Select Houston Surname Genealogy

Houston is a Scottish clan name that originated with Hugh de Padvinan, a Norman knight templar, sometime around 1160.  His lands in Renfrewshire came to be called Houston.  This either means Hugh's town or, more likely, is a derivation from the Gaelic Uisdean.


Houston's spelling varies.  The Scottish clan can be Houston, Huston, or Houstoun.  In Ireland there has been Hughston and Huseton as well as Houston and Huston.  Today, the numbers are approximately 75 percent Houston and 25 percent Huston.  There is also the rare Houfton name.


The pronunciation also varies.  This is most evident in Houston place-names.  New Yorkers say "How"-ston, Texans say "Hue"-ston.  "How"ston Street in New York was named after the aristocratic Scotsman William Houstoun; the city of "Hue"ston in Texas after the Scots-Irish Sam Houston who defeated Mexico to deliver Texas to the United States. 

The American physicist William "How"ston must have been confusing to his friends as he lived in "Hue"ston for most of his life.  

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Scotland.  The first recorded Houston was Sir Finlay de Hustone who appeared on the Ragman Roll in 1296 of those swearing fealty to the English king.  His family held Houston castle and the surrounding village in Renfrewshire until 1740, after which time they based themselves in Whitburn, West Lothian.  However, a Houston branch which had set themselves up nearby, the Houstons of Johnstone, prospered through the coal mines and cotton mills on their estate.  Another branch in Wigtownshire, the Houstons of Cotreoch, can be traced back to the early 1500's.

The main line of Houstons were prominent in court affairs in the 16th and 17th century, made baronets by Charles II in 1668, and subsequently prospered in the 18th century from their American holdings (to such as extent that, after the Revolutionary War, they renounced their Scottish title in favor of their American position).  Meanwhile, many other Houstons had taken up the opportunities that had become available in Ireland.

Some Houstons did remain.  The name spreads across Lanarkshire and into Ayrshire.  Sir Robert Houston of the Renfrew side of the family grew wealthy from his shipping venture in Liverpool in the late 1800's.  In the end, however, he was very much upstaged by his louder-than-life wife, Lady Lucy Houston.  

Ireland.   Houstons came to Ireland in the 17th century as a result of the Scottish plantations (of Protestant settlers), soldiers under Cromwell who stayed, and, later, persecuted Covenanters.  They settled mainly in the Ulster counties of Antrim, Derry, Armagh, and Down.

An early arrival was Alexander Houston who operated a flax mill in Broughshane, county Antrim.  David Houston was a Covenant minister who sought refuge in Ulster.  He was present at the siege of Londonderry in 1689 and lived out his last years in county Antrim.  John Holmes Houston was one of the founders of the Belfast Bank that was established in 1808.

Not all Houstons were well-to-do.  During the early 1700's many Houstons lost their tenancies and there began an exodus out of Ireland to America.       

The Scots Houstouns ("How"-stouns), as they called themselves, were one of the wealthiest families in America at the onset of the Revolutionary War.  Sir Patrick Houstoun was an early settler in Georgia, the owner of the Rosdue and Retreat plantations.  A Loyalist, he lost out after the War.  But son William took the American side and was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress in New York.  Another son John became the Governor of Georgia in 1784.  Their story is recounted in Edith Johnston's 1950 book The Houstouns of Georgia.

There was a Huston family in Wells, Maine dating back to the early 1700's (as described in Philip Harris's 1952 book Hustons of New England).   David Houston came to Londonderry, New Hampshire from Ulster around 1720.  His son Samuel was a member of George Washington's elite Life Guard until about 1780.

Scots Irish Arrivals  However, the main Houston/Huston influx was of Scots Irish and they headed further south, into Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina from the 1720's to the 1740's:
  • John Houston arrived in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in the 1720's and settled in the Pequea valley.  The limestone house which he built in Leacock township still stands.
  • another John Houston arrived in the same county in 1734.  A descendant David Houston was one of the first settlers in Kansas.
  • Samuel Huston was an early settler in Cumberland valley, Pennsylvania in the 1730's
  • and David Houston was one of the first land-holders in the western part of North Carolina at this time.
Then there was the John Houston who arrived in Virginia in the 1740's and whose family later migrated to Tennessee.  The grandson was a certain Sam Houston. 

"Sam Houston was a wild boy.  Born in the Shenandoah valley, he had run away in 1809 from the farm in Tennessee that his family had moved to after his father's death - to live with the Cherokee Indians.  He received little formal education, less than six months he himself said later."

This Sam Houston rose to become Governor of Tennessee, but departed in acrimonious circumstances.  He moved to Texas and improbably led and won the war for Texas independence.  The Rev. Samuel R. Houston, the son of a first cousin to the Texas hero, published his book Biographical Sketches of the Houston Family in 1882.       

John Huston captained a schooner which supplied provisions to the British army at Fort Lawrence, Nova Scotia in the 1750's.  He subsequently settled there and was an important figure in the early history of the area (as farmer, merchant, and politician). 

Another John Huston had come to Ontario from Ireland (via New York) sometime around 1818.  He was a surveyor in the Peterborough area and an active correspondent with relatives back in Ireland.  Much of this correspondence has been preserved.   .
Charles Huston arrived in Quebec in the 1840's.  His descendants later headed west to Manitoba.  At the same time came Alexander Huston, the forebear of some much more famous Hustons from Ireland.  This family was to include the actor Walter Huston and his son, the film-maker John Huston.

Select Houston Miscellany

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

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Sam Houston
who defeated the Mexican army in 1836 was the first Governor of the state of Texas.  The city of Houston was named after him.
Charles W. Houston was the civil rights lawyer who did much to dismantle the Jim Crow laws and paved the way for the historic 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
John Huston, of Scots-Irish and Canadian roots, was the maker of many classic American films of the 1940's and 1950's - such as The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen.
Whitney Houston was a hugely popular American singer in the 1990's.  Her cousin was Dionne Warwick and her godmother Aretha Franklin.

Select Houstons Today
  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 9,000 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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