Cowgill

Surname Saturday – Cowgill

The surname Cowgill appears in my tree thirteen times at the moment.  None of the people are in my direct line of ancestors.  They are wives, husbands or in-laws of cousins – so not close.

According to surnamedb the name has two possible derivations.

The first is from the early Medieval English or Olde French ‘cokille’ which means ‘a shell’ or ‘cockle’.  It is suggested that this surname may have been applied to pilgrims to the Shrine of St. James of Compostella who sewed shells on their clothes as a sign of pilgrimage.  A cockle-hat (with a shell stuck on it) was also worn as a sign of pilgrimage.  Here’s an article called the Way of St. James in Wikipedia – so make up your own mind.

The second possibility is that Cockle is a locational name (from Cockhill) from a place of the same name in the West Riding of Yorkshire.  The name having been corrupted to Cowgill or Cockell in some directories.

The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Thomas Cockel, which was dated 1198 in the Pipe Rolls of Northampton.

Alternatively information can be found on the Internet suggesting that the name also has origins in Scotland.

A family in the Pictish tribe of ancient Scotland is said to be the first to use the name Cowgill.  They lived in the lands of Cargill in east Perthshire where the family at one time had extensive territories.

In medieval Scotland names were more often spelled according to sound than any regular set of rules.  So over the years Cowgill has been spelled as Cargill, Cargyle and Kergylle amongst others.

Some noteable Cowgill’s include:-

Bryan Cowgill (1927-2008) – BBC television executive and pioneer behind Grandstand and Match of The Day

George L Cowgill (b1929) – American anthropologist and archaeologist

Collin Brannen Cowgill (b1986) – American professional baseball player

Tombstone Tuesday – Thomas’s Tale

I guess there is nothing remarkable about this tombstone.  It’s not especially grand or pretentious in any way.  The tombstone is at the grave of Thomas Dawson and his wife Sarah (Cowgill).

There isn’t any glowing eulogy – just a simple message In Memory of.  Is anything else really necessary?

As you will see from the photograph (apologies for the poor quality) Thomas was born in 1863 in the village of Cowling, West Yorkshire.  He is my 2nd cousin 3x removed.  He had a sister, Sarah born c1857.  Their mother was Priscilla Dawson.  I haven’t been able to find any evidence of who the father was.

Thomas worked in the local mill as a cotton warp dresser and his sister Sarah worked as a cotton weaver.

In 1888 at the age of about 25 Thomas married Sarah Cowgill, a local girl from the same village.  They had two sons, Watson (named after his great grandfather) born c1892 and Ernest born c1896.

I get a real sense that this little family unit stuck together and relied on each other.  The census returns show that right up to 1901 Thomas, his wife and two sons, and sister Sarah were living with Priscilla.

Within seven years three of them would die.

Priscilla died in 1903 about a year after her daughter Sarah.  Thomas passed away in 1908 at the age of 45 and after only 20 years of marriage.

The remarkable thing about this story for me is that Sarah lived a further 42 years until 1950 and died at the age of about 86.

I hadn’t bothered to get a copy of Thomas’s death certificate but writing this post has persuaded me to send off for it.  I am interested to see what caused his death at such a young age.  I know times were hard in those days yet Sarah lived a long life and, I assume, raised two sons on her own.