Select Tyson Surname Genealogy

The origin of the surname Tyson is not clear.  It could have come from the Old French tison, meaning "firebrand," and be a nickname for someone with a fiery temperament; or it could have been a variant of the surname Dyson (from Dennis).   Gilbert Tyson (or Tesson) held the Alnwick estate in Northumberland in the days before the Norman invasion.  But his line died out in the 12th century.

In America Tyson could have evolved from the German Thyssen or Dutch Tijssen.

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England.   There were Tysons as sheriffs and mayors of Bristol, from whose number came Edward Tyson, the noted scientist and physician.  But the main concentration of Tysons was further north, in Cumberland.

Cumberland  Tyson has been very much a Cumbrian name (it ranked 22nd among the list of most common Cumbrian surnames in 1829) and was particularly to be found in the Lake District areas of Langdale, Eskdale, and Wasdale.  The poet William Wordswoth boarded with an Ann Tyson at Hawkshead when he attended school there in the 1780's (her cottage is still standing).  More recently, Tim Tyson was the local shoemaker in Grasmere and today Alan Tyson is the mayor of Cockermouth.

By the early 19th century, the Tyson name had extended to the Cumbrian coast, to the shipping community at Maryport and the mining community at Workington, as the following account testified:

"I was born in Whitehaven in 1919 and the Tysons were my mother's family.  I had six brothers and they all worked in the pits at one time.  Grandmother Tyson was one of the "screen lasses" who went to London in the 1880's as the Government wanted to stop women working on the screens."

Elsewhere  Tysons also moved south into Lancashire.  Thomas Tyson came to Ulverston, then in Lancashire, from Cumberland in the 1770's.   The 1891 census in fact showed more Tysons in Lancashire than in Cumberland.

America.  Early Tysons in America may have had English origins, but not necessarily.  A Thiessen family from the German town of Krefeld arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1680's and became Quakers there.  Reiner Tyson was one of the early settlers of Germantown.  These Tysons later were prosperous merchants in Baltimore and Elisha Tyson a prominent abolitionist there.

The origin of earlier Tyson arrivals into Northampton county, Virginia in the 1660's is uncertain.  Legend has it that they came from Wales.  But the early presence of names such as Matthias and Cornelius might suggest Dutch or German roots instead. 

These Tysons moved south into North Carolina in the early 1700's (some of their lines were chronicled in Roger Kammerer's 1987 book The Tyson and May Genealogy of Pitt County, NC).  From there they spread into Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama.  It is believed that John W. Tyson, the founder of Tyson Foods in Arkansas, came from this family.

There were also Tysons in America from Germany

Caribbean.  The Tyson name has been common for some reason on Nevis St. Kitts, the smallest islands on the Caribbean Windward island chain.  The name might have remained obscure had not a Tyson family from Nevis sought to better themselves in New York.  Their daughter was the noted American actress Cicely Tyson who married the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis in 1981.   

Australia and New Zealand.  Some Tysons from Cumberland headed this way in the 19th century, such as:
  • John Tyson from the mining town of Workington who left for Australia in 1860 in search of gold
  • and Joseph Tyson and his brother Abraham who emigrated to Canterbury, New Zealand later in the 1860's.
But the most celebrated of these Tysons was James Tyson, born in Australia in 1819 to a convict mother from Cumberland.  A cattle rancher, he became a byword for wealth and a legend in his lifetime.  When he died in 1898 without leaving a will, many Tysons stepped out of the woodwork to seek a share of his fortune.

Select Tyson Miscellany

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

Select Tyson Names

Edward Tyson was a 17th century scientist and physician, commonly regarded as the founder of modern comparative anatomy.
James Tyson was a legendary Australian rancher of the late 19th century.
John W. Tyson founded Tyson Foods in Arkansas in the 1930's.
Frank Tyson, nicknamed "Typhoon," was the English cricketer and fearsome fast bowler of the 1950's.
Cicely Tyson is an American actress of Caribbean roots.
Mike Tyson rose from the streets of Brooklyn to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Select Tysons Today
  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 4,000 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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