Thursday, 19 August 2010

Guest post - A Jolly time of it...

I was recently asked to do a guest post for Ancestry, and thought to myself, hey, I can nab that idea for here! So from time to time I am going to invite people to make a guest contribution to this humble blog - you're probably fed up with my blethering as it is! To get things underway, here's a contribution from a fellow genealogist in London, Emma Jolly. Emma knows more about Indian research than the Indian subcontinent does, but here she discusses the hunt for her very own Scottish heritage - and the elusive Jolly surname!

The JOLLY family in Scotland

I have been tracing my JOLLY ancestors for a number of years. As a London-based genealogist it is exciting to research family from afar and use different records and databases. ScotlandsPeople ( is essential for someone like me, but some research still needs to be done in the local area. Sadly, this can prove expensive in terms of travel. In 2007 I was lucky enough to make an ancestral pilgrimage to the grave of my 4x great-grandfather, William Jolly, and to explore the former county of Kincardineshire that my forebears called home. Since then I have been in touch with several distant cousins via GenesReunited ( and Ancestry ( as we try to piece together various gaps in our family’s past and exchange photos from our respective branches. Those based in Scotland have been of particular help to their exiled cousin!

The name JOLLY comes from a nickname meaning ‘jolly’ or ‘cheerful’. There have been other suggestions for its meaning but this is by far the most widely approved interpretation. As a result, the name is not obviously connected with a particular place or area of Britain. It may be, however, that it was only given as a surname by speakers of certain dialects or in specific areas.

Consequently, I have little idea why the name appears in some areas more than in others. It may be that the large concentrations of JOLLYs are produced by shared family origins in the given region.

In England, JOLLYs tend to have been concentrated in central Lancashire, East Anglia, London, the South coast and Cornwall – all areas near the coast. There are JOLLYs in Ireland, but like many with Scottish name, they may have originated in Scotland. In 19th century Scotland almost all Scottish-born JOLLYs were based in the modern Aberdeen Angus region – again, on the coast.

I am able to link my earliest JOLLYs to Glenbervie in the Howe of the Mearns in Aberdeenshire. My last Scottish-born ancestor began life in Montrose, Angus (then Forfarshire) but grew up in Benholm and Fordoun. Many of my relatives were baptised at the amazing St Cyrus Kirk, perched just above the sea. So, could the JOLLYs have been sailors?

There has been a suggestion that due to the ‘Auld Alliance’, the Scottish JOLLYs sailed from France, thus implying I am more ‘jolie’ pretty than ‘jolly’ ha-ha. Or, perhaps they simply sailed up from East Anglia. Either way, they seem to have appeared in Scotland mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries: in the OPRs on Scotlandspeople there are few records of JOLLYs in Scotland between 1538 and 1699. From 1700 to 1725 there were only 41 JOLLY baptisms in Scotland and 6 in Kincardineshire. But this could be the result of poor survival of records from certain areas – a number of my ancestors are unrecorded in the OPR baptisms.

So, the following questions remain:

• Where did the Scottish JOLLYs come from?

• Are all JOLLYs in Scotland connected?

If you have JOLLYs in your Scottish family tree, I would be very interested to hear about their origins!

Pics: William Jolly's grave in Benholm Church

Emma Jolly runs the London based Genealogic research service (, with her particular interests in London and Indian based research. In 2008 she was awarded Your Family Tree magazine's Beginner Book of the Year Award for her first book, Family History for Kids, and is a regular writer for several publications, including Discover my Past England, Family Tree Magazine and the Genealogists' Magazine.


Caroline Gill said...

A great post. I would also be interested to know if (or rather where) Emma has written or discussed ancestors in India.

Chris Paton said...

The online magazine Discover my Past England's issue 2 has an article by Emma on the British Library's India records, and issue 3 an article by her on researching death in India - both can be obtained online at for £2.50 each - view online or download in PDF format.


Caroline Gill said...

Thank you very much indeed for this, Chris. Just off to check out the site now...

Emma Jolly said...

Thank you, Caroline - glad you enjoyed it! As Chris has said, I have written on India in DPME. For further details, please see my Ancestors in British India webpage:

Anonymous said...

My Grandfather James Jolly was from Rescobie near Forfar, Angus, Scotland.

He came to the U.S. in 1882 and settled in Minnesota.

Debbie Kennett said...

A jolly good post! Did the Jollys go out to India or was that connection in another line? The Jolly surname would be an interesting one-name study. Have you ever thought of registering the surname with the Guild of One-Name Studies?

Emma said...

Hi 'Anonymous',

I am interested in your Grandfather James Jolly who came from Rescobie near Forfar, Angus, Scotland. do you have any further information? Is your tree on ancestry trees, or genesreunited where I could take a look?

Hi Debbie,
Thanks for your comments :)None of my JOLLYs in India as far as I know. However, my ggg grandfather, James, was last heard of as a ship's engineer. His records do not survive, but it's not impossible that he visited India onboard. At this stage it's conjecture. I need to investigate ships movements from Montrose.

I haven't registered with GOONS - I'll have to look into that!

Leeanne said...

My family surname is also Jolly, we come from Whithorn & Stranaer area. There was a TV programme once about our genealogy and was told our ancestors were African., Which does explain the prevalence of tightly curled 'afro type' hair. Who were slaves brought over on the boats. Its amazing what we can learn.

David Jolly said...

Excellant post very interesting.
I wonder if Emma has ancestors in the Kincardineshire area. I have a Grandfather Jamnes Jolly married to a Jane Buchan in April 1874 in Auchenblae. I would be interested to know
David Jolly