Who Are (Were) the Chamberlains?

Origins: The name may have originated with the French Chamberlenc, meaning the keeper of the chamber or household; although the main duties of chamberlains throughout the centuries appears to be financial, i.e., the treasurer.

William of Normandy: William’s chamberlain was Richard of Tankerville, a castle on the Normandy coast of the English Channel. He came to England in 1066 and had several chamberlain (small "c") descendants who served the king from then until this day.

Names in 13th Century: Most surnames come from one of four sources: placenames (e.g., Bridge, Worthington, Woods), nicknames (Blackman, Armstrong), trade names (Smith, Cooper, Baker), and patronymics, that is names indicating a familial relationship (Johnson, Isaacson, Robertson). Ours is a trade name, an occupational appellation. Surnames were not required in Britain until the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, but when they were, many chose names that were derived from what they did for their living, such as Thomas (the baker), or William (the Cooper), or Richard (the chamberlain). The occupation exists to the present: The United Kingdom still has its Lord Chamberlain.

The New World: Three brothers (Richard, Thomas, and William), plus Henry and Richard, all migrated to the new world in the early seventeenth century. These five Chamberlains appear to be the progenitors of most of the Chamberlains in North America today. However, some of their descendants also settled in the Caribbean, Inter and South America. For instance, the WCGS currently has a member in San Jose, Costa Rica, where several Chamberlain families of William descendants reside. Others left Britain for Australia, South Africa, and other places during the fifteen through twentieth centuries of the English diaspora.

Famous and Interesting Cousins: Neville (British prime minister and "appeaser"); Betsey Guppy (Native American textile mill worker and poet); Emma (American YouTuber); Richard (actor); Wilt (basketball player); Joshua (college professor, American Civil War General, and governor); and even a baseball player for the New York Yankees.

Chamberlain Association of America (CAA): In 1898, a group of Chamberlains who mostly originated in New England, formed a society which they called the Chamberlain Association of America. This group abandoned in the 1940 to 1949 timeframe, leaving their files and treasure in the hands of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. (NEHGS)

Chamberlain Association (CA): Alison Chamberlain Ogilvie Ainsworth ran a small research group and published a periodical newsletter, the Chamberlain Association News, that was issued 3 times a year from 1981 to 1993 to CA members. A separate name index was issued at the end of some of the earlier years. In the early years of this association’s existence, Ms. Ainsworth, an amateur genealogist, convinced the NEHGS to transfer its collection of CAA documents to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in Manhattan. From there she transferred most of those documents to herself and her friends for "cataloguing". Lost for many years, the collection has been rediscovered by members of a new group of Chamberlains formed in 1996.

Chamberlain Chain (CC): From November 1985 to January 2001, the late Carolyn Wilson Weidner published a series of 28 newsletters called the Chamberlain Chain to engage Chamberlain surname researchers in the sharing of information and assistance with brick walls needing to be torn down.

World Chamberlain Genealogical Society (WCGS): Twenty-five years ago, a small group of Chamberlain descendants in Michigan (USA), under the leadership of Welton Chamberlain, formed a successor organization to the former CAA, CA and CC. They called themselves the World Chamberlain Society, later changing that name to the World Chamberlain Genealogical Society. Today that organization thrives with members from around the globe. Its membership is currently in a growth phase and our society’s influence on research and the collection of Chamberlain data has had a tremendous impact on educating thousands of Chamberlain researchers around the world.

In 2020, there are approximately 40,000 of us Chamberlains in the USA of many different spellings (Chamberlain, Chamberlin, Chamberland, Chamberlane, Chamblin, Shamblin and -layne, -len, etc.). All are welcome and encouraged to become active members of an organization destined to spearhead and encourage our family research for generations to come: the World Chamberlain Genealogical Society (WCGS).