Origins of this Fox Line

                                                                        ORIGIN OF THE FOX LINE


The advances in DNA testing, and the development of a reasonable data base of results has allowed us to trace the origins of this “Fox Line” to Western Norway.

In all likelihood, these men of Viking origin settled peacefully in Lancashire in the immediate years following 900 AD, but well before the advent of surnames in the 1300s.  They probably settled in Ireland first, and then sailed up the river Lune, to settle in and about Lancaster. 

It was in the year 902 that the rulers of English Mercia, Ethelred and his wife Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred, came to an agreement with the Hiberno-Norse (a mixed group of Irish and Norse settlers and their descendants) from their long-established colony of Dublin, which allowed peaceful Viking Settlement in Lancashire. In the year 918, the Irish King of Leinster raised up a force of native Irish that drove the larger measure of Irish-Norwegians in Dublin out of the colony. They took their boats across the Irish Sea, where they settled along the Fylde and coastal areas south of the Ribble.  They also settled in Cumbria, the Ribble valley of Lancashire (where there was already a substantial colony of Danes and Norwegians) and in the Mersey estuary where they established settlements like Croxteth and Toxteth. 

The name of Liverpool may derive from this period, from Old Norse words meaning 'muddy creek'.  The Ribble was already part of the established Norse Viking trade route between Dublin and York. 

The name of the farm this line of Fox’s settled in Lancashire is called “Scale”, a Norse word for a clearing, a small hut, or a settlement in a clearing.  We know from other research that our Fox line most likely settled here in the mid to late 1500’s, and were the first permanent settlers in what was previously a Kings Chase, or hunting ground, which was opened up for settlement about this time. It is tempting to surmise that John Foxe, the earliest known resident of “Scale”, and most likely the first, knew of his Viking origins when the farm was named, but this is unlikely after 600 years.  John was born between 1550 and 1560.  Sheep are still counted in Norse by farmers today in Lancashire. One would assume then, that Norse words were used for other purposes, such as the first dwelling there. 

Genetic testing of the “Y” chromosome for this Fox line has found the genetic markers to classify this line as the Northern variety of Haplogroup I1c  (eye - one - see), a variation of a common northern European haplogroup.  A concentration of this variation is found along the eastern shore of Ireland, and the western shores of Lancashire.  Testing the male line is much more useful for determining recent relationships, say in the last 1000 years, than is testing the female line (mtDNA, or mitochondrial DNA) , which mutates very slowly, and may indicate people who share the same “Mother” in the last 10,000 years. 

According to the home page of the recently formed I1c Y-Clan Study, our founder was the son of an I1* man, believed to be a member of the Gavettian culture, also called the Perigordian culture of Upper Paleolithic Europe.  They are spread thinly throughout Europe, which suggests they are direct descendants of an early indigenous European community.

The ivory carving found at Landes, France, dated within the period of Gavettian Culture, is about 24000 years old.  The I1c Y-Clan is thought to have branched from the I1* before the last glacial maximum, 18000 years ago.  It is further thought that they may have wintered this last glacial maximum in southern France.  Their staple diet at this time was reindeer. 

How can we be sure that since the advent of surnames there was not at least one case of illegitimacy or adoption (termed a “non-paternal event”), which would completely destroy our theory of the origin of this Fox line?  The confirmation by other distantly related Fox lines through DNA testing would seem to be the only way.  Fortunately we have one such confirmation.  Jon Fox of Nevada, USA, is also a participant of the very well administered Fox Name DNA research project, organised by Roots Web, a Genealogical Non-Profit Group.  Jon’s earliest known Fox ancestor, Thomas Fox lived in Garstang in the mid 1700s, only 15 miles from Wray, where our John Foxe lived at “Scale”.  The measurement of time by the degree of variation in the DNA markers is still in its infancy, but knowledge to date indicates that Jon and the descendants of our John Foxe, share a common Fox ancestor in the last 800 years, with the highest probability of this relationship existing about 600 years ago.   

The Normans introduced and forced the adoption of Surnames by the English, from the 1200s on.  They were adopted first in the south of England, but met some resistance in the north, where widespread usage of surnames may have been as late as the early 1400s.  This then indicates that the common ancestry of these two Fox lines goes back to the time of adoption of surnames in Lancashire. Unfortunately, it will probably never be possible to more precisely establish the relationship between the Thomas Fox of Garstang of the 1700s and John Foxe of “Scale”.  Interestingly Thomas was a preferred first name in John Foxe’s family too.  John Foxe (1550?-1621) called his first son Thomas, and we think a Thomas was also his uncle. 

There are now over 40 Fox DNA test results in the study, including 7 originating from Lancashire and Yorkshire, but except for only one other case, none of these Fox’s seem to be related.  How could this be?  

In his recent book, Adam’s Curse, Bryan Sykes suggests that if one allows for a 1.3% non-paternity rate per generation, over the space of 700 years, only 50% of people  would retain the same name as their real ancestor over this period.  Accordingly we could expect that say 50% of the Fox DNA tests would be completely random and unrelated, but that the others would be descendant from men who called themselves Fox for the first time.  The fact that the great majority of the Fox surnames show no relationship in the DNA test results must indicate that the origins of this name are multi-sourced for the most part.  In fact, what we now know from the DNA test is that, at least through the Male line, one Fox probably only has a 5% (or less) probability of being related to another with the same surname. 

The 1891 census of England shows the percentage of respondents with the surname Fox in each county.  This shows Yorkshire as having the highest proportion of Fox surnames of any shire, at 18%.  The Fox name is common in Lancashire too, at 11%.  We then find that the usage drops to almost zero (1 to 3%) in the adjoining shires.  London is the exception, with a 13% usage.  If we accept that people did not move from shire to shire much before the time of the 1891 census, we could draw the conclusion that the origin of the name was adopted simultaneously in Yorkshire/Lancashire, and strangely too in London, and that the few percent in other shires could be completely accounted for by a small level of migration. 

We could understand that where there is a concentration of particular surnames in Yorkshire and Lancashire, that they could be derived from place names.  Lancaster and Melling for instance, are well known surnames in our area of interest.  With the exception of two small hamlets, Foxup, and Fox Holes, there is no town or area in Lancashire or Yorkshire that has the name Fox, or incorporates it in some form or other in a place name.  The hamlet of Dowbiggin, about 30miles NE of Lancaster, has given its name to a small group of descendants from there, so our Foxup and Fox Holes may well be the origin for some, but surely not most, of our Fox ancestors.  The Scots took the name of their clan as a surname in many cases, but this would not seem to apply here. 

The other explanations for the origins of surnames are occupations,  “son of” a Christian name, such as Peterson, or a nickname, to reflect red hair, like a fox, or cunning or crafty, like a fox.  If this were the case, why wasn’t the incidence of Fox more or less uniformly distributed over all England?  There has to be another explanation for the relative popularity of the name in Yorkshire and Lancashire, as compared with the rest of England.  Was there an event in the 1300s in that area, or a famous local personality or locality of the time, which would have inspired Yorkshire men to adopt the name?  Of course if George Fox the Quaker had been born 250 years earlier, it may have been a tempting explanation for the popularity of this surname.  Did the frustration of the London Court officials, from the failure of the Yorkshire non-conformists to adopt a surname, result in the last of the dissidents being labelled a “fox”?  I am sure, with time and more study, the explanation will become self-evident. 

Peter Fox                                                       Jon Fox

Toowoomba                                                   Nevada

Australia                                                         USA


11 Jan. 06