The curse of the Browns.

Having found my grandfather, and discovering his surname to be Brown, now I’m faced with the problem of determining just which Brown is the right Brown.Because there are so many Brown’s the possibility of find a seemingly identical relative who is in fact not the right one is high.  Multiplicity is the curse of the Browns.

Brown is, after all, a common name. It is the 4th most popular surname in the United States, the 5th most common in England, and the 4th most common last name in Australia. The variant name, Browne, is also common in England and Ireland. Let’s put this into perspective; I use for my research and here are the statistics for the occurrence of the name Brown from that particular platform.

  • 42,990,919    Historical Documents with Brown on Ancestry
  • 13,843,197    Birth, Marriage, and Deaths
  • 9,672,961      Census and Voter Lists
  • 1,483,675      Military Records
  • 1,102,114      Immigration Records
  • 16,888,972   Member Trees

Why so many? is an international website. it covers the world. And, the diaspora of the Brown’s has travelled far so there are bound to be many. It may help if we look at the name itself, what it means and how it developed. This, again, from

Brown Name Meaning.

English, Scottish, and Irish: generally a nickname referring to the color of the hair or complexion, Middle English br(o)un, from Old English brun or Old French brun. This word is occasionally found in Old English and Old Norse as a personal name or byname. Brun- was also a Germanic name-forming element. Some instances of Old English Brun as a personal name may therefore be short forms of compound names such as Brungar, Brunwine, etc. As a Scottish and Irish name, it sometimes represents a translation of Gaelic Donn. As an American family name, it has absorbed numerous surnames from other languages with the same meaning.

And this from the Internet Surname Database.

Recorded in many spellings from Brown, Broune, and De Bruyn, to Brauner, Bruni and Brunet, this ancient and prolific surname derives, from a pre 7th century Germanic and Anglo-Saxon word “brun” or the Olde Norse personal name “Bruni”. Originally this name would probably have been a nationalistic or tribal nickname for a person with a brown complexion or hair, although it may also have referred to someone who habitually wore brown clothing, such as a monk or cleric. The baptismal name as Brun or the Latinized Brunus, was a popular name in the period up to the introduction of surnames in the 12th century, see below. Irish name holders derive from 12th century Norman sources. In the west the Browne’s are the descendants of a knight called ” Hugo le Brun”, and form one of the ancient “Tribes of Galway”, as recorded in the “Annals of the nine kings”. The Browne’s of Killarney form a separate branch and are descended from a later Elizabethan settler. Amongst the early surname recordings are those of Hugh Bron of Stafford, England, in the year 1274, and Hugo Brun of Erfurt, Germany, in 1407. Christopher Browne is recorded as being one of the very first settlers in the new American colonies. In the very first listing of the colonists of New England, he is shown to be “living in Virginea, on February 16th 1623”.The first recorded spelling of the family name anywhere in the world is probably that of William le Brun, which was dated 1169, in the Pipe Rolls of the county of Northumberland, England. This was during the reign of King Henry 11, known as “The church builder”, 1154 – 1189.

© Copyright: Name Origin Research 1980 – 2016

Read more: 

There are variants:

Bronson, Browne

The name appears in other languages eg:

Braun, Braune, Bruhn, Brun, Brune (German),

Brühn (Hungarian),

Bruno, Brunetti (Italian)

It is, therefore, not surprising the name is widespread. It’s derived from a colour, and, that colour is universal. The widespread use of the surname is one issue but, there is a further complication. Families used repetitions of first names from their fathers, mothers grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, etc. And never more so than in the Brown family. So, you may have, say, the name Joseph Brown running down generations and across generations where brothers call their sons Joseph too. This repetition leads to much confusion particularly when two cousins marry woman with same first name and have similarly named children, as was the case with some of our Browns in the mid-1800’s

I have much to thank Tony Brown for in this research. In the years before the web, Tony spent many an hour at reference libraries in and around Birmingham. Without his invaluable help in digging out names and purchasing certificates, not to mention using his encyclopaedic memory of his close family, things would have been impossible.

With whom do we start? In all cases, you start with what you know for certain. I’m aware that’s obvious but, it’s so easy to get sidetracked by an exciting “possible” ancestor and to make assumptions. I know, I’ve made that mistake and had to retrace my steps.
Family history is a little like building stepping stones across a stream. You start on one bank of the brook, on solid ground, with a known person and, before you step on the next stone you make it is as solid as is possible – supporting every assertion with a provable fact – before you stand on that one. And thus it goes. Yes, there are times when you can move very quickly but, from my experience it pays to be careful. Substantiate your person with evidence and then question your result. This caution has been our practice with the Browns. Even so, Tony and I followed a false trail that was ‘oh so tempting’ only to discover some weeks later and after a visit to the area in which they supposedly lived that we had the wrong Joseph Brown.

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