THE LIST FAMILY GENEALOGY
"But if thou live rememb'red not to be, Die single, and thine image dies with thee."
William Shakespeare. Sonnet 3
Our family name is "List" but it has not always been so. Exactly what name our earliest ancestor was called we may never know but as far back as I have been able to research, the 1500,s it started as "Lyst". It changed to List for a while and then back to Lyst and again to List. Sometimes, in the same document, we see the name spelt different ways. One parish record states that William List is the son of Robert Lyst. There are other variations of the name as we will see later and some I have yet to connect to our own family history. But to understand all this we need to look back, just a little, into the history of names. This is known as onomastics', the study of the origin and formation of proper names, particularly personal names.
A family name, or surname, is the legal tag by which we are all identified. This prevents the confusion that may otherwise exist and is now a legal requirement almost everywhere in the world today. But it was not always so. If we go back far enough it would be easy to imagine our ancient ancestors calling for attention with a grunt. If they did not hear it then a thump on the back of the head with a tetradactyl bone would do the job. Of course, there are a lot of gnawed tetradactyl bones under the table since then.
The Chinese, legend suggests, were the first peoples to use surnames. The Emperor Fushi, around 2,852 B.C., was the first to decree that all his people would adopt a family name. The family name is placed first and comes from one of the 438 words of the sacred Chinese poem "Po Chia Hsing". This is followed by a generation name taken from a poem of 30 characters adopted by each family and the given name is placed last. The Romans adopted surnames early in their history. The given name, like ours, was placed first. This was called a "praenomen". This was followed by the "nomen" which designated the clan and the last name, known as the "cognomen", was the family or surname. But as the Roman Empire declined surnames became confused and the practice once more was to use a single name.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, which ended in 476 AD with the overthrow of the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulas, Ireland became one of the first countries to adopt hereditary surnames and Irish surnames are found as early as the tenth century. By the time of the Middle Ages, c700 to c1500, surnames were coming back into use, first by the nobility and then the gentry. The modern hereditary use of surnames is a practice that originated among the Venetian aristocracy in Italy around the 10th or 11th centuries. Crusaders returning from the Holy Land took note of this custom and soon spread it's use throughout Europe. France, the British Isles and then Germany and Spain began applying the practice as the need to distinguish individuals became more important. By the 1370's the word "surname" was to be found in documents and had come to acquire some emotive and dynastic significance. Men sometimes sought to keep their surname alive by encouraging a collateral to adopt it when they had no direct male descendants in their own line. As government became more and more a matter of written record it became a necessity for individuals to be properly and legally identified. Taxes needed collecting, military service exacted and in the countryside, manorial administration, with it's stress on hereditary succession to land, needed some means of keeping track of families and not just of individuals. By 1450 we can be sure that most people had surnames although the List surname was around early in the 13th century.
This surname now identified the family, provided a link with the families past and would preserve its identity into the future. Beginning in the 15th and 16th century's family names gained in popularity in Poland and Russia. The Scandinavian countries, bound by their custom of using the fathers name as a second name, did not begin using family surnames until the 19th century. Turkey waited until 1933 when the government forced the practice on its people. In nearly every case, the nobility and the wealthy landowners were the first to use surnames and the practice trickled down to the merchants and commoners. The first permanent surnames were those of Barons and landowners who derived their names from the manors and fiefs. These names became fixed through the hereditary nature of their lands. For the members of the working and middle classes seeking status, the practices of the nobility were copied leading to the wide spread use of surnames. One of the problems that face us, even knowing all of the above is that the surname, once adopted, would change subtly from time to time. When written, the way it was written and spelled was dependent on the competency and discretion of the writer. My own name, as far back as I have researched, started as Lyst and there are other variations. Liste, Lyste, Leest and several others. First names are a whole different story. Most first names used in the Western World today originate from five languages: Hebrew, Teutonic (which included Germanic), Greek, Latin and Celtic (which includes Irish, Welsh and Scottish).
First names are called "given" or 'Christian" names because early Christians changed their pagan first names to Christian names at baptism. It is fascinating to learn how easily first names fall into categories. Hebrew contributed biblical names and about one half of the English speaking population have first names from the New Testament such as Elizabeth, Mary, John and Joseph. The Teutonic tongues gave us names linked with warlike characteristics such as Charles (to become adult), or Ethel (noble). The Greek, Latin and Celtic languages also gave us names for personal characteristics and abstract qualities. For example, the Greek name Andrew means "manly", the Greek Dorothy is "gift of God", the Latin Victor means "victory in battle" and the Latin Laura translates to "the air". Names of Celtic origin are almost poetic such as Kevin meaning "gentle and beloved" and Morgan meaning "sea dweller". While there is a wealth of first names available, the actual selection process has been somewhat limited. It is necessary to remember that in 1545 the Catholic Church made the use of a saint's name mandatory for baptism, so for centuries first names have been confined to the John and Mary tradition. In fact, in all western countries during the Middle Ages there were only about twenty common names for infant boys and girls. John and Mary were most frequently used. In the 1600's the Protestants rejected anything associated with Catholicism, so in came names from the Old Testament such as Elijah, Priscilla and Joshua. Middle names were not used until the 15th century when German nobility used a second "first" name as a status symbol. Many years passed before the practice caught on and in the USA it did not become popular until after the revolutionary war of 1776-1783 when the fashion was to use the mother's maiden name. Back to surnames since it is surnames, which, we hope, will help tie down where we started. The surname or family name has come down to us in several ways. It may have grown out of a persons surroundings or job or the name of an ancestor.
Most surnames evolved from four general sources: A mans occupation, his location or where he lived, his father's name known as Patronymic and finally a Characteristic of his anatomy or personality. John may be a baker and in his village he would be known as John the baker. This would eventually become John Baker. Similarly, William the carpenter would become William Carpenter. A major headache here is that John the baker of his particular village was almost certainly not related to John the baker in the next village. Having an ancestor named after a town or village, the place where he lives, does help narrow the search for the origin of a name. But only a little. John, who lived over the hill, would become John Overhill. Or William who lived by the stream became William Brook. Locational place names usually end with -hill, -ford, -wood, -well and so on. Less easily recognised are -ham, -ton, -wick, -stead etc. A Patronymic is the father's name. Richard, son of William, would become Richard Williamson but Richard's son John would become John Richardson.
Confusing! A man's personal characteristics were sometimes used. Robert may be small in stature and would become Robert Small whilst Charles, who was known to be really sly and cunning, may become Charles Fox. So, what do we have to work on now that we know all this? The name List is Teutonic, which we owe to the early Germans and the language, known as Germanic. It probably arrived in Britain with the Normans. Most of the first names that appear often in our family's history are Teutonic by origin. Richard, meaning "brave power", Robert, meaning "bright flame", William which Wilhelm in German and means "will or desire " bur also "helmet or protection". Then there is Charles or Karl, which means "man", Henry or Heinrich that means "home ruler" and Thomas, which is "twin". Thomas is also a Christian name. The girls are included also with names like Anne Hannah, which is traditionally assigned to the mother of the Virgin Mary although she is not mentioned in the bible. And Ursula, which means "little bear". (But most of the girls names appear to be Christian and biblical in origin). All these names were introduced to England by the Normans after their conquest of Britain in 1066 and all these names are very common to the List family even up into the 19th century. The odd one out is Arthur, who is derived from Welsh Mythology and probably means, "bear" but no one is quite sure of where it came from. It does not actually appear in our family history until the middle 19th century and so really has no bearing on our origins. I just thought I would mention it!
The modern German translation of List is "cunning" whilst the Middle High German translation would be "wisdom". So this could have been a nickname given to someone who was wise or smart. Middle High German is the variety of Teutonic speech originally confined to 'high' or southern Germany, now accepted as the literary language of the whole country. Incidentally, the spread of this form of the language owes much to the Biblical translations of Martin Luther in the 16th Century. But this only adds weight to the belief that List is of German origin. However, just to confuse the issue, in Old English, the surname Lyster or Lister is derived from the wool trade and was a "dyer of cloth".
But what of this: The Lists, or List field, is the arena in which a jousting event or similar tournament was held in medievil times. More precisely, it is the roped-off enclosure where tournament fighting takes place. Normally 300 mtrs long by 100 mtrs wide. The Lists are mentioned frequently in the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. So, could it be that the English surname, List, simply derives from someone who worked or lived on or near the Lists? Does this make our name locational?
The surname List is first documented in the 13th century. Genealogical records show that one Heinrich List resided in Budweis, Benz, Germany in 1250. In 1251 Heinrich dictus (means `called`) List is recorded in Heiligenberg (Pfullendorf) on a land transaction. This is almost certainly the same person. The original text, written in Latin which was the legal language of the Holy Roman Empire, shows a transaction involving the exchange of a piece of land "which is rich in bushes and known by the name Ruiti and the meadow also known as The Pasture close to the village of Lehstetin (present day Leustetten), for the swamp land in between the Monastery Salem and the mentioned village." The "rich" land belonged to the Monastery and the swamp land to Berchtold Count of Heiligenberg . Not a bad deal! The document does go on to say that the transaction would be beneficial to the church. The deed, recorded in The Book of Deeds of Fuerstenberg on 16th January 1251 is confirmed and witnessed on 29th January 1251 by, amongst others, Heinrich (dictus, which means 'called') List. These men, ceremoniously planting stones, confirmed the boundaries of the transaction. This is the first written mention of the name List that I have come across. A blazon of arms was granted to the brothers Johann, Georg and Friedrich List of Michelstadt in Odenwalt in 1612. However, I have not been able to substantiate this but it would be interesting to chase it up. The arms, we believe, show "a fox salient gules, languid of the same, with a crest showing the fox of the arms issuing". This does lend credence to the thought that the name List may have been a nickname since a fox is cunning and sly, but wise?
There is (or was) a town called "Liste" near Hanover and another in Schleswig. Our ancestor could have lived here and adopted the name of the village, as we have seen, a custom in those days. These towns, however, are a long way from Heiligenberg but does that really mean anything? Heinrich List must have been a man of substance to be called by the local authority of the time, the Church, to witness a land deed.
Apart from the above, there was a List family living in Norway in a place known as Vaage, Opland, which is around Lilehamer of today, during the period 1321 -1439. The first German List's I know of appear in Schwarzenberg, Zwickau, Sachsen, which is Saxony. By far the majority of my records show List's in Saxony. From there they travelled all over Europe, some to England but the majority to the United States. There are several List families in England, which may or may not have a common connection to each other. That is the fun part of all this: Trying to find that connection. Our English roots are in Suffolk, East Anglia, named for the Angles who lived in Suffolk (South Folk) and Norfolk (North Folk). Are we English List's Angles?
The latest technology used in the search for long lost ancestors is, of course, genetics and DNA. Check out our page on this intesting topic. So far we have shown that there are two distinct branches of Lists; those from Europe and the English group. Hopefully the DNA project will show us more...in time.