Johnson / Bryans Families

Tracing the ancestry of Pamela Murdoch Bryans and Maurice Alan Johnson


At the 2x great-grandparent level, we have eight families in the tree. This page provides a brief sketch of each of these families. As will become clear, the Johnside side of the family (Johnson, Buckton, Lupton) was firmly northern English, mostly Yorkshire with a sprinkling of Cumbria (Bell). The Bryans side brings in the Celtic branches: the Bryans themselves originated in Ulster (county Tyrone). The Burn-Murdochs hailed from Gartincaber in Stirlingshire, the Mitchells from New Cumnock in Ayrshire and the Nisbets from Lanarkshire, near Bothwell.

Clickable map of UK with family surname origins
Note: this map is clickable

Bryans Johnson Johnson Lupton & Buckton Bell Burn-Murdoch Mitchell Nisbet Bryans

1. The Johnson branch (Johnson, Bell, Lupton, Buckton)

1a. The Johnsons

Ancestor: Walter Johnson (1842-1915)

N.B. For a more detailed overview of the Johnson family, read this.

Surname origins

Johnson is a very common surname in the UK (probably top 10) (and I believe it may actually be the most common surname in America, or close to). It's evidently a patronymic, derived from John's son, which explains its popularity. From Patronymica Brittanica (hereinafter "PB"), we have:

See John. The Johnsons of Ayscough-Fee, co. Lincoln, claim from the house of Fitz-John of Normandy.
Under John itself, we have:
This baptismal name, which is of Norman introduction, has rarely passed into a surname. It has been, however, the source, in various modified forms, of a considerable number of names, some of which are amongst the most common in the whole circle of our nomenclature. Its immediate derivative, Johnson, and its Welsh genitive form, Jones, substantiate this assertion ; but we have besides Johns, Johnes, Joanes, Johncock, Janson, Jannings, Jennings, Jenks, Jenkyn, Jenkins, and Jinkins, Jenkinson, and perhaps Janes and Jenson. The Flemish nickname Hans from Johannes, seems to be the root of Hanson, Hancock.

Geographic origins

The Johnsons, unlike many of the other families on this page, are hard to pin down. The roots of the family, insofar as we can trace them to the mid 1700s, are London. The family then transferred focus to the north of England (mostly Yorkshire), via one generation in Buckinghamshire. We see Johnsons living and working in Middlesborough and Tyne & Wear (briefly) before settling in North Yorkshire: East Rounton, Ingelby Arncliffe and Hutton Rudby. The Isle of Skye was briefly added to the family through the marriage of Hilda Lupton and Walter Lyulph Johnson and indeed, Burkes Landed Gentry (1972) refers to the family as the Johnsons of Strathaird. The next generation stayed in Yorkshire or moved further north again, to the Scottish Borders.

1b. The Bells

Ancestor: Margaret Florence Bell (1847-1930)

Surname origins

From PB:

"This common surname is doubtless le Bel, French for fine, handsome. The chief habitation of the Bells has long been on the Scottish border. In a MS. of 1590, relating to the defences of that district, we find in Cumberland, under Bridekirk, this entry: "About them is a great surname of Bells and Carlisles, who have been long in feud with the Irwyns."

Another possible origin is related to bells themselves: Bell could have been a surname given to a bell-ringer, or someone who lived near a notable bell.

Geographic origins

As suggested above, our Bell family originated as farmers in Cumberland (Cumbria) near Carlisle, before shifting to Newcastle as they became involved in the new iron industry there.

1c. The Luptons

Ancestor: Alan Lupton (1846-1918)

Surname origins

PB says, simply, "A township in Westmoreland [now part of Cumbria]". That would probably be this location. The origins of the toponym date back to the Domesday Book in 1086, listed as Lupetun meaning the "farmstead of a man called Hluppa".

Geographic origins

Our Luptons were very firmly Leeds-based, hailing from a stock of cloth-merchant and clothiers. Darnton Lupton was the major of Leeds in 1844 (aged only 38).

1d. The Bucktons

Ancestor: Emma Buckton (1849-1938)

Surname origins

Another simple definition from PB: "A township in Yorkshire". Presumably this village near Bridlington near the East Yorkshire coast. Much like Lupton, the name Buckton probably originated as a combination of the words Bucca and tun (meaning farmstead); in other words, "the farmstead of Bucca".

Geographic origins

The Bucktons, like the Luptons, seem to have been based in Leeds, latterly around Potternewton. The family, like the Luptons, was involved in the wool trade, though George Buckton switched out of this into more general engineering.

The Bryans branch (Bryans, Burn-Murdoch, Mitchell, Nisbet)

2a. The Bryans

Ancestor: Arthur Bryans (1852-1944)

Surname origins

Bryans is most likely a patronymic, derived from "Bryan's [son]". There seems to be a lot of overlap with Bryant (in some old correspondence, Hal Murdoch Bryans is referred to as Bryant, and in details of his ancestor Francis' marriage to Grace Cross in Burkes', Francis is also referred to as a Bryant).

The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names4 has this to say on the surname:

Norman, Breton, English: relationship name from the Celtic personal name Brian. Breton bearers of this name were among the Normans who invaded England in 1066. They went on to settle in Ireland in the 12th century, where the name mingled with the native Irish form Briain. The latter had also been borrowed, as Brján, by the Vikings, who introduced it independently into north-western England before the Norman Conquest.
This work has the main UK locations as Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire and Lanarkshire, with high frequencies in Fermanagh in Ireland.

Geographic origins

The roots of the family start in northern Ireland, in County Tyrone, with Francis Bryans. His son Richard moved to Chester and many subsequent branches remained there, or close by in Shropshire. The Bryans were prolific in the number of children, so nowadays there are Bryans cousins spread all over the country, from Surrey to Cumbria.

2b. The Burn-Murdochs

Ancestor: Annie Jessie Burn-Murdoch (1856-1929)

Surname origins

The Burn-Murdoch surname originated very recently, at the union in 1820 of John Burn (1793-1862) and Anne Maule Murdoch.

Murdoch is a common Scottish name, both as a first name and as a surname. Two Gaelic words are said to possibly form the origins for the name: Muireach, meaning "seaman", and Murchadh, meaning "sea warrior".

Burn (and Burns, Burne, Burnes etc), are, according to PB:

...known variations of the same name, which however may have several origins. Sometimes it appears to be equivalent to Bourne, and in the North a small stream is still called a burn. In Saxon times, however, it seems to have been a personal name, whence Burneston, Burnedale, and such-like local names. In the time of Edward the Confessor, Godric de Burnes was a great landholder in Kent, and his posterity continued in that county for several centuries. In Scotland the name appears in early records, under such various forms as to baffle the most astute genealogist in any attempt to deduce a clear pedigree. It is, however, within recent generations that the near kinsmen of Robert Burns have varied that name to Burnes and Burness. See, for an elaborate account of this surname, 'Notes on his Name and Family', by James Burnes, K.H,, F,E,S. Edinburgh, 1851.

Geographic origins

The Burn-Murdochs hailed from Stirlingshire: Gartincaber, Doune and Kilmadock.

2c. The Mitchells

Ancestor: Hugh McPherson Mitchell

Surname origins

From PB:
The Anglo-Saxon. mycel, great, or mickle, would be a tolerably satisfactory etymon, and this may in some instances be the origin of the surname; but I think in most cases it is derived from Michael, a very popular baptismal name in many countries, through its French form, Michel. This view is confirmed by the existence of the surname Mitchelson.

Geographic origins

Our Mitchells originally hailed from New Cumnock in East Ayrshire. Some pedigrees have a line of seven successive Hugh Mitchells, all in New Cumnock.

2d. The Nisbets

Ancestor: Agnes Lockhart Nisbet (1866-1955)

Surname origins

The name can be related to various Scottish parishes in Roxburghshire and Berwickshire.

Geographic origin

Our Nisbets originated in Carphin, near Bothwell in Lanarkshire. A standard theory (e.g. that of Alexander Nisbet in his Heraldry of 1722) is that the Nisbets of Carphin sprung as a brunch from the Nisbets of Greenholm, but this link has never been proven. From Lanarkshire, there was a brief sojourn in Nevis in the Leeward Isles (e.g. Walter Nisbet (1707-1765)), including a tangential glance with Lord Horatio Nelson. Then stints in India, before returning back to Wimbledon.