Select Gilbert Surname Genealogy

The Gilbert surname is of Norman French origin – from Giselbert, a Norman personal name derived from the elements gisil, meaning “noble youth,” and berht, “bright” or “famous.”  

Richard fitz Gilbert was a Norman lord who accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066.  The Gilbert name
then enjoyed considerable popularity during the Middle Ages as a result of the fame of St. Gilbert of Sempringham, the founder of the only native monastic order in England. 

There are also considerable numbers of Gilberts in France.  Gilbert can be a Jewish name
too.  Examples today are the British historian Sir Martin Gilbert and the American tennis coach Brad Gilbert.

Select Gilbert Resources on The Internet

Select Gilbert Ancestry

England.  The surname Gilbert has its earliest origins in the west country, in particular in Devon.

West Country.  It was said that Gilbert or Jilbert possessed lands in the vicinity of Dartmoor at the time of Edward the Confessor.  The earliest recorded Gilbert was Thomas Gilbert who held Greenway near Dartmouthin the early 1300's.  From this line in Elizabethan times came Sir John Gilbert, who remained at home, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the adventurer abroad.  They were half-brothers to Sir Walter Raleigh. Compton Castle in Devon remained home to the Gilberts until 1785 (although a descendant does live in the place today).  Later Gilberts of this family settled in Cornwall.

Other early Gilberts in the west country were:
  • the Gilberts of Holwell (South Milton) in Devon from sometime in the 15th century
  • the Gilberts of Bruton Abbey in Somerset from Tudor times.  Tradition has it that these Gilberts were the principal founders of the abbey.
  • while Robert Gilbert, possibly the son of a local clothier, was MP for Gloucester from 1415 to 1430.
A Cornish family of Gilberts began with Nicholas Gilbert who was born in Mullion, Cornwall around the year 1600.

Later centuries saw a shift in Gilberts from the west country towards London and the southeast. William Gilberd or Gilbert, the Elizabethan physician and scientist, came from a prosperous merchant family in Colchester.  Gilberts in London in the 17th century included Captain John Gilbert, granted a license to clean up the Thames in 1631, and James Gilbert, a gunmaker in the 1670’s.

Some Gilberts may have moved from west to east.  The Gilberts of Goudhurst in Kent were thought to have originated from either Devon or Cornwall.  Sir Jeffrey Gilbert, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in the reign of George I, was of this family.  W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, born in London in 1836, came originally from a Hampshire farming family.

William Gilbert began supplying footballs to Rugby School in Warwickshire in the 1820’s at the time that William Webb Ellis first picked up a ball and ran with it, thus inventing the game of rugby.  The business that William Gilbert started remained family-owned until 1978.

Channel Islands
.  The name appeared as Guilbert in Guernsey.  Guillemine Guilbert was rounded up as a heretic in 1556 during the bloody reign of Queen Mary and, together with two other women, burnt at the stake.  George Guilbert was married at Forest in 1717.  A Guilbert family later lived at Hauteville near St. Peter Port. 

Main arrival points for Gilberts in America were New England and Pennsylvania.

New England.  John Gilbert from Bridgewater in Somerset, distantly related to the Elizabethan adventurer Sir Humphrey Gilbert, came to Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1630 with his third wife Winifred.  His descendants in America were covered in Geoffrey Gilbert’s 1959 book Gilberts of New England.  Notable among them was the architect C.P.L. Gilbert who made his name in New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for his designs of townhouses and mansions.

Other early Gilbert arrivals in New England were:
  • Matthew Gilbert who in 1637 was one of the first settlers of the New Haven colony, being one of the famous “Seven Pillars” to found church and state there.  He was the forebear through his son Daniel of the Gilberts of Hamden, Connecticut.
  • Thomas Gilbert who came to Braintree in 1639 and later settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  His descendants made their home in Stamford, New York.  This line was covered in Eliza Gilbert's 1920 book The Benjamin Gilbert Branch.
  • while Humphrey Gilbert, thought to have come from Cambridge in England, was recorded as living in Ipswich, Massachusetts by 1642.  His second wife Elizabeth was the mother of his only son John who became a deacon.
A line of Timothy Gilberts began with the birth of Timothy Gilbert in Easton, Massachusetts in 1748.  Timothy and his brother Lemuel were piano manufacturers in Boston in the first half of the 19th century.  Timothy was also a leader of his local Baptist church and an abolitionist advocate.
Pennsylvania.  Quaker Gilberts began arriving into Philadelphia and its outlying areas in the 1680’s.  Some have them coming from Cornwall, although there is no confirmation of this.  There were three lines recorded, those of Byberry, those of Buckingham, and those of Warminster.  Benjamin Gilbert and his family at Byberry experienced a terrifying ordeal of seizure and captivity by Indians in 1780.  They were then exiled to Montreal as the Revolutionary War was raging and were not to return to Byberry until late 1782.

There were German Gilberts in Pennsylvania.  Five male Gilberts from Hoffenheim in Baden came on the Nancy in 1750.  The line of John Georg Gilbert settled in Montgomery county, that of his cousin John Andrew Gilbert in York county.  Johan Conrad Gilbert moved to Orwigsburg in Schuykill county where he died in 1812.

Abijah Gilbert, said to have been a descendant of the Elizabethan physician and scientist William Gilbert, came to Philadelphia from Tamworth in Warwickshire in 1787.  It was written in a family letter that when George Washington saw his son Joseph disembarking, he patted him on his head and said: “A fine rosy-cheeked English boy who will make a good American citizen.”

The Gilberts established themselves in what became Gilbertsville in Oswego county, New York.  Grandson Abijah moved to New York City and, in 1865, to Florida where he served as its US Senator.  The family history was covered in Carl Beck’s 1953 book The Abijah Gilbert Family of Gilbertsville

Canada.    Early Gilberts in Canada were French.  Jean Gilbert had arrived in Quebec by the 1680’s and made his home at Pointe-aux-Trembles.  Louis Gilbert came with his wife around 1720 and settled in L’Ile Dupas. Some Gilbert descendants crossed the border into Wisconsin and Maine during the 19th century.

Isaac Gilbert
was a Loyalist who crossed over to Canada after the Revolutionary War.  He was one of the pioneer settlers of Woodhouse township, Norfolk county in Ontario.  His story was covered in Harriet Walker’s 1981 book Isaac Gilbert: United Empire Loyalist

Australia.  The Adelaide suburb of Gilberton in South Australia owes its name to Joseph Gilbert, a sheep farmer and winemaker who had come to the colony from Wiltshire in 1838.  Simon Gilbert, the fifth generation of these Gilbert winemakers, has his vineyards in the Mudgee district of NSW

Select Gilbert Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Gilbert Names

Sir Humphrey Gilbert was an Elizabethan adventurer, soldier, and explorer who through planting the English flag in Newfoundland was a pioneer of the English colonial empire in North America. 
William Gilbert was an English 16th century scientist credited with the invention of the term electricity.
W.S. Gilbert
was the dramatist and librettist in the phenomenally popular 19th century Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas.
Sir Martin Gilbert
is a renowned Jewish British historian and the biographer of Winston Churchill

Select Gilberts Today
  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 18,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

Click here for reader feedback
Click here for return to front page