Coulthart Origins

This page is divided into six sections. Click on any of the underlined sentences below for more information.

Origins in Great Britain

All Coulthart families can trace their origins to the United Kingdom, specifically to the countries of Scotland and England. The Coulthart surname and all of its variations were researched in depth by Alfred Coulthard of Piddletrenthide, Dorset County England from the early 1920's to 1999. In 1978 he published a book entitled "A Coulthard! The History of a Surname in Great Britain: One Family's Seven Hundred Years of Border History". The fourth edition was printed in 1994. Most of the information on the Coulthart origins in Great Britain comes from this book.

According to Alfred's research, the oldest recordings of the surname appear in 1272 exclusively in the valley of the Ure/Ouse River in Yorkshire County in North Central England. By the 1500's the Coulthart surname had spread north and northwest to the region known as the "Borders" which lies along the border of Scotland and England. In addition to Yorkshire, Coulthart families were now found in the border counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland, Durham and Northumberland in northern England and Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Ayr, Lanark, Selkirk, Roxburgh, Berwick, East Lothian and Mid Lothian in southern Scotland. The "Borders" was an area plagued by many wars, as in the 13th century, the English under Edward I (remember Longshanks from the movie Braveheart) and his successors were constantly at battle with the Scots in an effort to subdue them. This ongoing conflict between Scotland and England was waged on and off, mainly in the border areas, until the crowns were eventually united by James VI of Scotland peacefully succeeding to the English throne as James I in 1603 on the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Scotland and England were drawing closer together, as the period of continual strife between them receded in time. The Coulthart families remained in these fourteen counties until the great migrations to the New World and the South Pacific or the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which cause migration from rural areas to the cities as society changed from agricultural to industrial.

From where did the Coulthart's come prior to 1272, the date of the first written record of the surname? And why did they migrate to the Borders region? Although some might believe they came with the Romans in 79 A.D. (see the Legend of Coulthartus), there are actually only three possible origins for the family in Great Britain:

  1. They were indigenous peoples
  2. They came with the Anglo-Saxons or Vikings from what is now Germany/Scandinavia between 450-1000 A.D. or
  3. They came from Northern France with William the Conqueror after the Norman Invasion of 1066 A.D.

Alfred theorizes that the original Coulthart's may have come from a town called Coudehard in the district of Orne in the province of Normandy, France. The earliest Coulthart families in Great Britain were always found along side the surnames Percy and Lucy who, as lords and barons, were major landowners in Yorkshire and the Borders from 1066 onwards. The Lucy family originated in the town of Luce, only a mile or so from Coudehard and the Percy family came from the town of Percy in the same region of Normandy. During the feudal period, Norman barons usually recruited their household servants from Normandy. Alfred believes it is highly likely that after the Norman Conquest, the Coulthart's migrated to Great Britain in the service of the Percy and Lucy families. The family then moved north and northwest into the Borders area under the leadership of the Percy's and Lucy's during the campaigns of Edward I. All of the early Border recordings of the Coulthart surname were without exception located in strongholds garrisoned by the English army of occupation. This would explain the early distribution of the surname only in areas where Percy and Lucy families owned land.

Further evidence for a Norman origin is the way in which the surname was listed in early records. It was most often recorded as "de Coulthart" which translated from the French means 'of' or 'from Coulthart' indicating the surname was a reference to a geographical place of French origin.

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Immigration Patterns

Although the New World was discovered by Columbus in 1492, colonization didn't begin until the Mayflower landed at what is now Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts in 1620. Prior to this the only European inhabitants in Canada and the US were traders and early explorers. The movement of people from the Old World to the New World was the largest migration of people in recorded history. It began slowly, increased dramatically after the American Revolution of 1775-1783 and reached its peak in the second half of the 19th century. Over 20 million people crossed the Atlantic to find a new home in the US. There were many reasons for immigrating but most often people left because of economic conditions and/or religious persecution. Others were forced out by the government in an attempt to rid themselves of criminals or other undesirables who were often considered trouble makers because of their political beliefs. Some of these individuals ended up even farther west in Australia and New Zealand.

The earliest Scottish immigrants to the New World sailed from ports in western Scotland to ports in Canada and the US. Their numbers increased after 1746 due to the Highland Clearances, the eviction of the Scottish Highlanders from their traditional lands, and persecution of the Scots by the English after the Jacobite Rebellion was crushed. More arrived after the conclusion of the Seven Years War in Europe and the French and Indian Wars in North America when the French yielded their North American Territories to Great Britain in 1763. Significant groups of Scots began to arrive in the New World after the American Revolution ended in 1783. Many of these Scots sailed directly to ports along the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada. Immigration increased again after the War of 1812 which finally settled the dispute between Great Britain, British North America and the US. Others arrived roughly forty years later when the great potato famine devastated Ireland and Scotland in 1849. At the time Canada was not yet a country but was divided into two parts. Upper Canada or Canada West which later became Ontario consisted mostly of English speaking individuals. Lower Canada or Canada East became Quebec and it contained mainly people of French origin. Other reasons for Scottish immigration were the same as those from other European countries. Namely overpopulation, lack of the ability of the common man to own his own land and the poor quality of the land available in many parts of Europe. The Scots originally settled in Canada for two reasons; Canada was considered a part of Great Britain and therefore they were already citizens and Canada was not as heavily populated as the eastern shore of the US.

After they arrived, many Scots remained in Ontario, Canada for several generations. Then many uprooted their families once again and moved to Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia and the U.S. Most left brothers and sisters behind. It is for this reason that many Coulthart families today have distant relatives on both sides of the border. Why did they leave? One reason was the US government passed the Homestead Act of 1862 to encourage immigrants to settle in the unpopulated areas of the US that had recently been opened for settlement due to treaties with the Indians. Under the Homestead Act of 1862 any settler who lived on the land for five years and improved it could obtain title to the land from the public domain for a small fee. The act was amended in 1872 so Union soldiers who served in the Civil War could apply their service, up to four years, towards the five-year residency requirement. Many Coulthart families took advantage of this and settled in the Midwest in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota which were sparsely populated at the time. Minnesota was one of the most popular destinations for immigrants seeking land from 1855-1880. After becoming a state in 1858, millions of acres of some of the best farmland in the US were opened for settlement. By 1863 the last Native American inhabitants of Minnesota were moved west to a reservation in South Dakota.

Although not as common as earlier, Coulthart immigration from Scotland and England to the US and Canada continued into the 20th century. Although the patterns are not as easy to define, the chief reason remained the same, economic.

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Maps of Areas Where Coulthart Families Lived

The following maps provide geographical information about the places from which the Coulthart families originated and where they ended up as a result of immigration. This section is still under development and will be complete in the future.

  • Countries of Europe
  • France
  • Detail of France showing Normandy
  • Pre-1974 Counties in Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland)
  • Detail of the pre-1974 Border Counties in England and Scotland
  • Canada
  • Detail of Canada showing Ontario
  • USA
  • Detail of the USA showing the Midwest
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Spelling Variations of the Surname

Over the years the Coulthart surname has been spelled in a variety of ways. Originally the spelling had little significance because most individuals did not know how to read or write. Prior to 1650 most recordings of the surname were made by parish priests and government officials who could write. They often spelled the name the way it sounded to them. The most common variations were in the ending, whether it was a 'd' or 't' and whether the silent 'u' and 'h' were omitted or not. The following variations occurred:

  • Coulthard
  • Coulthart
  • Coltart
  • Colthart
  • Coultard
  • Coltherd
  • Coultherd
  • Coltheart

Around 1700 regional patterns begin to appear. From this date forward the majority of families from Scotland ended the name with a 't' and the English ended the name with a 'd'. Of course there were some exceptions.

For more information on the distribution of the surname and all of its variations be sure to visit FAQs #4 - How many Coulthart families are there?

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The Legend of Coulthartus

Coulthartus, a young lieutenant in the Roman army, arrived in Scotland with the Roman general Agricola around 79 A. D. Coulthartus served with Agricola when he defeated the Scots and Picts, the indigenous people of Scotland, in the famous Battle of Mons Graupius. After the battle Coulthartus was united in marriage to the daughter of one of the local chiefs and settled in southwestern Scotland near the town of Whithorn. His descendants eventually established Coulthart Castle in the barony of Coulthart as the area became known. Historically Whithorn is where the first Christian church "Candida Casa" was established by St. Ninian when he arrived in Scotland in 397 A.D. According to the Coulthartus legend, many generations of Coulthart's were buried here. And the story goes on and on linking the descendants of Coulthartus to every significant historical event in Scotland.

The Coulthartus story was written in 1854 for John Ross Coulthart a wealthy banker living near Manchester, England. During the Victorian period it was quite common for people of wealth to trace their ancestors and prove their noble lines. John Ross Coulthart claimed to have a number of documents in his possession that were allegedly passed down in his family from one generation to the next. These documents were turned over to George Knowles who wrote the Coulthartus story. Of course none of these alleged documents have ever been seen by anyone else. John Ross Coulthart, who was born in Dalton, Dumfries County in southwestern Scotland, returned to the area and built a mansion at Castle Douglas in neighboring Kirkcudbright County called Greenlaw. He is also known to have commissioned the construction of a number of elaborate tombstones for his ancestors.

Although this is an intriguing story, not one shred of evidence exists to prove it. What it has done is cause all professional genealogists to ridicule the "Notorious Pedigree of Coulthartus". For many years the mere mention of the Coulthart surname in genealogical circles in Great Britain would cause laughter. More information on Coulthartus can be found in the January 1999 issue of Clan Coulthart.

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Photos of Places Where Some Coulthart Families Lived

This section is still under development and will be completed in the future.

  • Cummertrees, Scotland
  • Graitney, Scotland
  • Lunenburg, Ontario
  • Morewood, Ontario
  • Cannamore, Ontario
  • Faribault County, Minnesota
  • Waseca, Minnesota

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Page last updated 06/19/2001. © Copyright 1999. Terry Meinke. All rights reserved.

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