The OLBY One-Name Study

The United Kingdom
Early References to the Olby Surname in England
The United States of America


A few years ago I began to suspect that most, if not all, the Olby birth, marriage and death registrations in England and Wales might be of descendants of Robert Olby and Francis Overed who married at St Andrew and St Peter, Blofield, NFK on 8th March 1790. This proved to be the case; more than 95% of the 500 or so Olby entries found in the GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes between 1837 and 2009 are attributable to descendants of this couple and the 20 or so unassigned entries are almost certainly those of their descendents.

The study, now registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies, initially concentrated on the Olby families of England and Wales. It is being extended to cover the remainder of the British Isles and the rest of the World.

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The United Kingdom

Civil Registration in England and Wales:
Summary of Olby BMDs by decade
On-Line Data

Much of the raw data is now on-line in summary form; references to living people are omitted:

Vital Records: Births, Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths, and Burials, etc.

UK Census returns 1841-1901

UK Census returns 1911

UK Wills and post-1857 Probate Calendars

UK Trade Directory Entries

Descendants of Robert Olby and Frances Overed [Tableau chart]   Last updated 26 Jan 2006

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Early References to the Olby Surname in England

Before 1790 occasional references to the name are found in a wide variety of documents, so far none of these have fitted into a coherent pattern or offered support for a 'family legend' that the Olbys were originally of Huguenot descent.

The earliest occurence of the surname unearthed so far is found in the Bernau Index, which has the following entries:

  Olby, William, Early Chan Pro Vol 1, page 247
  Olby, William, Early Chan Pro Vol 1, page 317
  Olby, John, Early Chan Pro Vol 1, page 317

These refer to the Early Chancery Index Volume 1 held in the Map Room at the National Archives, Kew. They are writs issued by Thomas Bert [or Britte] and Alice his wife, daughter of John Stace, smith, of Newington, about land in Newenton [Newington] in Kent held in feoff by William Olby and his son John, and date to the turbulent period 1457-1466 during the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV.

All the present day Olby families in England appear to descend from John Allby [or Alby], who married Mary Gedney at St. Andrew, Thorpe next Norwich, on 5th October 1757. In East Anglia the surname was generally spelled Allby or Alby until the early 19th century and although there are occasional records of the name Olby, for example at St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich in 1775, the earliest consistent uses of the modern spelling occur at Blofield and Postwick [both in 1790], Brandon in Suffolk in 1808 and Thorpe next Norwich in 1815.

John and Mary Allby's son Robert Olby married Francis Overed at Blofield on 8th March 1790, this couple lived in Postwick or Thorpe next Norwich until around 1800 after which the baptisms of their children began to appear in the records of St. Peter, Brandon. Robert had become a gunflint maker; he died in 1820, after which his widow Frances was served with a removal order because:

... Frances Olby Widow and William her son aged sixteen years and Anne her daughter aged twelve years did lately come to inhabit the said Parish of Brandon in the said County of Suffolk not having gained legal Settlement there ... and we do likewise adjudge, that the lawful Settlement of them the said Frances Olby and the said William and Anne her children is in the township of Mile End Old Town within the said parish of Stepney otherwise Stebenheath in the said County of Middlesex ...
This strongly suggests that the late Robert had established settlement rights in Mile End Old Town but no trace of him has yet been found there or elsewhere in Stepney. Frances had been born in Blofield, Norfolk, but would have lost her right of settlement there when she married Robert in 1790. The removal order was not enforced and Frances continued to live in Brandon for the next 20 years, receiving a small weekly payment paid by the parish of Brandon, reimbursed to them by the parish of Mile End Old Town.

An earlier removal order issued in 1817 concerns Robert and Frances' elder son, another Robert, who:

... Robert Olby, his wife Diana with their two children Mary of the age of three years and Robert of the age of two years have come to inhabit the said Parish of Brandon not having gained a legal settlement there nor produced any certificate owning them to be settled elsewhere, and that the said Robert Olby, Diana his wife and their said two children, Mary and Robert are actually become chargeable to the said Parish of Brandon ...
Robert junior was also a flint knapper; he was presumably unemployed because of the depression in the flintmaking industry following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Like his mother, Robert junior remained in Brandon, where he apparently prospered because by 1829 he was able to purchase under a mortgage 28 perches of land in Brandon on which he built a Primitive Methodist Chapel.

His brother William, referred to in the 1820 removal order, became a shareholder in the Brandon Gunflint Company, formed in December 1837 to consolidate the industry, resist monopolist pressures and place it on a go-ahead footing. The Company aimed at a working capital of 5,000, an immense sum in those days. 138 shares were issued at 25 each and 14 Brandon gunflint makers bought shares. Trade prospered and dividends of 10% were paid for three years, after which several years of decline ended with bankruptcy in 1849.

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The United States of America

The "History of Brookfield, NY", edited by John E. Smith [The Boston History Company, Publishers 1899] refers to Laban Olby, who may be the first person in the USA with the surname:
North Brookfield.- This is a small village in the northwest part of the town, a mile east of the railroad station of the same name.... Laban Olby, a colored man, kept a grocery from 1815 to about 1844. ... The hotel was built about 1844 by Laban Olby, who kept it five or six years; it has had numerous landlords and is now kept by Sherman Faulkner.
According to the Madison County Freedom Trail Map Laban Olby was born around 1785 in Connecticut, settled in North Brookfield in 1815 where he learned the blacksmithing trade and later opened a general store and hotel.

From the mid-19th century small clusters of Olby families appear in the U.S. Federal Censuses and in 1930 there were 27 occurences of the name. Two main branches have been traced:

  • Gotfred Olby, born in Norway around 1857, buried Columbian Cemetery, Portland, OR in 1932. Gotfred and his wife Emma Green [1863-1929] lived in Ashland County, WI and had eight known children.
  • Ole Olby, born in Norway on 1st February 1855. Ole and his wife Marit lived in Marshall County, MN and had 10 known children.
These two families and their descendants account for the majority of the 27 Olby records found in the 1930 Federal Census. Norwegian records for Gotfred and Ole Olby have not been located, it is not known when they emigrated to the USA or whether they are related.

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The United States Federal Census records imply that at least two families migrated to the USA from Norway. FamilySearch has records for around 20 individuals in Denmark dating from around 1730 to 1875.

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From Flints to Fireplaces, published in 2005 by Wild Oat Books, traces the history of some of the descendants of Robert Olby and Frances Overed from humble beginnings as gunflint makers in Brandon to their eventual success as builder's merchants in Ramsgate, Penge, Bognor Regis and Lewisham.

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Contact me by Email for further information about the Olby One-Name Study.

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This document is © Chris Newall 2016 and is freely available to fellow researchers.
It is not for sale or general publication.

Author : Chris Newall
Page created on : 8th August 2004
Last update : 7th October 2016