants. The name was one applied to a man (and his family) who dyed wool and cloth, which was a huge industry in Britain for hundreds of years.
15th century wool dyer and tapestry weaver.
(Yay for cats!)
Note the textiles hung to dry on racks behind the dyer.

See below for more images of dyers.

Robert le Deyare is registered in the 1275 Subsidy Rolls of Worcestershire; Alexander Dyghere is listed in the 1296 Subsidy Rolls of Sussex; and Henry le Dyer is noted in the 1327 Subsidy Rolls of Derbyshire. Bryan Dyer and Wenefrid Ketton were married on June 3rd 1583, at Enfield, London, and the marriage of Thomas Dyer and Margaret Gibson took place at St. Mary at Hill, London, on August 27th 1593. In March 1634, John Dyer, aged 28 yrs., departed from the Port of London, aboard the "Christian" bound for New England. He was one of the earliest of the namebearers in the New World.

Notice from that quotation above, that the Dyer surname was distributed all over England and they all had children with the Dyer surname. "Our" William Dyer wasn't the only Dyer to emigrate to New England. Nor was he the only William Dyer, for there were a William and Mary Dyer in Sheepscot, Maine, who were not the same as our William and Mary Barrett Dyer of Boston, Portsmouth, and Newport. There were unrelated Dyers in Virginia, where a William Dyer (from England) married a Mary Taylor -- they were not descendants of the famous Mary Barrett Dyer.

William Dyer (who spelled his name "Dyer" in England, but "Dyre" after his emigration to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635) was born on his parents' farm in Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire, in September 1609. But his father, also a William Dyer, didn't have roots there. Many genealogists and researchers believe (but haven't proved) the father came from Somerset, a county in the southwest of England, near Bristol. 

Concentration of Dyer name in the United Kingdom in the 2000s. Notice the high incidence of the Dyer surname in Somerset County, in southwest Britain. The Somerset Dyers, who are more likely to be related to us than the other "hot" areas around England, may be our cousins 12 times removed (which is to say that we share no DNA).

Another surname site, Forebears, shows the Dyer surname around the world. If you go to the section "Dyer Reference and Research," you'll see links to yDNA projects specifically for the Dyer surname. If you've had the yDNA test, you can join the project.

As you see, Dyer was and is a very common surname. When you complicate your search with the extremely common names William and Mary, you can see why you can't just assume that the Quaker "Mary Dyer" has to be your ancestor. You need to look at every generation for dates and locations, and decide if it's logical for Mary to be a mother, in America, before she emigrated in 1635, or if she gave birth to a child after she was hanged in 1660, or if she could simultaneously be in Maine, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, or Virginia popping out children. (Over the years I've kept this Dyer blog, administered a genealogy group, and done Dyer research, these are claims I see all the time!)

Florentine dyers in 1458 Italy.
Left image: medieval English textile dyer.
Right image: English dyers, published in a 1596 book in Leyden, Netherlands (the destination of the English Pilgrims between 1610 and 1620, when many of them emigrated to Plymouth, Mass., on the

Christy K Robinson is author of these books:
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)


  1. Welcome to Geneabloggers. I love your blog. It's so well organized. I am getting another blog ready behind the scenes on a 44 day journey my ancestors took from Grantsville, Utah to St. Johns, Arizona in 1884. Frankly I'm amazed at what can be found on the internet from researching "behind the scenes" short journal entries made of this trip. My new blog is Maybe we should follow each other.

    My first blog was

  2. Christy,


    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!


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