The Ormsby Surname

The following was taken from the London, England Genealogist. An issue prior to 1905. The surname has appeared with the following spellings:


An old tradition, dating back before the year 1050, says that the first original ancestor of Ormesby-Ormsby-Ormsbee was Orm, so called because he came from a Place of Elms (Etymology Dictionary by William Arthur, M.D.). Orm was the old Scandinavian word for Elm or Elm Tree, or Elm Trees. Bey, By, Bye were places, any places where people resided.

The original Orm lived in the Scandinavian Peninsula. He was a Lord. (Lord meant, not nobility but a person who owned or who controlled large tracts of land) Orm did. In that section, and during those times a rich man might have as many wives as his possessions might support. Orm had several and raised a large family of boys. As the boys grew to manhood, Orm followed the custom of those times and gave each of his male offspring a portion of the land he owned. When the youngest and last son reached manhood there was no more land, so this latest son required to seek and forge for himself.

He joined a Viking crew under the leadership of an old experienced Viking, who during about the middle of the eighth century plundered the coast of Scotland in one of those Long Ships of Rowing Galleries popular at that time among Vikings and Pirate Sea Kings.

On one of his excursions to Scotland, the Scots were better prepared and came out upon the sea to give battle. The Scots were getting the best of the fight when the old Viking called his crew together, together, asked them to fight harder, and promised to make that particular one the ruler of captured territory who should be the first to set foot on Scottish soil.

During the fight which ensued Young Orm had his leg severed just above the knee by the broad sword of the Scots. He tied it up. The Viking won, and as they neared the Scottish soil Young Orm suddenly arose, picked up his severed leg and threw it overboard onto the land and claimed the reward as being the first to put his foot on Scottish soil. He finally recovered from his wound and the Viking kept his word making Young Orm the ruler of the captured territory.

The termination bye meaning a place or settlement was added later, undoubtedly from the colony over which Orm was made ruler.

Many generations passed during which there was continual conflict between the Ormesbys and the King of England. The King's troops could not subdue the Ormesbys and the Ormesbys could not conquer England. At the time of the conflict with England which terminated in the complete subjection of Scotland, the Ormesbys had become a powerful clan and England offered a baronage to the then Ormesby leader if he would renounce his allegiance to Scotland and to his Clan and move himself and his personal family to Lincolnshire.

Ormesby did so renounce his Clan and Allegiance to Scotland and moved to Lincolnshire. Those who remained in Scotland fought until they could carry on the war no longer. A part of them submitted to English rule and remained in Scotland where the family still exists in large numbers. The greater part, however, refused to submit and emigrated to Ireland (northeast) where they are still a numerous people. Others moved to various sections, probably changing names according to the customs of the time.

The Ormesbys of Lincolnshire eventually became a massive family, and in the middle of the eleventh century, in a war with France, in which William the Conqueror played such an important part, the then, Baron Ormesby captured the daughter of a French Nobleman and held her for high ransom. The Baron's son, whose name was William, in defiance to his father's project fell in love with the supposedly beautiful girl; helped her to escape, and went with her back to the Northerly part of France known as Normandy. Here, because of his heroic act, he became a hero to the Norman people. William the Conqueror then took him into the army, and after the subjection of England in 1050 dispelled the leading Baron of the Ormesbys and in his place established Young William, giving him the title of William de Ormesby, Knight. Many of the Ormesbys, byes, bys, bees of today claim descent from this character, meaning, or should mean no doubt, to the clan of people whom he headed.

The story of Orm and the Viking expedition has come down from the time recording began, and is supposed to account for the tradition regarding the severed leg used in the Ormsby Coat-of-Arms. More of the story accounts for the way the historic William de Ormesby, Knight, of whom so many descendants are proud, come into being.

Additional Facts of Interest:

From: Colonial Families of America

Ormsby is a combination of the old Scandinavian personal (as distinguished from family) name "ORM" and the Danish word "BY" or "BYE" meaning "Town". Its original signification therefore, was "ORM'S Town" or possible estate. The Village of Ormsby in North Riding of Yorkshire, England is one surviving example of its original use as a place name. As a patronymic, Ormsby belongs to that large class derived from geographic locations.

William Elliot Ormsby wrote, in 1941, about Sir Richard de Ormesby:

The name of Ormsby is of Saxon origin and founded before the Norman Conquest. The name means, literally, "The dwelling of Orme." It was first spelled Ormesby meaning "By the Orme." It was taken by the man who lived there. That man was Sir Richard De Ormesby. He owned a large estate which he called Ormsby, leaving out the "e". That estate is now Ormsby Parish, in Lincolnshire, England. The castle he lived in was "The Orme". . . Sir Richard was established at "The Orme" in the early eleventh century. Because of his bravery, honest, and integrity, "William the Conqueror" allowed him to keep all his property and lands after the Conquest (1066) . . . They (various Ormsby spellings) all have Sir Richard as a common progenitor. (Provided by William Elliot Ormsby's great, great-grandfather, Heather Byrd).

Jim Ormsby <>

May 12, 2002

My name is Jim Ormsby and I am from a little hick town on the Gulf Coast called Clute, Texas. I started doing Ormsby family research in 1969, when I was in my mid-twenties. It had to be done by hand in those days, and it took weeks to get an answer, if you ever got one. I did a lot of research through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Genealogical Library in Salt Lake, and became very familiar with the Family Research Centers in England, including the Heraldic Historical Records of the Library of London. I hope you won't mind my making a few comments about our family's origin.

We are not decended from the native peoples of Scotland, but from Vikings. The Historical Records Center in London is quite clear on the matter; our root name is ORME, not ORM, and all the early generations after the original ORME spelled the name ORMESBY, not ORMSBY. It was only after there came to be political differences and split alliances that the name began to be spelled differently, as to differentiate one family's alliances from another. ORME means "snake", although not as docile as "elm tree", it is most significant from a Viking standpoint. The snake is a very powerful symbol in Viking religion and represents verility and strength. Based on heraldic records information, I believe that ORME came from Orme, Denmark, which was an ancient Viking settlement, around the year 495, and as your paper indicates, became a ruler of a portion of Scotland around that time. Descendants of ORME added the "sby" to indicate that they came from the land of ORME, and the name was further changed as political and territorial necessity required. Heraldic records show that there were three distinct family shields, depending on the era, and each has in common the arm holding the leg as if to throw it, giving credence to the legend of ORME's ascension to kingship as true. When written records began to be made around 700 or so, such legends were written as fact, when most could not be verified. The Coat of Arms seems to verify ORME's legend as fact.

This is the second record I have seen that mistakenly gives our family root name as ORM, and I hope you do not take offense at my aggressive posture regarding this issue. My own father paid about $500 for a so-called "family crest research" back in the 1970's. I was in the middle of my own research at the time, and he did not know of my results until I had proof and verification of my findings. When he proudly showed me his "official" documents, listing our family shield as having "a dove rising on the wind" in one corner, and (I don't even remember what the other items were) other ridiculous things, I couldn't contain my displeasure, but I didn't want my dad to feel bad, so I didn't say anything right away, rather waited about six months to show him my research and the true shields and crests that I obtained from the Library of London. I appreciate all the work that is done in the name of good, even the mistakes. My intention is to correct a mistake, not to insult the researcher, who has spent much time and effort to come to their conclusion. I might suggest that for truly ancient records about family histories, that one go to the likeliest place where those records might be found and depend on them, not someone else's opionon, even mine. Opinions are like armpits, everyone has at least two.

As genealogists say, good luck and good hunting! JimBO

Ormsby Family Tree