A Short History of the Vance Surname

Different origins of the Vance name

Around the world today the surname "Vance" is found mainly in English-speaking countries like Australia, the UK and Ireland, Canada, and the United States.  The global spread of the Vance surname from the 1600s through to modern times has been documented through maps in our blog in a post from October 2013.

The paper document trails of these Vance family lines suggest that their family name came from one of two main origins:

1.  The Wentz/Wantz origins

Many of these families have traced their surname origins to original immigrants in the 18th or 19th century from Germany or Switzerland whose last name was Wentz or a variant like Wantz.  In their new English-speaking home, the last name sounded like "Vance", and either through regular usage or by the pen of a government official the new spelling stuck.

Several books (see Online Books of Interest) describe the origin of the Wentz surname as a diminutive of "Wenceslaus" or the German variant "Wenzo", and track the name's association with a Saint Wendelin and of course several kings named Wenceslaus, with variants "Wenzelo" from 1198 through "Wenzel" in the 1300s.  "Wentz" and "Wenz" were later variants appearing in the 1300s and 1400s near Basel in Switzerland and several locations in Germany.  Other sources cite Slavic variants like Vaclav but agree on the same basic timeline. 

The stories say an original Wentz family came out of Bohemia (part of the current Czech republic) or Pomerania (now part of Germany and Poland on the south Baltic Sea) and migrated into Bavaria in western Germany and to the city of Basel in Switzerland some 700 years ago.  These stories have so far not been verified.  In the 1700s and 1800s, however, several German and Swiss Wentz families immigrated to the US where the name became written as Vance.   
           

2.  The de Vaux/Vans origins

The majority of the Vances today, these families are either Irish or trace their surname to immigrants from Ireland, where "Vance" has been a Protestant name in Ulster since the 1600s.  The generally accepted origin of Vance in Ireland is from Scotland where the name was Vaus or Vans.  In 1860, a Scottish genealogist named William Balbirnie published a book that tied the Irish Vances back to a Rev. John Vans/Vance who lived in Kilmacrenan in county Donegal in Ireland from about 1617 onward, and connected him to a Vans family of minor nobility in Barnbarroch, Scotland.  The Vans of Barnbarroch have ties to the Vaux family of Dirleton near Edinburgh and from there back to the medieval de Vaux family who came over to England from Normandy with William the Conqueror around 1066. 

"de Vaux" was a Norman French place-name meaning "of the valleys", and although their exact origin in Normandy is unknown, the story of the de Vaux family in England and Scotland is fairly well-documented from the 11th century onward.  Legend ties the de Vaux family to the French/Italian de Baux family who themselves claimed a family tie back to Balthazar, one of the Magi Kings, but there remains no proof of any of those connections. 

The legends and facts surrounding the Vance origins from the de Vaux are covered in the book Path of a Family, which can be found under Online Books of Interest in our Useful Information section.

Modern DNA testing has suggested that the origins of the Irish Vances is not as simple as that proposed by Balbirnie, although one group of modern Vances has confirmed ties through DNA to the Vans of Barnbarroch and so to this general ancestry.  Whether the story is completely accurate, and whether other Vance family groups who trace their lines to Ireland have the same surname ancestry (as opposed to genetic ancestry) is unknown at this time.

3.  Other possible origins

Modern DNA testing has identified at least 9 different genetic origins (within the timeframe that surnames have been in common use) for the Vance families who have been tested so far.  While certainly some of those groups may still have derived their last names from the same origin, it is also very possible that some origins of the Vance name remain unknown. 

There is a town in Belgium named Vance and a local family of minor nobility named "de Vance" who lived there at least from the 11th through the 17th century.  However, the family name seems to have died out after that and no modern Vances trace their ancestry to this area.

Other towns in France have similar names, like VancĂ© in Sarthe and Vence on the Mediterranean, but these have different origins and no families with those names or anything similar to "Vance" are known to have come from those areas.

The Irish author John O'Hart proposed that the "Vance" name was derived from the Gaelic O'Uain, meaning lamb, but no evidence for this origin has been found.

Edward MacLysaght's book The Surnames of Ireland, a major reference work on Irish surnames, agrees that "Vance" first appeared in Ireland in the 17th century but says it came from Old English fenn meaning dweller by a fen (marsh) - an interesting idea, but then why did "Vance" only originate in Ireland and not also in England?  Mr. MacLysaght includes William Balbirnie's book in his bibliography but it is still unknown why he proposed this completely different theory (and offered no supporting evidence).  As far as is known today there is still no evidence of this origin from Old English.

Do you have other family stories for how your Vance ancestors got their last name?  Post them here - you may add another piece to this complicated puzzle!

21 comments:

  1. I'm a Vance my family is Irish, Scottish, German and the Dutch.

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  2. Hannah, welcome. How much do you know about your Vance ancestry?

    Sincerely,

    Dave

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  3. I'm a Vance as well, I'm related to the Hatfield clan. My grandfather was the great great grandson of Jim Vance.

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  4. Welcome as well! Out latest blog post is about Jim Vance, but you probably saw that. Enjoy the Vance History Online blog and if we can help with your research please let me know.

    Sincerely,

    Dave

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  5. Hi..my maternal line is Vance. I'm in the early beginnings of searching genealogy trails in memory of my mom, Irma Jean Vance, her father, Claude Nelson Vance who is the son of Chance, Chancy or Charly Vance son of William Vance and Eliza Redmond. My grandpa always said he was one half maternal Cherokee (I can not find that) and I can not find little to nothing on him. TY for the site! Very nice.

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    1. Pamela, welcome. I don't see anything specifically about your Vance line in the VFA master surname list, but I'll send you a private message about some sites that might help.

      Dave

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  6. Hi, I'm also a Vance. I was able to only go as far back to my great great grandfather who was James Vance, he was born 1816 in Ohio, and died September 23, 1869 in Guernsey Co., Quaker City, OH. He married Maria Jane Henderson on October 29, 1840, daughter of William Henderson and Nancy Ann Clendenning. I'd like to know more about him and his lineage.

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  7. Enrique, welcome of course. You should obviously verify this information, but it looks like James was a descendant of William Vance who moved with his brother Ezekiel Vance from PA to Guernsey Co, OH before 1804. They were sons of Ezekiel Vance who died Mar 24, 1768 in Menallen Twp, York (now Adams Co), PA.

    More detail is available here: http://genforum.genealogy.com/vance/messages/3661.html and if you have an Ancestry.com membership, here: http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/24237502/person/1494325962/storyx/1?pg=32817&pgpl=pid. Or if you are a VFA member, the pedigree is on pg. 89 of the July 1997 VFA newsletter.

    This was research submitted by a researcher named Carolyn K. Shearer, although there is no contact information on her in the VFA newsletter. But several Ancestry.com public family trees also have the same information (like the one I linked to above) and you may be able to find more from those researchers also.

    Dave

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  8. Bonjour, je me nomme Alain Monier je suis francais. Mes recherche ADN IGENEA me mette en rapport avec un Vance Aglo saxon au meme titre qu'un Dalton, un Ferrand Irlande, un Majors. Mes antecedents ADN sont Anglais, Irlandais. J'ai 22 marqueurs sur 24 Cordialement. Alain Monier.

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    1. Alain, bienvenue. Vous parlez d'un test d'ADN-Y? Est-ce-que vous connaissez votre haplogroupe?

      Vous avez peut-etre vu ici qu'une des origines du patronyme "Vance" est la famille de Vaux, en fait en Ecosse medievale un des de Vaux a pris the nom "Dalston", ce qui ressemble fort a "Dalton"... coincidence peut-etre.

      Ca me fait du bien de voir des francais qui font des recherches d'ADN; les bases de donnees ont grand besoin de resultats en dehors des anglophones!

      Vous pouvez me retrouver a davevance01@gmail.com si je peut vous etre utile en quoi que ce soit.

      Dave Vance

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  9. Hi I'm also a Vance, it was my mother's maiden name. I'm from the Philippines.
    I don't much about my mother, because my parents separated when I was just a 6 years old.
    So I can't recall much. Appreciate this blog. I've been searching for my mom for years now. I don't even have a vivid memory of her. Anyway, I hope she's doing Okay though.

    Thanks so much for this site.-

    LK Vance Sate

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    1. LK, sorry for the delay in responding, but welcome. Did your mother live in the Philippines? I don't know much myself, although there is a Lee W. Vance and a John R. Vance who both wrote about the Philippines. If you have ANY details send me a note at davevance01@gmail.com and I can help you look.

      Some people have luck taking DNA tests and finding lost family connections, although you'd need that someone from your mother's family had tested too so that the DNA matches show up, so it's a bit luck of the draw. In your case you'd want either an autosomal DNA test (called variously Family Finder, or Family DNA tests) or a mitochondrial DNA test (called various names but often "maternal line"). Anyway that's a possibility too.

      Dave

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  10. my maiden name is vance. my dad was glenn roger vance he was born in Richmond va. I think in 1943. some family say we are related to jim vance I don't know. I am just trying ti find some of my ancestors from my dads side. his dads name was doug vance and his mother was mollie vance. could you help?

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    1. Hi - sorry for the delay in responding. If you can send me a note at davevance01@gmail.com, I can point you to what I think is information on your grandparents - could they be Henry Douglas (Doug) Vance and Mollie Vance (nee Street) who lived in Buchanan County, VA?

      Dave

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  11. I'm a Vance, we are part Dutch, Irish, German, and Native American, our last names were originally Vans, but when our ancestors came to America they changed it to Vance.

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    1. Britney, apologies for the delay in responding and welcome to the site. Do you know what line of Vances you come from, or who your oldest Vance ancestor is? The VFA has info on many Vance family lines and we might be able to connect you with other research or researchers.

      In any case, enjoy the site!

      Dave

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  12. I am a Vance. We are Irish, Scottish, English and Chickash/Choctaw. My family is from Oklahoma. My dad and grandpa names are Roger Sr. And Roger Jr. My name is Rodney. I am trying to learn more about my family history. Thanks

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    1. Rodney, welcome. What else do you know about your Vances? I know of one Roger Thomas Vance Sr, born about 1944 who passed away in 2012 who had a son Roger Thomas Vance Jr - is that perhaps your line?

      For male Vances (or female Vances who have living male Vance relatives) I always encourage a Y-DNA test with one of the major companies (Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, Family Genomes Corp, etc); it's not always cheap but a lot of research has been done on the Y-DNA of the Vance lines and it's improving all the time. That might connect you into known Vance family lines in cases where your traditional research runs cold. But first if you can tell me more about what you know of your Vance line (or send me an email at davevance01@gmail.com) we can see if there is other research first!

      Dave

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  13. My father's mother was a Vance: Mary Vance, born outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1885. Her mother was Elizabeth Somerville Vance; her father was Thomas Vance. She had 3 sisters and 4 younger brothers. Mary emigrated to the U.S. (Boston area) at the age of 17, but the rest of the family stayed in the Belfast area. I was told that Mary's family originally (or at least previously) came from France. I am interested in any information that might be available about this part of the Vance family.

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    1. Welcome to the site! I suspect this is your Thomas and Elizabeth Vance family in Belfast: http://genealogy.jvans.co.uk/getperson.php?personID=I10647&tree=2; not a lot of detail there but it looks like Mary had at least two brothers (she's not even listed there!).

      Try this descendant report also: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDgQFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rootschat.com%2Fforum%2Findex.php%3Faction%3Ddlattach%3Btopic%3D570955.0%3Battach%3D264313&ei=TE9eVPz2I86cygStqoGQDg&usg=AFQjCNHs2Xtux3lfFYm_qSY0Lf_iH6bE-A&sig2=Ose9riCq5RoJ6pmU_BFpYA&bvm=bv.79189006,d.aWw

      It gives a huge family tree and includes Thomas Vance and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Somerville Vance around page 30, BUT I don't know the origin or depth of research of this tree, so please use it only as a guide and not as established fact until you can either prove or disprove it!

      As to Mary's origins from France; I don't know if that refers to the traditional story of the Vance surname in Ireland coming from the de Vaux family of Normandy (as told on in our history above) or if it means she was from a later French origin. I know of cases where Huguenot French families named Vaux emigrated to the British Isles in the 17th and 18th centuries, although I'm not aware of actual examples where those lines had their names evolve into "Vance", it's always possible.

      I'll explore more about this Vance line in the VFA files, but send me a note at davevance01@gmail.com if you want any additional help in looking into it!

      Dave

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  14. My maiden name is Vance. My dad is from Logan county west Virginia. His name is Johnnie and his brother is Dennie. My grandparents name are Wesley Vance and Hattie's proctor. Wesley's parents name are bud Vance and Mollie Stephenson. I am not sure if bud is a nickname or not. I was told we have Cherokee and also related to the Hatfield's and McCoys. Not sure which side. If anyone has any info, please email me at deeceetreasures@gmail.com.

    Thanks, Denise

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