Welcome to the only site on the web dedicated to the Aylmer surname.
Aylmer is one of the less common English surnames. As many other Aylmers will tell you, we are so uncommon that most English-speaking people can’t spell us.
Similar surnames are Aylmore, Almer and Elmer; there could well be links lost in the mists of time. Alymer is the most common alternative, and it’s wrong – unless you are an Alymer, of course, and there are a few. Bob Tyler, an east Londoner like me, found when researching his family tree that his mother’s mother’s family name was De Alymer, and that he was given to believe that this part of the family came to England with the Huguenots in the 1600s. Somewhere along the line they became Ableys, derived from the Welsh ‘Ab Ley’ (son of Ley), so perhaps there are Welsh connections somewhere. And to thicken the plot, a real-life Alymer, Barry Alymer of Limerick in Ireland, wrote to tell me of a farmstead called Almere in north Wales: see Who we are for more information.
Key locations for Aylmers are Sussex, Hampshire, east London, East Anglia and Ireland, but the expansion of imperial Britain and modern day dispersal has seen Aylmers spread worldwide.
DNA testing to untangle the Aylmers
Site contributor and Aylmer (Elmer) descendant Mike Thompson is conducting DNA testing to determine where his branch comes from – see his site edelmer.blogspot.co.uk. He’s keen for volunteers, especially from outside of North America, to take a DNA test which can trace back common ancestors two millennia or so. This is a fascinating line of research, so please contact Mike via his site if you would like to take part.
Saxon or Norman?
There are contrasting views as to the origin of the name.
My correspondent Steve Wiezbicki tells me that Aylmer is derived from the purely Saxon name Athelmer; the th of the Saxon alphabet resembles the Norman y and hence the spelling as we now have it. The name means “the more noble” – Athel=noble, mer=more. In early Saxon times names beginning with “Athel” were given nearly always in the Royal Family.
On this reckoning, the Aylmer family of England and Ireland are direct descendants of King Ethelred I (nb this is a King of Wessex and Kent, reigned 866-871 mostly fighting Danes, not the later Ethelred II ‘the Unready’). On his death his children Athelme and Athelwold were too young to reign, so the crown passed instead to Ethelred’s younger brother Alfred, who in due course became known, and rightly, as ‘the Great’. Athelme was Earl of Wiltshire, and carried King Alfred’s offerings to Rome. Athelwold claimed the throne on Alfred’s death, but was killed in battle.
The great uncle of my US correspondent Lena Elmer has looked into the genealogy of the Elmer/Aylmer/Athelmer/AEthromer families, and suggests that research into the Aylmer line should start from the time of Ethelred I, King of Wessex from 865 to 871.
However, another correspondent, Austin Farrell, has a different view. In researching the Moseley branch of his own family, he understands they were descendants of one “Aymer” who was a Norman from Varenne who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066, who granted him the Manor of Aylmer in Essex for his services at Hastings; the Aylmer surname was first used by the tenants-in-chief of the Manor.
There is a third, now discredited derivation, given by O’Hart in his Irish Pedigrees. This gives Aylmer as ‘an anglicised form of the Irish O’Aillemair … meaning the descendants of Aillemair, the very handsome or sprightly man.’
So, a tough choice between the two founding dynasties of modern England. Mr Farrell’s version tallies with what I had heard as a child, but the linguistic ties of Athelmer-to-Aylmer make strong sense too. In either case, an ancient line.
The Italian connection
Although an English name, and cropping up therefore across the English-speaking world, there is an unexpected Italian connection, by dint of the 14th century monk Aylmer of Piacenza. And if that isn’t bizarre enough, a star of Italian cinema, Mimi Aylmer (1896-1992), appeared alongside Vittorio de Sica and Marcello Mastroianni during her career.