Variation spellings of our last name are Cracroft, Craycroft, Cracraft, Craycraft, Creacraft, Crecroft and Creycraft and a few others. Why they are spelled differently has to do mostly with accents and phonetics. Up until the 20th century, most people did not know how to read or write and those that did, learned to sound out the word when writing; and not everyone had legible handwriting.
Early records such as wills, deeds, tax and census records contain multiple variants of our name, sometimes in the same record. That said, the oldest and most common spelling from England is Cracroft. The first recorded immigrant to America, John, spelled his name with a Y, Craycroft. This line, for the most part, kept the same spelling for over 300 years in America. Why add the Y? One guess is he moved to Maryland to be able to practice his religion, Catholicism, which was banned in England. Changing the spelling was a clear distinction from his family across the ocean, yet it is pronounced the same. John Craycroft was an educated man and was a prominent colonist who was very active in Maryland affairs. He knew how his name was spelled when he came to Maryland in 1665. The Cracraft/Craycraft family in America begins with Joseph and Nancy Stanton Cracraft around 1740. Most of the earliest records for him and his children spell their name Cracraft, including their signatures.
So, what about Cracraft and Cracroft; are they the same as pronouncing tomayto and tomahto? Could it be two separate names or be suggesting a distinction without a difference. DNA testing completed in 2003 in the United States between descendants of several lines of known early immigrants, from Joseph Cracraft (early 1700’s), John Craycroft (1665), to a descendant of an ancient British Cracroft line proved they all shared the same ancestor within the last 800-1000 years.
You may wonder when did our family name begin or how did it come to be? The most interesting story by John Henry Craycroft is told in The Great Craycroft Book. It starts with the story of the marriage record of James Cray and Susan Croft in London, England in 1297 and the legal channels they pursued to have their surname be Craycroft. Fast forward to a couple hundred years and their descendant was very involved with the Reformation, even being friends with Martin Luther. Another descendant, William Roger Craycroft, was George Washington’s secretary. A transcription of a note by George thanking William for his service is part of the book. A family reunion in Vandalia, ILL in 1883 was held so a vote could be taken as who would hold this Craycroft record permanently. It has been passed down generation to generation. It was typed written in 1942 and in 2005 Robert Lynn Craycroft set out to validate all the incredible stories. Needless to say, he found most of the information written in the Great Craycroft Book to not be credible; but it is a great story!
The origins of surnames happened over a long period of time. There are place names (Marsh, Field, Hill), occupation names (Smith, Taylor, Carpenter) or patronymic names (Johnson, O’Hara, MacDonald) just to list the most common derivatives. Most surnames in England evolved from place names and were not common until the 1200s.
Language is constantly changing. Words are added and sometimes new meanings are added to words. Croft is an English name for an enclosed field, normally adjacent to a house. Depending on the source, craft could be a variant of croft. Craft is also old English of croeft meaning skill. Old English, an Anglo-Saxon language, was the spoken from 450 to a little after the Normans invaded England in 1066. Normans made French the “official” or legal language when they took over England and it remained the official language until the end of the 15th century. English was the language spoken by the common people and over the years it was influenced by French. Croeft could have sounded like the word croft used today. Early words for crow, a large black bird, are croe, crawe and krae. All may have been pronounced Cra at some point. Putting all this together, the meaning of Cracroft could be a field of crows next to a house or more likely, the place of crows.
Stephen Patrick Cracroft-Brennon of England has completed extensive documentation of the Cracroft lineage going back to Ragemar circa 1086. Ragemar’s son was Walter Fitz Ragemar (1115). Walter’s son was Humphrey Fitz Walter. Fitz, being patronymic use, means son of. Humphrey’s son was Walter de Cracroft. De is the French word for of. Walter was Lord Manor of Cracroft. Walter’s manor was in Hogsthrope, Mercia, modern day Lincolnshire. This area is on the east coast of England, just across the North Sea from modern day Denmark. It is from this region our family expanded to various areas of England, Yorkshire, London, Kent and then across the oceans to America, India and Australia. As we spread, the spelling of different variants broadened. It was not until the last 100 years or so, when children learned to spell their names that the spelling became consistent and carried from generation to generation.
What is so fantastic is we have documentation of our lineage for over 1000 years! We have a lot of branches, but they are all connected to the roots. Our root being in a small eastern shoreline of England. So, if you ever get a chance, take a walk on Crawcroft Lane in the village of Huttloft, Lincolnshire, England and see if you feel a connection with one of the oldest families in the country.