their antecedents. And yet among all ranks of people, from the highest to the lowest, there is some curiosity upon the subject, which, though usually languid, is always ready, should circumstances so direct, to burst into a flame.
It is a pity, however, that this flame should be fed with improper fuel to the extent that it is. When a new man rises up above the mean to such a degree that he thinks it necessary to inquire into his ancestry, his first conclusion is that he must necessarily be related to the best-known family of the name he happens to bear. Should that name be Howard, he considers himself related to the house of Norfolk; should his patronymic be Percy, he deems himself sprung from the same ancestry as the Duke of Northumberland; and if his name be Herbert, he claims affinity with the ennobled family of that name. While his ardor is fresh upon him, in his ignorance he probably applies to some professed pedigree-monger, who at once furnishes him with the missing links between himself and the great family he considers himself to belong to, and affixes to the sophisticated article the trademark, the coat-of-arms and crest, which belongs to the real thing; thereby confirming the parvenu in his ideas, and satisfying him that his views are correct. Of course it may be that the Howard in question is really sprung from the same ancestry as the Duke of Norfolk; and, indeed, the longer back a family can be traced to have existed, the more likely it is that some of its collateral branches will have sunk down to a lower level of society and have lost all knowledge of their origin. In fact, in the neighborhood of the seat of an old family are usually to be found persons bearing the same name, in all ranks of life, from the yeoman to the laborer. Perhaps they are not all related, for before surnames became fixed in the lower ranks of life the name of a leading family might have been assumed by persons whose connection with it was not that of blood, but of servitude or tenancy, or of some similar nature. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a practice existed of alienating coats-of-arms from one person to another by deed, and grants by barons to their tenants of their own bearings more or less modified were not uncommon. If this occurred with matters so important as coats-of-arms were in those times, we may be sure that the same thing went on with regard to surnames; and in the rush to secure a name which must have taken place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and which worked from above downward, the name of a neighboring family which was already provided with that desirable appendage must frequently, either with or without permission, have been assumed or obtained; sometimes, perhaps, without any connection at all with the original owners, but merely because such a name was already in existence.
The earliest documents in which names occur in any plenty, and from which we can judge of their distribution, are parish registers. In these we find that in each parish there is usually a marked preponder-