Yarb(o)rough Family History

The family name is believed to come from the old Norse "Jardborg", which was anglicized into "Eorpburg". The meaning of the former is an earthern fortification near a river, and of the latter, simply "earthen fortification. The family is known to have been in eastern England when William the Conqueror arrived in 1066 AD. Some claim that Yarbroughs may have been in England as early as the mid-ninth century AD. In any event, it is likely that all Yarbrough descend from a common Norse ancestor. The family is one of the earliest names recorded in Englsh heraldry, attesting to its place in British history. Members of the family are found in the both Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. The late Raymond Yarbrough researched the origins of the family name, and the nomograph summarizing his research is recommended reading for anyone who claims kinship to any of the several extended Yarbrough families.

The earliest known Yarboroughs in the New World was "Richard the Immigrant" ca 1642, but there is doubt as to his origins and place on the family tree. An English "cousin", Peter Yerburgh, believes he may have been the son of William Yo. of Saltfleetsby. Richard lived from 1615 until 1702, and his name appears in various legal documents of the time. However, the tracing of the lineages of the early arrivals is complicated by several of them traveling back and forth between the old and new worlds. Almost certainly he was from the Lincolnshire branch of the family, and he too is believed to have traveled between England and Virginia during his lifetime.

Other Yarboroughs soon followed, and evidence suggests that they were related, although the nature of the relationship is not always clear. One Yo., Ambrose, who at one time was believed to have been a half-generation after Richard's arrival, has since been shown to be a descendent of Richard. It is not at all clear who Richard's antecedents were. This is an active, on-going area of family research.

There are numerous spelling variations - Yarborough, Yarbrough, Yarbro, Yarboro, Yarber, Yarbor, Yarberry, Yarbarrow, Yerburgh, Yardburg, etc. Raymond Yarbough researched the name in his article Origins of the Name Yarbrough. Whatever the spelling (there are some ninety variations extant), there

seems little question that all Yarbroughs can trace their respective origins back to a common ancestral name.

In 1979, Robert Price Yarbrough, of Richmond, Virginia visited the grave site of Richard the Immigrant in Old Blandford Churchyard, Petersburg, Virginia. The tombstone, which had fallen into disrepair, had been replaced, but Richard's surname had mistakenly been changed to "Scarborough". Robert undertook to interest various members of the extended Yarborough family in restoring the headstone with the correct name, and the occcasion in 1982 of the restoration served as an opportunity to launch the Yarbrough National Genealogical and Historical Association,with Robert serving as the first president. Also instrumental in forming the association were Allen Yarbrough (dec.), Phil Yarborough, Karen Mazock, "Texas" Charley Yarborough(a nephew of the late Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas), and "Tennessee" Charley Yarbro.

The Association was incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia as a not-for-profit entity in 1991 through the efforts of the late Allen Yarborough. Since its founding, the highlight of the year has been the annual conference, hosted by one or more of the members. This is an occasion for further research through the extensive records owned by various members and made available for all to review. It is also an occasion to make new friends within the extended family.

Many family members have made valuable contributions to the Yarbrough knowledge base, beginning with Nellie Jenkins, of Emelle, AL, who published her Yarbrough Family Quarterly in the early 1960s.

Charles David Yarbrough began publication of the Yarborough Family Magazine in 1966, and this publication is continued today as the Yarbrough Family Quarterly. The late Senator Ralph Yarborough and his brother Donald also lent their support to the family gealogical activities. Karen Mazock, the family archivist and a professional genealogist, has provided considerable information, as have the late Evelyn Goble, the deceased sisters Rea Donahue and Ophelia Kessler, Ann Broadbent, Irene Smelley, Jeannete Wilson and the Rev. Charles Peter Yerburgh of Salisbury, England.

Although the early Yarbroughs first settled in Virginia, they soon began to go southwesterly, following the migration routes (rivers and Indian trails) into the Carolinas, across Georgia to Alabama, Mississippi and westward to California, Oregon and Washington. The late Senator Ralph Yarborough was pleased to remind one and all of a Yarbrough Peninsula in the northern polar region, a Yarbrough Bay in Central America, and a Mt. Yarbrough in Antarctica, indicating the venturesome nature of the family.

There appear to be several branches of the family, all intertwined. These branches followed the same migratory routes, all the while naming their children from what appears to be a common pool of Christian names; e.g., Richard, Thomas, George, John, William, Nathan, Asa, Henry, and Rueben. It is not unusual for various generations to have more than one uncle, nephew, son and/or cousin sharing one of these names. The women also shared this trait, with frequent use of Mary, Martha, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Frances.

Adding to the confusion was custom of taking in children whose parents had died, whether they were kin or not. The census takers of the time simply noted the children as being those of the family being enumerated.

This practice and the usage of names certainly complicates the task of unraveling who was begat by whom. Adding to the problem is the lack of definitive public records, especially from early colonial days in Virginia.

Another complicating factor was the shared penchant of acquiring property in more than one state or territory. It is not at all unusual for one Yarb(o)rough to appear on the multiple census roles, creating the appearance that the each landowner was a separate identity, when in fact it was one individual! Nevertheless, evidence clearly indicates that all American Yarbroughs, of whatever spelling are related. Evidence is equally clear that members of the family have been prominent (even notorious) members of their respective communities since the founding of the country.

Updated July 29, 2014.
©  L. S. Yarbrough 2013.