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The only way to find the Triffitts is to stop looking for them.


I know – we’ve only just met each other and already I’m suggesting a paradigm shift; a mental somersault, a different way to see. This’ll seem a little strange. If you’re anything like me, once the genealogy bug has hit, you stay focused on a thin narrative, entirely driven by ‘The Name’. We travel down a time-line, along an iron track of our limitations. Every now and then there’s a junction. Sometimes we have to get out and wait, hoping for the next train to Triffitt to come along. If it doesn’t have that Name – well, we’re not very interested. The Name is our bloodline; the Name is us.

Well, if you’re a Triffitt – it isn’t.


The Triffitts are nowhere to found in Yorkshire before 1730. There’s been just one lonely family in Lincoln since about 1700 – and no sign, in a complete sweep of the data banks – of anyone else.

Then, between 1730 and 1736, quite without precedent or any sign of extra-terrestrial activity, five infants appeared in various closely connected parts of Yorkshire. They appear to have spontaneously combusted. One appeared in Stillingfleet, three in Spofforth and one, possibly, in Whixley. They all have the surname Triffitt – more or less. Their father’s first names are recorded as Anthony, Henry and Thomas.  One doesn’t have a father at all. Run. Hide. A rogue strain of mystery Triffitts has slipped under the door and left its droppings in Yorkshire.

William TRIFFITT   About 1730 (of) Whixley,Yorkshire.

THOMAS TRIFFET  : 20 FEB 1732 Stillingfleet,Yorkshire.

MARY TRIFIT  : 08 JUN 1735 Spofforth,Yorkshire.

ISABEL TRIFFIT  : 04 May 1736 Spofforth,Yorkshire. Baptism recorded in Wetherby

FRANCES TRIFFIT  : 04 May 1736 Spofforth,Yorkshire. Baptism recorded in Wetherby


Apart from a brief flurry in Darrington in 1635, and the marriage of Robart to Mary, one of the many Wilberfoss girls in 1678 in York, there is no recorded Triffitt incursion into Yorkshire before these five mysterious souls. There are very few Triffitts  in the Parish records anywhere prior to our five virgin births. The trail runs cold.

There’s a very good reason for that. There aren’t any. There never were.

We’ve all been looking in the wrong place, hoist on our own Yorkshire petard.

Like most obvious solutions, this one has been staring us in the face all the time. In our innocent conceit we search for TRIFFITT, thinking that all the other spellings are wrong – when, really, it’s the other way round. At this time in Yorkshire history TRIFFITT is a corruption of another name. Our five virgin births are TRIFFITT because the registry clerk got their names wrong. They might just as easily be any one of these:


Now, take a moment. Which of these names is the least likely to be our guy? That’ll probably be him.

Check out the options – just do one thing while you’re reading…



It’s a whole different ballgame


Say it aloud. Amazing, eh? All these bizarre spellings suddenly make sense. They are all trying to spell

Trr – v – it.

That’s what our name sounded like in the mid seventeenth century.



The only time a genealogist, amateur or not, is really happy is when they have traced their family back to Adam and Eve. Nothing less will suffice. Scientific genealogists are only content when their family is traced back to the last frog that changed its name and merged into a human. One man I know was determined to trace his heritage back to just ten seconds after the Big Bang. He’s still researching. There are a couple of religious sects in the U.S.A., knowing that creation is fairly recent, content merely to trace their line back to the first Sunday after Genesis.

The best I can do for you rabid Triffophiles is to report on the good works of a Mr. Allen Mawer, M.A., at this moment revolving in his grave as I steal his research from a century ago into the earliest origins of our blessed, misspelt name.

It appears to be a marriage of inconvenience between two names: TREFFORD and TIRWIT.

TREFFORD first appears in the mid-twelth century; by 1189 it’s already TREIFORD, by 1268 TREFORD and by 1382 TREFFORTH. Mr. Mawer suggests that its probably the same name as TREYFORD, found in Surrey around the same time; spelt even earlier as TREVERDE, TRIFERD, TRI’FAD, TREFAD or TREUFORD which another linguistics expert suggests is derived from ‘tree-ford’‘one marked by a tree or made of timber’.


I lean heavily towards the second name.

In ancient Celtic the word ‘tirwit’ means ‘lapwing’ – whatever that is.

Pronounced ‘Trr – v – it.’

Haven’t we heard that somewhere before…?

The name is first recorded in 1229 where a Mr. TREWHITT appears in Rothbury. In 1255 that name is TYREWYT; in 1296 TYRWYT; by 1327 it’s TIRWYTH, by 1346 TIRWHITE, by 1356 TIRWITH, by 1428 it’s become TIRWHIT, by 1542 TYRWHITTE and seems to settle as TREWHYTT.

Here’s that mental shift again. We look at a word and pronounce it our way – not theirs.  Just keep ‘Trr – V – it’ in your head.

It helps a lot if you do that “V’ thing, too. Then you end up with this: TREVHITT * TYREVYT  * TYRVYT  *  TIRVYTH  *  TIRVHITE  *  TIRVITH  *  TIRVHIT  *  TYRVHITTE  *  TREVHYTT. Once again, all these odd spellings make sense.

Then it becomes TREVITT, TRVITT… well, you’ve met all these guys above.


So what’s a ‘tirwit’?



 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vanellinae are any of various crested plovers, family Charadriidae, noted for its slow, irregular wingbeat in flight and a shrill, wailing cry. Its length is 10-16 inches. They are a subfamily of medium-sized wading birds which also includes the plovers and dotterels. The Vanellinae are collectively called lapwings but also contain the ancient Red-kneed Dotterel. A lapwing can be thought of as a larger plover.

The traditional terms “plover”, “lapwing” and “dotterel” were coined long before modern understandings of the relationships between different groups of birds emerged: in consequence, several of the Vanellinae are still often called “plovers”, and the reverse also applies, albeit more rarely, to some Charadriinae (the “true” plovers and dotterels).

In Europe, “lapwing” often refers specifically to the Northern Lapwing, the only member of this group to occur in most of the continent.


Well, now we know.

I’m as amazed at this turn of events as you are.

A bird? A bloody Plover?

I need to lie down.


Leave a Comment
  1. Christopher Triffitt / Jan 30 2012 12:44 pm

    Nigel, an alternate (and sadly uncredited) version of the origins of the name:

    “Recorded in several modern spelling forms including Tyrwhitt, Truett, and Truitt, this is a surname of English origins. It is locational from a village called Trewhitt in the county of Northumberland. First recorded in the year 1115 as Tirwit, and later in 1236 as Tyrwit, it derives from the pre 7th century Olde English or possibly Norse words ‘tyri-pvit’ meaning the meadow (pvit) in the resinous woods, presumably a reference to fir or pine forests. Locational surnames are usually ‘from’ names. That is to say they were surnames given to people after they left their original homes to move elsewhere. The easiest way to identify a stranger was to call him, or sometimes her, by the name of the place from whence they came. Spelling being at best erratic and local dialects very thick, often lead to the development of ‘sounds like’ forms. In this case early examples of the surname recordings taken from surviving authentic records include: John de Tyrewhyt, a local land owner and witness at the assize court of Northumberland in 1256, William Tyrwhit of Gloucester in 1383, and William Truwet in the register of the Guild of Corpus Christi for the city of York, in the year 1515.”


    • thedogster / Jan 30 2012 10:18 pm

      Not so alternate – if you look closely at the text above. Your uncredited source is very likely to be the same one as I used : Mr. Allen Mawer, M.A., My piece is really about the jump in perception needed to find our specific part of the family – not chapter and verse on the entire history of the clan back to Adam. That’s a whole other matter. You can write that one. lol.

  2. Christopher Triffitt / Jan 31 2012 10:44 am

    Could well be. No mention of the bloody plover though (at least in this excerpt). In Yorkshire Lapwings are also called PEEWITs after their cry. Peewit…Tyrwit? Maybe! Chris

  3. thedogster / Jan 31 2012 5:40 pm

    I’ll have to find my reference. Mawer mentions either forests or tirwits. Your source is as good as mine right now. Difficult to focus on this when on the road – tomorrow Cambodia. On second thought, reading your piece more carefully, the language doesn’t sound like Mawer. He was writing a century ago. This reads like a far more contemporary piece – although, till I find my source again, I can’t know whether it’s simply a rewrite of Mawer.

    Just found this:
    High Trewhitt, England is a village in the North-East of England. It is 276 miles (444km) north of London and 63 miles (101km) south east of Edinburgh.

    Check this out as well:

    Curse you Chris – now you’re dragging me back to the beginning of time. I’ll have to make a separate chapter to collate all this information and see what conclusions we come up with. The more I think about it, the more rational this seems to be – but my Mr Mawer is one serious dude. I’ll take my lead from him.

    Here’s some MAWER: “The place-names of Northumberland and Durham” 1891
    I found this deep inside it: pages 199 & 200 TREWHITT

    Trefford (EgglescHff). 1189 D.S.T. Treiford; 1649
    Comps. Trafford. (Coatham Mundeville) 1268 D.Ass.
    Tre(f)ford ; 1382 Hatf. Trefforth.

    Probably the same as Treyford, Suss, [tri’fad, trefad],
    earher Treverde, Triferd, Tre{u)ford, which Roberts [s.n.)
    explains as ” tree-ford,” i.e. one marked by a tree or made
    of timber, but the phonological development is difficult.

    Ass. Tyr{e)wyt; 1296 S.R. Tirwyth; 1327 Inq. a.q.d.
    TirwhUe ; 1346 F.A. Tirwith ; 1356 Newm. Tirwhit ; 1428
    F.A. id. ; 1436 Ipm. Tyrwhitte ; 1542 Bord. Surv. Trewhytt.

    An unsolved problem. It is impossible to say whether
    the name has anything to do with Dial, tirwhit = lapwing.
    This is probably the source of the surname Tyrwhitt.

    Trewick (Bolam). c. 1250 T.N. Trewick ; 1638 Freeh.

    O.E. ^reo-ze’ic=dweILing by the tree. Cf. Treeton, Yorks.

    Trewitley (nr. Hebron). 1255 Ass. Thurwyteley ; 1314
    Ipm. Tirwhitley ; 1663 Rental Trewhitley sheets.

    ” The clearing of i)orvid’r.” v. Lind. s.n., who gives
    other forms {Truth, Trwd, Toruid, Toruit, Torved) which
    help to explain the later developments. The name may
    also have been influenced by the not very distant Trewhitt

    (v. supra).

    I parked it here a while ago for later use:

    Have fun…

  4. Heath Triffett / Jun 19 2012 7:16 pm

    I’d be looking more closely at the name “Trivett” or “Trivet” I personally believe that’s where the name derived from. There were Trivetts in Britain since the Norman invasion and it’s quite easy to see how someone could mistake a v sound for an f sound.

    • thedogster / Jul 2 2012 12:13 am

      Hey Heath, I think as you read the chapters you’ll find that I’d worked that out. Bravo you for arriving at the same conclusion. Cheers.

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