Select Pearson Surname Genealogy

The given name Piers was adopted by the English from the Old French "Pierre” and “Piers," introduced by the Normans after the Conquest in 1066.  In England, because of the Biblical association with the apostle Peter, it was an early favorite.  Piers Plowman, for instance, was a narrative poem written by William Langland in the late 14th century. 

Pierson, Peirson, and finally Pearson emerged as surnames.  The given name Piers to the surname Pierson seems a natural progression.  But some dispute this association.  Pierson's origins in the northeast of England suggest a Viking inheritance.  Could there have been a hidden Viking name behind today's Pearson?

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Scotland.  The Pearson name was thought to have originated in Northumberland and migrated northwards. Wautier Pieresoune, a landowner in Berwickshire, appeared in the Ragman’s Roll of 1296.  One hundred years later, David Perisone and his brothers Alexander and John were recorded as Comptollers of the Customs for North Berwick. 

The Scottish branch of this family was said to have been founded about 1400 when Christopher Peirson left that area for Wanlockhead near Dumfries.
   The family, spelt in various forms, was later to be found in Dunfermline and Perthshire. 

Thomas Pierson, who died in the early 1500’s, was the forebear of the Pearsons of Kippenross near Dunblane in Perthshire.  Their family history was covered in David Pearson’s 1891 book Pearson of Kippenross.

.  The 1881 census distribution of the Pearson name was:
  • Yorkshire 24%
  • Lancashire 16%
  • Durham 7%
  • and Staffordshire 5%.
Yorkshire has the largest number of Pearsons.  Some have argued that the Yorkshire place-name Persen (long vanished) near Beverly in the East Riding was in fact the source of the name.  In 1452 Thomas Peirson was recorded as the sheriff of Yorkshire.  He died in 1490 and was buried in York Minster.  A line as Peirson or Pierson appeared in Howden parish in the East Riding in the mid 1500's.  And John Peirson lived at Lowthorpe nearby in the 1640's.

The late 1600's saw Pearsons
in north Yorkshire, where William Pearson was rector of Bolton Percy and chancellor of York Minster, and in south Yorkshire, particularly around Rotherham.

By the 19th century, the Pearson presence had shifted to the West Riding where the industry and the jobs were.  Two examples of Pearson enterprise then were:
  • In 1840 James Pearson began cloth manufacture in the village of Golcar near Huddersfield.  He crammed all his relatives in the village to help him and Golcar soon had the highest concentration of Pearsons in the county.
  • Around the same time Samuel Pearson started a small engineering and construction business in Bradford.  The business was transformed at the turn of the century into a large construction company by his grandson Weetman.  The Pearson Group was then transformed again over the course of the 20th century into a conglomerate best known in recent years for its publishing arm.
Elsewhere.  The geography of the Pearson name probably stretched from Durham in the north through Yorkshire and Lancashire into Staffordshire.  Anthony Pearson of Ramshaw Hall in Durham was an early Quaker in the 1660's.  And the Pearson name was appearing in the records of Kingswinford, Staffordshire near present-day Birmingham by the 1670's. 

Pearsons or Piersons in Ireland probably had a past English connection.  The Pearsons at Kilmore in Armagh arrived in the 1600's at the time of Cromwell.  Many of them were Quakers.  Later, from a family in north Yorkshre, came the Pearsons of Mountcross in county Cork.  Pearson in Donegal possibly derives from Pearsane.

Two of the early Piersons in America were related and both came from the same family in Howden, Yorkshire:
  • The first - Henry born in Buckinghamshire - arrived in Lynn, Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1639.  Two related Piersons, the Rev. Abraham Pierson and Bartholomew Pierson, were on the same ship.  A year later, Henry moved to Southampton, Long Island.  
  • The second - Thomas from Dewsbury in Yorkshire - came in 1661 and joined his uncle the Rev. Abraham Pierson in Branford, Connecticut.  In 1666 they left Branford to found the new town of Newark, New Jersey.   Abraham's son, also named Abraham, in 1701 became rector of what became Yale University.
These and other early Pearson lines in New England, as well as their antecedents in England, were described in Richard Pierson's 1997 book Pierson Millenium.     

There were Quaker Pearsons.  Thomas Pearson and his brother John came from Cheshire to Philadelphia in 1683. Samuel Pierson from Yorkshire was there by 1699.  Another immigrant with Quaker roots was Peter Pearson in Cumberland.  He sailed to Virginia in 1701.  He was a shoemaker by trade, but left his local Quaker community when he married a non-Quaker.  His descendants settled in Perquimans county, North Carolina. Meanwhile another Quaker, Joshua Pierson from Armagh, came with his son to Chester county, Pennsylvania in 1760.

Pearsons in America
included Pearsons from England, Scotland, and Ireland, a number from Sweden, and a few from Germany. 

Swedish.  The Swedish-American name could be Person, Persson, or Pearson or even possibly Peterson. 

Many Pearsons settled in Iowa in the early 1900's.  Louis Person arrived in Colorado at that time with his four brothers, Andrew, Nels, Sam, and Peter.  Interestingly, Nels, Sam and Peter kept the Person spelling; while Louis changed his name to Peterson and Andrew to Pearson.  There was also a case of a Per Mortenson who changed his name to Martin Pearson.

Canada.  Many of the Pearsons living in Québec are descended from Charles Pearson.  Charles Pearson, born in London, came to Quebec on a ship on which he was forcibly detained in 1808.  He settled in the area of Rivière-Ouelle and became the town's miller.  René Lévesque, the former Premier of Québec, was a descendant of one of Charles Pearson’s daughters.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearsons's roots were in Ireland and the Methodist church.  His grandfather, the Rev. Marmaduke Pearson, had arrived from Ireland in the 1870's and was the Methodist minister at Collingwood, Ontario.  His father Edwin was an itinerant preacher and would move his family around southern Ontario a great deal.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Weetman Pearson expanded his family’s firm in Yorkshire into one of the world’s largest construction companies in the early 1900’s.  He was ennobled as Lord Cowdray.
Karl Pearson
has been credited with establishing the discipline of mathematical statistics.   He founded the world's first university statistics department at University College London in 1911.
Lester B. Pearson
was Canada’s Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968 and the man who introduced universal health care there.

Select Pearsons Today
  • 63,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 41,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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