Where do you go to begin to research a name like Ditmore? There is no one who would not agree that Ditmore is an uncommon name. When I was growing up my family never met anyone with our last name, except of course our immediate relatives who we already knew. We knew from looking in phone books in various places that there were a few other Ditmores alive on this planet. But it was evident that other Ditmores were few and far between. One source of information indicates that Ditmore is the 24,737th most popular last name in the United States and its frequency is 0.000%. Odds are pretty high you could live your whole life and never meet another Ditmore.

 One positive aspect of having an uncommon name is that there is a greater chance that others with the same last name are likely to be related by blood. On the other hand, it can be frustrating to have a name that is unusual and not easy to trace. You can do a worldwide search and find that there is no "old world country" with a strong showing of the name Ditmore. In fact, in my research, the name Ditmore has only turned up in two places – the United States of America and the United Kingdom. There are several hundred Ditmore families living in the United States today. The majority of Ditmores in the U.S. trace their ancestry back through John Ditmore and Eliza Hendrickson, and the information at this website concentrates on their family. There is just a very small handful, maybe less than a dozen Ditmore households, listed in current records from the U.K.

What my research leads me to believe, and others who are in the business of following surnames seem to agree, is that Ditmore is an anglicized version of Ditmar, Detmar or other similar name with Germanic roots. An educated guess would be that the family originated somewhere in the region that is today known as Germany, and that a few from this family left and either came directly to America where they anglicized the name or else anglicized the name after a stay in England. Communication from one Ditmore living in the U.K. today indicated that his family had come from Prussia and changed the spelling to Ditmore after immigrating to that country. It seems likely that our ancestors may have made a stop in England before coming to America, and there is a chance that we may be related to the few Ditmores living in the U.K. today. If not, then there was another family with a very similar background that anglicized their surname in the very same manner as ours. While this is possible, when you think of the odds of having the name Ditmore it seems just as likely that everyone who goes by the name of Ditmore today may well be related by blood. The name Ditmore seems to have first appeared in England in the late 1600’s. Early in the 1700’s the name also showed up in America. It may be that all Ditmores descend from the first man or men who changed the spelling of their name to Ditmore.

One source indicates that there are scores of names that could be thought to sound like Ditmore, all of these names, according to the Soundex system are nearly identical matches to Ditmore as far as sound to the ear: Dittmar, Dittmer, Dettmer, Detmer, Ditmars, Detamore, Ditmer, Dittemore, Ditmar, Dettmar, Detmers, Dattner, Dettmering, Dietmeier, Dittner, Dittmore, Dittmeyer, Dittmeier, Deitemeyer, Dettner, Dutmer, Dutmers, Detmering, Dettmers, Dietmeyer, Ditmyer, Dittmaier, Ditmeyer, Dedmore, Detmar, Deutmeyer, Ditner, Dittamore, Deitmer, Dethmers, Dettmore, Dithmer, Dediemar, Deitmaring, Dettenmayer, Deedmeyer, Deitner, Dettenrieder, Didner, Dedner, Detimore, Dittemer, Detmayer, Dyttmer. It is likely that our name is a derivative of one of these names, and the spelling Ditmore resulted either from the family simply not knowing how the name was spelled, or through a purposeful intent to anglicize the look of our name.

A guide entitled German American Names indicates that the name Ditmar, Dittmer, and Dietmar were a combination of the root words, "Dit" meaning "folk" and "mar" meaning "famous". This publication indicated that "The root ‘mar’ meaning swamp, as in Marbach, should not be confused with the root ‘mar’ meaning famous, as found in Dietmar." This was to counteract the assumptions of some that were asserting that the name literally might have meant ‘swamp dweller’ or ‘people of the marsh’. In my book, "Famous Folk" seems much preferable over "swamp dweller" as the translation of our last name!

According to The Hall of Names, Inc., their research into the variations of the name Ditmore, indicates that the name originated in Germany’s largest state Bavaria, which owes its origin to the ancient tribe of the "Bajuvaren". The Bajuvaren settled in Bavaria after coming from Bohemia, when the Romans ceased their occupation in 500 A.D. The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne incorporated Bavaria into his empire in 788 A.D. The smaller Bavaria became part of the German Empire in 976. Many German ducal houses held the imperial crown, such as the Wittelsbacher Ludwig the Bavarian, who was elected Emperor in 1314 by the Electors. Bavaria reverted to its former status of dukedom, coming under the control of the houses of Saxony, then Franconia, and finally the Welfen family dynasty. The Welfen family enjoyed the peak of their power from 1156 to 1180, until the Wittelsbach house gained power.

After separating from the Ostmark, now Austria, the duchy of Bavaria was ruled by the Wittelsbach dynasty from 1180 until 1918, when Germany became a republic. Most Austrians are of Bavarian origin, and although Bavaria eventually lost its control over Austria, it gained through a pact with Napoleon the regions of Franconia, a section of Swabia, and a part of the Palatinate, and became a kingdom in its own right in 1806.

During the Middle Ages the name has been found in Regensburg, Bavaria, where the name emerged in mediaeval times as one of the notable families of the region. From the 13th century the surname was identified with the great social and economic evolution which made this territory a landmark contributor to the development of the nation.

According to The Hall of Names, "… bearers of the family name emerged in Regensburg, where they continued to be an important contributor to the life of Europe in the Middle Ages. From the 16th century onwards the name branched to Prussia. They held significant positions of prestige and power becoming involved in the tribal struggles for supremacy. They were elected to the ranks of the nobility in the 18th century. Prominent among those of the name Ditmore in this period were St. Detmar, who was a missionary among the Slaves of the Holstein region around 1150. Detmar was an eminent amongst the Bishops of Osnabruck in the early Middle Ages. Detmar, according to contemporary accounts, was one of the most learned men of his day. This was at a time in history when the clergy were almost the sole custodians of culture and learning, and exponents of business methods. Several family members became Knights and Barons of the Holy Roman Empire in 1781 and 1789.

Some in the family have guessed that the name may be connected with Dithmarshen. According to the New Century Cyclopedia of Names, Dithmarshen (dit’ mar.shen) [also, Ditmarsh; early medieval name Nordalbingia] was a region and former independent territory in West Holstein, in the Land (State) of Schleswig-Holstein, North Germany, situated between the Elbe and Eider rivers. A peasant republic in the middle ages, it was incorporated in Holstein in 1559 and annexed to Prussia in 1866. The information from The Hall of Names indicates that the name branched to Prussia; and we have been told that the Ditmores in Great Britain today originated in Prussia. Therefore, it is likely that this area of Germany is probably an area in which a number from our family or tribe resided.

According to American History A Survey, "Many German Protestants suffered from the arbitrary acts of their rulers, and German Catholics as well as Protestants suffered from the devastating wars of the Sun King of France, Louis XIV. The Rhineland of southwestern Germany, the area known as the Palatinate, was especially exposed to the slaughter of its people and the ruin of its farms. For the Palatine Germans, the usually cold winter of 1708-1709 came as the last straw, and more than 12,000 of them sought refuge in England. The Catholics among them were shipped back to Germany and the rest were resettled in England, Ireland, or the colonies. Arriving in New York, approximately 3,000 of them tried to make homes in the Mohawk Valley, only to be ousted by rapacious colonial landlords. Some of the Palatines moved farther up the Mohawk, but most of them made their way to Pennsylvania." This accounts for the migration of some Germans to England and America in the early 1700’s and it may have been for this reason, or something similar, that our ancestors immigrated.

Until direct lines of assent are proven, it is always good to take this kind of information with a grain of salt. However, there is likely a great deal of truth to the very basis of these assumptions – that our surname was derived as a variation of one of the names listed above and the assertion that the name originated in Bavaria and stretched to Prussia is likely true. It is terribly likely that we may never know the exact origin of our name, as tracing one exact ancestor, from a family as allusive and mobile as ours, seems nearly impossible.

Within the ranks of John Ditmore’s descendents there have been many musings over the origin of the family. Some in the family believe that the family came directly from Germany, though keep in mind, that there literally did not exist a united "Germany" when our ancestors came to America. Others in the family think that our ancestors came from England. Most of these thoughts were fostered by stories that were handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Considering that there were some Ditmores in England who came from Prussia these speculations might both have merit. For instance, if you or your parents or grandparents were born in Germany, spent considerable time in England (maybe even a generation or more), and then moved on to America, where might your children say you were from? Some of your children would say you were from Germany because this is where your family had come from and was considered your bloodline. Some of your children might say you came from England, since this is where you last lived, or ‘came from’ last. I believe that a reasonable explanation for the different stories handed down by word of mouth may be because the family left Prussia, the Palatinate, or other area now encompassed in Germany, lived in England where family members changed the spelling of their name and then came to America. It’s easy to believe that the family members who told that family came from England may have been just as correct as those that said the Ditmores came from Germany. They may have just been focusing their story on the ‘last’ place the family came from and not the ‘original’ homeland.

To date we have not even been able to exactly determine which of our ancestors first touched their feet down in America. Our earliest traceable ancestor was John Ditmore who first appeared in official records in Charleston, South Carolina in 1809. Prior to John’s "appearance" in Charleston there were other Ditmores who lived in that city for nearly the previous hundred years. Those people sometimes spelled their names Ditmere, Ditmar or Ditmore – as though all three names were interchangeable and perhaps this is a good example of illiterate people simply spelling a name the way it sounded. Perhaps these people were all of one family and perhaps they were John Ditmore’s ancestors. We can speculate that they were, but good hard evidence, such as a birth or death record, land record, will or probate record has not been found that would substantiate this train of thought. If such documentation exists, I am not aware of it.

Over the past two hundred years we know that Ditmore men have married women from nationalities from across the globe…we count among our mothers’ ancestors individuals who were English, Irish, Scottish, German, Native American, French, Dutch, Jewish, Korean, Polish, Italian, and Mexican, to name a few. The search for our Ditmore roots goes on, yet today it would be entirely accurate to say that first and foremost, the Ditmores are just plain American.



Sources:

  1. In 2001Ellis Island released, via the internet, information on immigrants who were processed through that port during the late 1800’s and later. There were in their listings, several Ditmores whose nation of origin was indicated to be Italy. I find this curious and feel that most likely someone at Ellis Island anglicized an Italian name into Ditmore or that it was a misspelling of a similar name. We know by the dates that the individuals were certainly not ancestors and have found no other indications that there were ever any other Ditmores who came out of Italy.
  2. The Hall of Names, Inc., "
  3. The Ancient History of the Distinguished Surname Ditmore".
  4. Soundex lookalike names.
  5. German American Names.
  6. Catholic Encyclopedia: Hanover.
  7. A letter from Dr. Harry B. Ditmore dated March 15, 1988 stated: I have attempted to pursue the Ditmore ancestry back in Europe and believe that Ditmore is an anglicized version of Ditmar, Ditmer, and Titmarsh. It all means "People of the Marsh". There is an area in northern Germany, between the Elbe and the Eider rivers, known as Ditmarshen. It is noteworthy for having been always free, never conquered, and tales are told of heroic ambushes of invaders and would be conquerors. The Romans (under Germanicus Ceaser) were stopped at the Elbe, and Germanicus Ceasar died on the Elbe.
  8. New Century Cyclopedia of Names, Vol. 1.
  9. American History A Survey, by Richard N. Current, T. Harry Williams and Frank Freidel



 

Copyright © 2004 by Carol Lee Ditmore

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