Select Curtis Surname Genealogy

The Curtis surname originated from the Old French curteis - meaning polite, refined, or well-bred – and was brought to England by the Normans.  The English version was curteys.  Chaucer wrote of his squire Curteys being lowly and serviceable.  Curteys entered service as a surname from the 13th century onwards.  The spelling later became Curtis and sometimes Curtiss. 

Some Hungarian immigrants into English-speaking countries adopted the Curtis surname.  One reason was that it approximated to the Hungarian surname Kertesz

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Select Curtis Ancestry

England.  The Curtis name turned up in both SW and SE England.

SW England
.  Curtis appeared as Curteys in Cornwall as early as 1305 when Ralph Curteys represented the borough of Lostwithiel in Parliament.  The Curteys remained influential in the town as merchants and civic leaders for the next hundred and fifty years.  The spelling later became Courtis.  It is thought that the Curtises of Polperro came from this family.   Thomas Curteys was a revenue officer there in 1401.  His Curtis descendants formed one of the principal families of Polperro in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Curtis name extended into Devon, Somerset, and Gloucestershire.  Curtises lived at Chew Magna in Somerset in the late 1600’s, including Joseph Curtis the clockmaker.  Another Somerset family line began with the birth of Robert Curtis at Chewton Mendip in 1711.  His grandson Robert was a cheese factor in Bristol.  Harry Curtis began faming in the Chew valley outside of Bristol in the early 1900’s and his farm is now with the third generation.

SE England
.  There were early Curtises in Kent.  A Curteis family was to be found at Appledore from about 1450.  They were later to be found at Tenterden where the 17th century mayors included Samuel in 1622, Edward in 1663, and Jeremy in 1696.  William Curtis of this family emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1632.  Another Kentish line began with Thomas Curtis, a yeoman farmer at Ash near Sandwich, who died there in 1631.  Four of his sons emigrated to Massachusetts in 1638.

Meanwhile John Curtis, another yeoman, was born at Worth nearby in Sussex in 1605.  Richard Curtis was born in Heathfield, Sussex in 1640.

James Curtis, who died in London in 1734, was the first in a line of sea biscuit manufacturers at Wapping.  His grandson William – popularly known as Billy Biscuit -
revolutionized the technology of biscuit baking and became the main supplier of ships’ biscuits to the Royal Navy.  He was Lord Mayor of London in 1795.  His son Charles was a manufacturer of gunpowder, his grandson Spencer a merchant trading in the West Indies

Elsewhere.  The Curtis name was also to be found in Nottinghamshire.  A Curtis family was associated with the village of Hucknall Torkard for centuries, their name first appearing in parish records in 1565.  The last of this line was John Curtis who died in 1777.  Meanwhile the Curtis bakers of Wapping were thought to have originated from Nottinghamshire.

Ireland.  The Curtis name appears to have been an English implant.  An early record was Ensign Matthew Curtis in the 1659 Clare census.

However, Patrick Curtis, born in 1746 at Stamullin parish in county Meath, was said to “have descended
from an ancient and respectable Irish family.”  He studied at the Irish college at Salamanca in Spain, acted as a spy for Wellington during the Peninsular War, and returned to Ireland as the Archbishop of Armagh in 1819.

John Curtis left Mountmellick in Laios for Philadelphia around 1838 and was later joined there by various other family members.  His sister Hannah Curtis who had stayed behind endured the horrors of the potato famine.

  There were a number of early Curtis arrivals in New England, notable among them being: 
  • William Curtis from Kent who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay colony with his family on the Lion in 1632.  They made their home in Roxbury.  His great grandson Daniel became the first in the family to move to Maine, settling in Harpswell in 1745.  His son Nehemiah was a militia commander during the Revolutionary War.  
  • John Curtis from Nazeing in Essex who came with his family in 1635.  He died within a few years.  His widow Elizabeth Curtiss and eldest son John then made their home in Stratford, Connecticut; while two other sons William and Thomas settled in Hartford and Wethersfield respectively.  
  • Henry Curtis who first appeared in Watertown, Massachusetts around 1635, later moving to Sudbury.  His son Ephraim was a famous Indian scout.  Henry Woods’ 1907 book The Family of Henry Curtis of Sudbury covered his line. 
  • the four sons of Thomas Curtis of Ash in Kent – Thomas, Richard, William and John – who came in 1638, settling in Scituate, Massachusetts,  Some of William’s descendants migrated north to Maine.  Harold E. Curtis’s book The Descendants of Thomas, Richard and William Curtis of Scituate was published in 1986.
  • while Deodatus Curtis arrived in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1640.  His descendants moved to Connecticut in the early 1700’s.  Eleazer Curtis fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards was one of the early settlers in Ohio.
Three lines from William Curtis of Roxbury extended in Massachusetts to: 
  • Dr. Benjamin Curtis, a surgeon in the Revolutionary War, and his grandson Benjamin Curtis, a US Supreme Court Justice,
  • James F. Curtis who fought as a young man in the War of 1812 and was killed in an early railroad accident in 1839.  His eldest son James settled in San Francisco in the 1850’s and then moved to Idaho.  A younger son Greely was a Union general in the Civil War who made his home in Manchester, Massachusetts.  Growing up at his Sharksmouth house there were two lady golfers, Harriot and Margaret Curtis, who gave their name to the women's golf Curtis Cup.
  • and Herbert Curtis, born in Roxbury in 1830 who also fought as a Union officer during the Civil War.  His son Tom was a winner of the 110 meter hurdles at the first Olympics in Athens in 1896.  Tom’s daughter Clarissa married the Russian Prince Michael (who had escaped the Bolshevik revolution) in Roxbury in 1921.  But this marriage ended in divorce in 1935.  
Also descended from William Curtis, this time via Daniel Curtis in Maine, was Captain John Curtis of Brunswick, Maine.  He traded cotton from Alabama to England in the years up to the Civil War.  He was with his ship in Mobile in 1861 when Alabama became the fourth state to secede from the Union.  A Captain John Curtis Memorial Library was dedicated in Brunswick by his son William in 1904.

From Maine, in this case Portland, came Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis.  He was forced to leave high school after his first year in 1866 when his family lost their home in the Great Fire of Portland.  He became a wealthy American magazine publisher whose periodicals included the Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post. 

Canada.  DNA testing has suggested that Garrett Curtis, who grew up in Boston, was a descendant of William Curtis of Roxbury.  Garrett became a master shipbuilder at Salmonier in Newfoundland in the mi-1800's.  A monument has been reected there in his honor.  The Curtis family who came to Bonavista Bay in the 1840's was from Dorset.

AustraliaA Curtis family from London was among the early settlers of Western Australia.  The first to arrive was Anthony Curtis who had visited the colony whilst with the Royal Navy and decided to settle there with his family in 1830.  He became a very successful businessman, first at Freemantle and later at Perth (a plaque on the footpath of St. George’s Terrace acknowledges his achievement).

His widowed mother Mary Curtis arrived at the colony in 1835 at the age of 70.  In 1853, at the age of 88, she was left destitute and penniless by the unexpected death of her son.  She survived by being the oldest cleaner employed by the Governor of Western Australia.  She died in 1861 at the grand old age of 96.  Her death was reported in the Perth Gazette as follows:

“Her death was not caused by disease or decay but from shock occasioned when a portion of her dress caught on fire.”

New Zealand
.  Gersham Curtis had emigrated as a boy with his family from Surrey to Canada’s Prince Edward Island in the 1820’s.   After his father died, Gersham decided to leave Canada for New Zealand.  He and his family arrived on the Lady Grey in 1855 and settled in Collingwood near Nelson.  He later tried his hand, unsuccessfully as it turned out, in the Otago goldfields before his death at Westport in 1901. 

Another early arrival in New Zealand was George Curtis who had come from London with his family on the Pekin in 1850.  Arriving in Wellington, he took up farming at the new settlement of Omata and prospered.  His sons Charles and Herbert also did well.  They and their sister Emma were keen hikers on the Mount Taranaki trails

Select Curtis Miscellany

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

Select Curtis Names

Patrick Curtis was an Irish clergyman, created Archbishop of Armagh in 1819, who became a strong advocate in England of Catholic emancipation.
Cyrus Curtis
 was an American publisher of magazines and newspapers, including the Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post.
Tony Curtis, born Bernard Schwartz, was a popular American film actor of the 1950's and early 1960's.  The actress Jamie Lee Curtis was his daughter.   
Richard Curtis has been one of Britain's most successful comedy screenwriters, for films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary.  He was born in New Zealand to a Czech refugee father

Select Curtis Today
  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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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