Some members of our family have the distinguished middle name of Woodfin. It started several generations ago with my great-grandfather, a son of Rosetta Johnson and Daniel Rhoads. The origin of this name (to our family) is a complete mystery and I lose sleep (occasionally) over it.

My grandmother told my Uncle that Woodfin was an old family name. I assumed my granddad (her husband) told her this, and so further assumed his father told him this. And that’s all we ever knew. Since I have researched the Rhoades’ fairly extensively up to 1812 and a little bit more beyond this, but have never come across this name or anything that was close to it, I am pretty sure it does not come from the Rhoades line. And the one “W” we knew of was John’s wife, Mary Wibble/Wiegle. Not even close to Woodfin.

I always assumed it came from Rosetta. Somewhere along the way, I had her middle initial as “W”. But I cannot find any evidence to refresh my memory on why I did this. Perhaps my association of “W” with Rosetta was due to a fairly common practice for women of her day to adopt their maiden name as middle names, so for many years, I looked for a Woodfin family who had a daughter named Rosetta. I didn’t get anywhere with that and we have since determined her maiden name is Johnson.

I then thought her mother was a Woodfin. Nope. She was Elizabeth Madden. While researching Elizabeth, I found who I think may be her as a boarder in the household of a Woodruff family. And, if you recall from her blog entry, I am not certain if there was a simple business relationship or something more due to the identification (or misidentification) of Elizabeth as a relation to Ebenezer Woodruff (her landlord). But it is curious to find this Woodruff family when we have a mysterious Woodfin name.

Rosetta’s Grandma Madden was named Sarah Wood. Could it be shortened from Woodfin? Her Grandma Johnson, now…I haven’t identified her yet and I may find something new.

You see… Rosetta has many more close possibilities in her ancestry. But then, all of it could just be a coincidence. If only I could speak to Rosetta.

What about the name itself? The surname Woodfin does exist in the world, of Old English origin.

  • Ancestry subscribes to the simple explanation of an Old English origin combining wood + fin (pile) that was given to people living in places where wood was stacked.
  • Wikipedia has nothing on the name except famous people named Woodfin.
  • Surnamedb.com identifies two interpretations but further associates it as an Anglo-Saxon origin that derives from Old English. Their first interpretation suggests it is related to the name Woodfern (folks residing in areas known for fern growth or fern woods). The second interpretation suggests it originated as a surname given to people residing at a town or village that disappeared around the 12th century from the region of Cheshire (see the middle darkest green England county shown in the map below). They base this from evidence of period church records that record the surname in that area.
  • Houseofnames.com places the origin from a lordly manor in Lincolnshire (clear across the island from Cheshire) – but according to this source every family name in their database comes from lordly manors or noble families and offers no explanation without purchasing their reports. So, take their information with a grain of salt.

Obviously some Woodfin’s made it to The United States. Ancestry and Surnamedb.com both agree that it is not a very common name. Ancestry’s 1840 U.S. Census index lists merely 37 Woodfin families (only heads of household were named). By 1880, Woodfins had expanded into Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Idaho, Oregon, and Vermont, with the most concentration remaining in the southern states. None of them seem to cross paths with Rosetta’s family. But I am only one generation into Rosetta’s research. The search continues.

Maps created by Ancestry.com at their Woodfin Family History page. 1840, 1880, and 1920 are represented for the US. Only 1891 for the England & Wales, and 1901 for Scotland.