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The BRACEY Surname

compiled by Edwin C. Dunn

ORIGIN OF THE NAME

Brécey is a local place name in France, from which the surname derives.1 There are two places in Normandy called Brécey. One is in the department of Calvados between Bayeux and Caen, and the other is in the department of Manche about ten miles northeast of Avranches. The prefix of this name undoubtedly came from a personal name.2 From the Norman lords of one or both of these places sprang the families of de Bracey found in England a few years after the Norman Conquest.3

Map of Normandy

Map of a Portion of Normandy

Showing Brécy between Bayeux and Caen

Source: The Hachette Guide to France (New York, 1986), p. 819.

The former priory of St-Gabriel-Brécey was founded in the 11th century and was built by monks of the Fécamp Abbey. Later additions, such as the 15th century Justice Tower and the 17th century priors’ quarters were built, but only the chancel built in the 11th and 12th centuries remains of the medieval church. It is now used, since 1929, as a horticultural center. The castle or chateau of Brécey with its huge gateway dates from the 17th century, and is surrounded by beautiful terraced gardens. Britain’s Queen Mother Elizabeth planted a tree there in 1967.4

It is commonly pointed out that the name Bracy is among those on the Battle Abbey Roll, purportedly the companions of William the Conqueror. The Roll was begun as a list of the names of the dead at the Battle of Hastings (1066) for whom the monks had to pray. Scholarly studies have explained, however, that in time, it is likely that other names were added, such as the names of those who were benefactors of the Abbey. Only a handful of individuals can be confirmed as actually being present at Hastings. It is true that William rewarded his supporters with lands in England, but many of these Normans would have arrived during a period of immigration shortly after the initial conquest, as the remainder of the country came under William’s rule.

Furthermore, the original Battle Abbey Roll, which hung on the abbey’s walls for centuries has long since been lost, its fate unknown, and we are left only with several copies. The monks themselves may have destroyed it to prevent discovery of the names that had been later added.5 The copy of the Roll as published by Raphael Holinshed in 1577 contains the name Bracey, as does the copy by John Leland made before 1550 and published in 1715. Le Sire de Bracy is among those listed in the copy by Guillaume le Tailleur in 1487 and printed in 1615. Le Seigneur de Brecey is named in the Falaise Roll as given on the bronze tablet erected in the Chapel of the Chateau of William the Conqueror at Falaise, Normandy, 21 June 1931.6

The Duchess of Cleveland, in her book on the Battle Abbey Roll, reported that "three noble families of the name existed in" Normandy. Radulphus de Braceio occurred in a Norman charter of 1080, and his son William "held Wistaton in Cheshire of the Barony of Nantwich." She further relates that "Robert de Brezé and M. de Brecé were among the one hundred and nineteen Norman gentlemen who defended Mont St. Michel against the English in 1423."7

"Raoul, Seigneur de Fourgeres, having followed William the Conqueror to England, distinguished himself at the Battle of Hastings and as a reward received from the Duke lands in Lower Normandy, notably those of Brecey. Later in the eleventh century he gave them to Ranulphe de Virey. The lords of Brecey not only received lands in England, but continued to make their mark at home. In 1098 Jean de Brecey followed Robert Courte-Heuse and Godefroy de Bouillon to the Crusades."8

The close association of the early Braceys in England with their roots in Normandy is illustrated by several charters in France. A charter of Henry II in 1155 confirms to the priory of St. Faith in Longueville for the Cluniac monks the gifts of his grandfather, Henry I, and those of his great uncle, William II, as well as those of others, including Adolf de Braci. Adolfus de Bracheio witnessed a charter (ca. 1164) by Walter Giffard addressed to all his men, French and English. In 1174, Radulfio de Breseio’s name appeared on an agreement between Joan, abbess of Holy Trinity of Caen and Robert, son of Richard de Scrotonia.9

Surnames were not in general use in the 11th century, so one can not expect to establish familial relationships at this early date, except for certain of the highest nobility. It was some years after the Conquest when surnames came into general use and de Bracey is found in the records as a family name for residents of England. At that time, the name would have meant one who was "of Brecy" or "from Brecy." It would not have meant, however, that all individuals who adopted this surname necessarily had a familial relationship, since unrelated persons whose families came from the same area could have chosen the same surname.

There were no Bracey families listed in the Domesday Book, the great survey of his new realm which King William the Conqueror ordered to be taken in 1086, but shortly thereafter two successors of individuals who were listed by given name only had adopted the surname of de Bracey. A few years after the Domesday survey, two tenants surnamed de Brecey held manors in Stone, Buckinghamshire, and in Worchestershire. A Richard de Brecey (Ricardo de Briceio) appeared in a Cheshire charter as witness of a charter of Robert de Fremouz to the Abbey of St. Werburge about 1093. He could have been a younger son of the Worchestershire tenant, and we find a Brecey family in Cheshire court records from that time forward.10

Not all persons in England who adopted the surname de Bracey were necessarily of land-owning families. In a study of Oxfordshire surnames, it was pointed out that: "One further characteristic of Oxfordshire bondmen’s surnames and bye-names11 that seems worthy of remark is the presence of some bondmen with names that were the same as the surnames of some well-known noble or land-owning families which existed at the same period. For example, in the Hundred Rolls12 there are serfs with the surnames or bye-names [which included]…. de Braci …."13


VARIANT SPELLINGS

Historically speaking, the spelling of surnames has been phonetic and quite variable. As one searches old records from the earliest times right up to the 19th century, one finds many variations, and this explains why some branches of the family spell the surname differently from others. It may surprise one to discover that in colonial Virginia, Bressie was the most common variant spelling in the records, and this was true in North Carolina records until the 1830s and 1840s.

Of course, a similarity in spelling does not necessarily indicate a familial relationship any more than a difference in spelling proves that two families are unrelated. Only research into the historical evidence can make a determination. Many families have deliberately changed the spelling from the original name and this has been seen repeatedly in America.

Here are some variants of spelling that have been found in the records. What seems to be common with all these variants is that the pronunciation of the surname has remained constant.

Brace Brasie Bresei
Bracey          Brassey          Bresey
Bracie Brassie Bressey        
Bracy Brassy Bressie
Bracye Brasye Bressy
Braisse Brecy Bresy
Brasee Brescy Brissie


GEOGRAPHIC NAMES

The name has been applied to a number of geographical and physical features around the globe. Here is a partial list:14

ENGLAND

Brassey Green - a place in Willaston, Cheshire, England.

Meole Brace - a town in Shropshire, England, now a suburb of Shrewsbury.

Brace’s Leigh - a place in Worcestershire, England.

UNITED STATES

Bracey - a populated community in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, USA, elevation 337 feet. Lat. 36º35’58" N, Long. 78º08’36" W.

Bracey Swamp - a stream in Robeson County, North Carolina, USA. Lat. 34º30’54" N, Long. 79º18’40" W.

Bracey Cemetery - a cemetery in Robeson County, North Carolina, USA.

Bracey - a historical community in Robeson County, North Carolina, USA.

Bracey Mill Creek - a stream in Sumter County, South Carolina, USA. Lat. 34º05’59" N, Long. 80º29’58" W.

Bracy School - a historical school in Sumter County, South Carolina, USA. Lat. 33º50’58" N, Long. 80º22’05" W.

Bracy Cemetery - a cemetery in Robertson County, Tennessee, USA. Lat. 36º26’40" N, Long. 87º02’04" W.

Braceys Swamp - a swamp in York County, Maine, USA. Lat. 43º12’37 N, Long. 70º40’04" W.

Bracey Pond - a lake in Hancock County, Maine, USA, elevation 383 feet. Lat. 44º57’42" N, Long. 68º07’16" W.

Bracy Cove - a bay in Hancock County, Maine, USA. Lat. 44º17’30" N, Long. 68º15’11" W.

Bracy Hollow - a valley in Crittenden County, Kentucky, USA. Lat. 37º25’19" N, Long. 88º08’23" W.

Lake Bracy - a lake in Lake County, Florida, USA. Lat. 28º53’46" N, Long. 81º40’16" W.

Bracy Mountain - a peak in Independence County, Arkansas, USA. Lat. 35º46’23" N, Long. 91º44’40" W.

Bressie Lake Dam - a dam in Washington County, Missouri, USA. Lat. 37º45’48" N, Long. 90º48’54" W.

Brassey Ranch - a locale in Boise County, Idaho, USA. Lat. 43º54’56" N, Long. 115º59’32" W.

Brassey Post Office - a historical post office in Fergus County, Montana, USA. Lat. 46º58’23" N, Long.109º33’55" W.

AUSTRALIA

Mount Brassey - a mountain in Northern Territory, Australia.

Brassey Range - a mountain range in Western Australia, Australia. Lat. 24º59’46" S, Long. 122º15’24" E.

Brasseys Creek - a stream in New South Wales, Australia. Lat. 36º45’00" S, Long. 148º58’00" E.

Brassey Hill - a hill in Tasmania, Australia. Lat. 41º27’52" S, Long. 145º19’03" E.

Brassey State Forest - a forest in New South Wales, Australia. Lat. 31º17’00" S, Long. 152º02’00" E.

The Brassey Hotel - an historically prominent hotel in Canberra, Australia

NEW ZEALAND

Brassey Creek - a stream in Westland district, New Zealand. Lat. 43º72’33" S, Long. 169º91’44" E.

Brasseys Creek - a stream in Otago district, New Zealand. Lat. 45º20’86" S, Long. 169º91’35" E.

FRANCE

Brécey - an inhabited place in the department of Manche, Basse-Normandie, France. Lat. 48º44’ N, Long. 01º10’W.

Brécey - an inhabited place in the department of Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France.

Brécy - an inhabited place in the department of Aisne, Picardie, France. Lat. 47º08’ N, Long. 02º36’ E.

CHILE

Banco Bracey - a shoal on the coast of Chile. Lat.42º20’00" S, Long. 73º04’00" W.

Isla Bracey - an island belonging to Chile. Lat. 45º46’00" S, Long. 74º44’00" W.

Cabo Brassey - a point of land in Chile. Lat. 51º14’00" S, Long. 74º06’00" W.

Paso Brassey - a marine channel in Chile. Lat. 50º04’00" S, Long. 74º42’00" W.

MALAYSIA

Banjaran Brassey - a mountain in Sabah state, East Malaysia, Malaysia.


Footnotes

1A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, Charles Wareing Bardsley (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1980; orig. publ. London, 1901), p.180; British Family Names and Their Origin & Meaning with Lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon & Norman Names, Henry Barber (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1968; orig. publ. London: Elliot Stock, 1901), p. 102.

2Surnames of the United Kingdom. A Concise Etymological Dictionary, Henry Harrison (Baltimore: Clearfield Co., 1992 (previously published Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co.; orig. publ. London, 1912, 1918), Vol. 1, p. 47.

3"Ancestry of Thomas Bressey of New Haven, Conn." By Walter Goodwin Davis, New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. CXII (1958) (Boston, New England Historical and Genealogical Society), p. 27.

4Tourist Guide, Normandy, Michelin Tourist Services (5th edition) (London, Michelin Tyre Public Ltd. Co., 1980), p. 51; Discover Normandy, Kim Naylor (Oxford: Berlitz Publishing Co. Ltd., 1992), p. 208.

5Falaise Roll, Recording Prominent Companions of William Duke of Normandy at the Conquest of England, M. Jackson Crispin & Leonce Macary (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1985; orig. publ. London, 1938), p. xvi.

6My Ancestors Came with the Conqueror, Those who did, and some of those who probably did not, Anthony J. Camp (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990; orig. publ. London, 1988), pp. 24-25, 35; The Roll of Battle Abbey, Annotated, John Bernard Burke (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1979 (orig. publ. London, 1848), pp. 2, 8, 11, 28.

7The Battle Abbey Roll with Some Account of the Norman Lineages, Dutchess of Cleveland (London, 1889), pp. 136-138.

8A History of the Bracey Family in England and America, Roy S. Walker (1990), p. 4.

9Calendar of Documents Preserved in France Illustrative of the History of Great Britain & Ireland, ed. by J. Horace Round (London, 1899), Vol. I: AD 918-1206, pp. 76-77,145.

10Davis, p. 27.

11bye-names = secondary names, or nicknames

12The Hundred Rolls resulted from inquiries into the rights and properties of the Crown. Extant rolls for many counties exist from 1273.

13Richard McKinley, The Surnames of Oxfordshire (English Surname Series, Vol. III)(London, 1977), p. 204-205.

14"Thesaurus of Geographic Names," The Getty Information Institutute (http://shiva.pub.getty.edu/tgn_browser); "World Foreign Gazeteer," vol. 1 (http://www.ancestry.com); USGS, "Geographic Names Information System" (http://mapping.usgs.gov)


© 2000 Edwin C. Dunn


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