The Final s in Scrivens

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Location: Massachusettsmap
Surnames/tags: Scriven Scrivens
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My family is descended from the Scriven, but my grandfather had other ideas.

Whether the proper spelling of the surname is one that ends in "s" or not, really goes back to my grandfather Clarence H. Scrivens' early days. But before getting into what the

records show, let's review the story of the Scriven's sign at "Pa's camp" in Rowe, MA.

The sign at Pa's camp

First of all, let me say that when I was growing up, I never heard anyone refer to our family group as "Scriven" (no ending "s"). My father went by Scrivens, and all his brothers and sisters did, too, as far as I knew. (I say "as far as I knew" because I later found out that my Uncle Hank and my Aunt Mary, who Hank regularly corresponded with when he moved to Florida, had reverted to the no "s" ending. I'm guessing this came after Hank's early research efforts into the family ancestry.) As a result, when I was a kid and my father drove

Hank at family reunion.
us up over the mountain to the Rowe, MA camp, there was never any question about the way the surname was spelled. So, when we drove onto the camp property and saw that sign at the entrance, we and others always joked that "Pa" didn't know his grammar (the rules for writing possessives of names ending in "s" are even today regularly broken by otherwise educated people). But maybe the joke was on us, because if Pa knew that, originally, he and his father's names were both Scriven, then, of course, the spelling on the sign was correct!

New York Origins

My Uncle Hank was the first in our family to do genealogical research. He did all this with just his memories, the local library, and town resources available to him. He typed it on an old manual typewriter. He knew his grandfather, Frederick Reginald Scriven, and his father before him, William Reginald Scriven, both came from Rensselaer Co., which is the county adjacent to Berkshire Co. where most of the many Scrivens brothers and sisters lived since their youth. He speculated that the family originally came from Yorkshire, England--though, I don't think he was aware that, in Yorkshire, there is a town named Scriven which is closeby a city called Knarlesborough. Anyway, I think he knew that most of the like-named people he had heard of (he was fond of looking up his surname in the phonebook when he passed through a new city or town) had the surname Scriven rather than Scrivens.

Early Records for Clarence Scrivens, Sr.

Now, my Aunt Mary (who was known for her dry wit) always had the story at ready that "Pa decided to make himself plural after his 10th child" (which was her). The truth is that early documents say that "Pa" Scrivens was born a Scriven and remained a Scriven right up to when he registered for the World War I Draft. (See Clarence Herbert Scrivens, The ending "s" on Scrivens) That is to say, Clarence's birth record lists him as Clarence H. Scriven (no ending "s"), son of Frederick Scriven (so his father didn't use the ending "s" at that point either). Furthermore, on the 1910 US Census, when he and the rest of his family lived on their Berlin, NY farm, all members' names are "Scriven," no ending "s." (Yet the 1900 United States Federal Census lists the family, then living in Adams on Quality St., as "Scribens.") When Clarence married my grandmother, Evelyn Bedard, in late December of 1911 in North Adams, MA, the surname was still Scriven. Finally, on Clarence's U.S., World War I Draft Registration Card, 1917-1918 (Massachusetts North Adams City), he is 23 years old and listed as married; there, he signed his name with no ending "s." (On the other hand, when he was 47, Clarence signed his U.S., World War II Draft Registration Card (1942) with an ending "s."

Only a few years after the Draft Registration document, in the 1920 US Census, does his surname appear as Scrivens. And it appears as Scrivens in US Census documents thereafter.

Clarence's Brothers

Aside from that one 1900 US Census, Clarence's middle brother Harry Frederick was always listed as a Scriven in US Census and NYS documents. He was also so listed in Draft Registration records. Meanwhile, the oldest brother Henry Darrell's records don't show the same consistency. Although he is listed on his birth record as Henry Scrivens, he is a Scriven on Massachusetts Death Index, 1970-2003.

Henry D.
As for the US Census records in between, Henry D. 's name mostly ends in "s": Scriben (1900), Scriven (1910), Scrivens (1920, 1930, 1940). In NYS Census (1915) and his Draft Registration, however, he is Scriven, and so are his children. But on NYS Census 1925, Henry D, his daughter Dorothy, and his son Henry C. have all been designated with Scrivens instead of the traditional no "s" ending. So, with both census records, the change to Scrivens seems to have occurred around 1920. Still, it seems doubtful that in everyday life he would have gone back and forth with the two spellings. Maybe it all depended arbitrarily on who was taking the census. (Henry D's name is Scriven on the 1925 NYS Census--but his wife and two children are written in as Scrivens, then all are Scrivens on the 1930 US Census!) Or, maybe so many people were making the mistake of adding the "s" on the end that Henry just said to hell with it and let it go without making it an issue.

Ben Scrivens in Central NY

Ben Scrivens is descended from the same 5th g. grandfather I am, Williams Scriven. His wife, the family genealogist, Maria Scrivens recounted her husband Ben's story of how his family acquired the ending "s." "For our family, my father-in-law Larry was the first "Scrivens." When he went to join the military, they told him there was no record of "Scrivens" - just "Scriven." He and his father had gone by "Scrivens" for years - he went and legally changed his name to Scrivens." So , once again, the military seem to be sticklers for surname accuracy.

English variations in one family line

I had been generally aware of the spelling variants in Great Britain, but one member told me this story: "My own ancestors are recorded with a variety of spellings, and I have used Scrivens in my online tree as this is the most recent and regularly used version. For instance, my 2x great grandfather, Thomas Scrivens, was baptised as Scribbins, he appears on his daughter’s marriage as Scrivens, then on his death certificate, he is recorded as Scriven. Thomas had 11 brothers and sisters who were baptised between 1794 - 1817 at Lassington, Gloucestershire, all in the same parish register, but listed variously as Scribbin, Scribbins, Scriven. People making the records at the time relied on their own knowledge of spelling and wrote down what they heard. The West Country accent can make a ‘V’ sound more like ‘B’." (--from Gillguk, Nottinghamshire, England)

Other cases of the final 's' in England

Jeanne Scrivens replied to a query I had on her family's name origin through the Message Center. (Jan 2019). "Maiden Newton, Dorsetshire, is where my ancestors go back to & a lot of them were Masons," she wrote. "They added the s on the end when they moved to Rotherham. You may want to check out the history of St. Mary’s Church in Maiden Newton, est. around [the time of] William the Conq. I think." Her Scrivens ancestors fall into a collection of Scriven/s in the southern coastal region of England, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, whom I investigated while looking into the lineage of Elizabeth (Scriven) Clark, the mother of sons who established The Clark Art Institute of Williamstown and the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. (My nominal first immigrant ancestor, James Scriven, came from Colyton, Devon.) This line goes back five generations in Dorset (but none of them with a final "s"). Maiden Newton is due west of Chard, Somerset, where James Scriven's father was born.

Early Scrivens in England

Scriven Hall, ancient seat of the family of Scriven
Probably the most interesting side issue to this subject is the list of names with and without the ending "s" in early England. For instance, here on WikiTree alone, if you go to the top of this page and type in "Scriven," then click "resort," (also at the top of that page) you will get a page listing all the Scriven on WikiTree. There are over 700. If you do the same thing with "Scrivens" with the ending "s," you get a list of over 400. Looking at that latter list, the earliest Scrivens were from Gloucestershire, England, in the late 15 and early 1600's. There were plenty of them there, and this doesn't include many others from other English counties that have yet to be entered. My point is that the surname has been around for a long time in both forms before anyone ever ended up in Eastern New York or Western Massachusetts.

Colin Scriven, who is the profile manager of most of the Scriven and Scrivens of the U.K., wrote to me that he believed "families added the "s" or took it away to separate themselves from their relations, [or] so other folk could identify them easier. My own grandfather took his "s" off, but sadly I don't know why. Misspellings of our name may be due to the same reason, but personally, I think it's most likely due to "lack of education" on the individuals' part, or, to other people writing the name down incorrectly. If we are to believe our name derived from this old French word Escrivien, it's in the singular--but it's not Scriven either." (email from Colin D Scriven, 12/22/2015)

When I asked Colin if he had any thoughts on whether a picture emerged on where the ancestors with the ending "s" were from, he had this to offer: "There is a general pattern with our name variants. Scriven and Scrivens, and Scrivins, came south from Yorkshire [and then] to the west of the UK (i.e. Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Devon, Dorset etc.) Scriveners, Scribbeners, Scribbins came south from Yorkshire [and then] down the eastern side of the UK (i.e., Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Kent etc.) Naturally, there are some of each west and east, but this is how it works out generally." Given Colin's observation that both sets of ancestors migrated south from Yorkshire, it seems very possible that the name either differentiated (i.e., "s" ending or no "s") early, (within a century or so of the Norman Invasion of 1066)--or, had two separate origins in Yorkshire to begin with, one Norman spelling and one Saxon. There were probably even families who dropped or added the final "s" within a generation or two. Here on WikiTree, the earliest mention of a Scriven is Gamel de Scriven (abt 0956, Northumbria, England); the earliest Scrivens listed was John Scrivens (b. 1582, Great Witcombe, Gloucestershire)


Colin's observation that the "s" ending in Scriven may have a variety of explanations makes sense. Most of all, I was taken by his mention of the fact that his own family line had (or added?) the final "s" and then dropped it. That reminded me of my great uncle Henry Darrell and my uncle Hank, both of whom reversed the ending with which they were born. And education probably did play into it, too. Literacy was not always a primary issue to the farmers and day laborers who populate our past, and we have to keep in mind that the concept of English surnames were "invented" by English King William I, mainly to make cataloguing the population for tax purposes possible. So, in the past, people may not have been invested in the exact spelling of those surnames like most people today are.

When the United States Census was taken in 2000, there were about 1,952 individuals with the last name Scriven. [1] On the other hand, Scrivens is a more uncommon surname in the United States. In 2000, there were only 765 people with the last name Scrivens living in the US. [2] For more on where the Scriven name came from, go to Origin of the Scriven Name.

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