Variants of the family surname Olmstead
Over the years, there have been many variants of the family found in documents. Many of them may never have been actually used other than in a document written by one person who tried to write a name that was spoken by another.
There has been a long standing debate over what is the actual or proper spelling of the name; the answer is that which an individual actually uses. The historical use of the name was included in the 1912 genealogy; that information has been reproduced elsewhere on this website. In my forty plus years of collecting information about the family I determined that about sixty percent use the name with the “a” and the other forty percent do not; I’m not including other descendants of the Essex immigrants in who use another form in this breakdown.
In some instances that I have found that the primary usage is interchangeable, but maybe not be intentional.
On one of my New England trips in the late 1970s, I visited the Ridgefield Town Office where I was allowed to examine the original town record book. It was bound in heavy leather, brittle with age and I almost refrained from opening it but what I found was the first Town minutes (date 16xx) signed by Richard Olmstead. The “a” was very plain.
When I first started creating a nation-wide mailing list for Olmste(a)d research and the 1978 reunion I quickly determined that the split was about 60% with the “a” and 40% without. That holds true today. The other interesting thing here is that about 80% of the descendants to Richard of Norwalk & Ridgefield us the “a” while descendants of James of Hartford tend to use the shorter form of the name without the “a.”
At the 1978 reunion, one of those present told me that his family had always used Olmsted. When his son learned to write in school, the teacher told him the correct way to spell the name was Olmstead; it wasn’t for a few years later that the father found out about this but disregarded it. To this day, father and son still use the form that they grew up with.
My wife Mary’s grandfather Frank Olmstead’s marriage license has both spellings of the names. That document is filled out by the Town Clerk who got it right twice, but one time managed to leave the “a” out of the name. The first instance of Frank’s family line is his great-grandfather, Stephen (living with son Jacob) in Rauchtown, Lycoming Co., Penna. in the 1840 census. The family moved about 15 miles to Salladasburg and was recorded differently in other years: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900. In the 1970s I met two descendants, each from another brother of Jacob, who would have been great-grandchildren of Stephen; they told me the same basic story of their ancestors that had come “up the river” (Susquehanna) from southern Pennsylvania. Each of them pounced the name as Um’-stead rather than the with Olm or Alm which would be the English form. That oral history is my basis for thinking that this Olmstead family line is of Germanic extraction. Two members of the Stephen Olmstead line are participants in the DNA study and the result has put them 5000+ years distant from the English immigrant line but they also do not match any of the members of the Umstead DNA group.
Recently I was told another instance of a switch in form of the family name. There were a number of Olmsted families in Lawrence, Kansas who were in various businesses. Two were named George and they kept getting each others mail, checks, phone calls, etc. Finally one added the “a” to his name to seperate him from the others.
The family of Jacob Amstutz of the Canton of Berne, Switzerland immigrated to Tuscarawas Co., Ohio in 1850s. Though the family tried to keep the original name, in an “English” speaking society the use gravitated to Olmstead which has been used ever since the late 1800s. The census enumerator in 1860 wrote it Olmsted while the 1870 writer wrote Amstesll and Amsted.
Finally, we know of stories of immigrants arriving in the US at Ellis Island and other processing centers. When they are interviewed by the immigration officials who basically asked their name, age, and birth place, upon hearing the “foreign” (i.e., non-English) name either wrote down what they thought the name was phoenitically or in many instances just gave them a name. Many of these immigrants could not read and just accepted the name that was placed on their tag or other documents and when they were allowed entrance became a member of our society under their “new” name. The majority of those receiving the Olmste(a)d surname were of Germanic or Scandinavian origin.
Thirty-one forms of the surname were listed by the compilers in the 1912 genealogy who indicated that many were found in England but not necessarily in the United States.
In addition to Olmsted and Olmstead, I have found the following forms of the name in use in various documents. Included are families, primarily Scandinavian origin, who’s name was changed upon arrival or they adopted the Olmste(a)d name. Others are found in census–the enumerators often were poor spellers and many had bad handwriting skills.
This list is incomplete as I was not previously keeping a list; I need to go over 40 years of back “BC” (before computer) research notes.
Because of the confusion in many records and that caused by the compilers of the 1912 genealogy, in the early 1970s when I wished to have a genearic form of the name to encompass everyone, I inserted the ()s to create Olmste(a)d meaning that it referred to both the Olmstead and Olmsted individuals. This has been accepted by others as an easy way to reference both forms of the name including the Olmstead Family Association who changed the name in 1978 to Olmste(a)d Family Association.
There are other surname websites that may have a relationship or crisscross with Olmste(a)ds including: Umstead (www.umstead.org) — Umstead Family Genealogy Central, “It’s Great to be an Um” by Cris Hueneke.
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Place by the Elms © Walt Steesy, 2007
Last Updated April 22, 2017