[Originally printed in the Spokane Chronicle, Wed. Feb. 11, 1981]

[The Spokane Chronicle is no longer printed.]

Climb the family tree
by Joyce Owen Metzger

A column on the surname PETTIT has been requested by two readers, Elsie Koker of Spokane and Clara Behrens of Coeur d'Alene.

After a year of research there is at least sufficient material  gathered to justify devoting this space to that request.

The name has many spellings, including PETTIT, PATTIT, PETIT, PETITT, PETTITE, PETTITT, PETUT and PETTITS. In the first census in 1790, there were 74 families by the name, with New York and Pennsylvania having the most followed by North and South Carolina, with others in Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia.

There are 12 men by the name listed in the DAR PATRIOT INDEX, and about the same number in the INDEX OF REVOLUTIONARY WAR PENSION APPLICATIONS, which indicates the family was well-represented during that war, and that many records are available.


The DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH AND WELSH SURNAMES by Bardsley says the name comes from "le petit," or "the little," and lists references  dating back to 1273.

Another source explains: "PETTIT--This is primarily a history of the Pettit family which cam to America in 1630 and to Canada in 1787. Nevertheless it may be of interest to readers to give a brief account of those bearing the name, who lived first in France and later in England.

"It is said that the family originated in Meaux, France, about 50 miles north of Paris, and dates from the eighth century. They were known as 'Petit des Moulins' and 'Pet des Landes.' The latter went to Bavaria along the Rhine, the Petit des Moulins remained in Normandy and in 1066 were in the army of William the Norman, when he invaded England. There were three PETITs in the army of invasion -- Jean, Francois and Guillaume (William) and all  remained in England."

"There were many names of this family to be found in the Islae of Thanet, England. One, in 1445, inherited through marriage the estate of Daundelion Castle near Margate. The ancient church of St. John's there is rich in ancient brasses and monuments to Petit of Daundelion and his wife, 1599, and the name repeats itself in the churchyard and in truth may be found within and without almost every church in Thanet."

"The history of the English colonies in America contains numerous references to the PETTIT family, the two main branches of which descend from Thomas and John Pettit, who came to America in 1630. They were sons of Henry Pettit of Saffron Walden, Essex County, England, and came to America with the first Winthrop Fleet, which sailed from England in March 1630."

I found more than 20 pages of descendants and two sketches of homes owned by early families with this surname. A biography of C.E. Pettit is included in the History of Leavenworth County, Kansas, and it is said that several by the name of came to Linn County, Oregon.

The same sources shown here can be researched by beginners wanting to learn more about a given surname.

First, check all available surname dictionaries at the Spokane Public Library. Then Table III in A CENTURY OF POPULATION AND GROWTH 1790 CENSUS, for the number of persons by the name in that first census. (This will give you an excellent idea whether the name is common or rare, and where the majority by the name lived, such as New England or the South).

The DAR PATRIOT INDEX is an outstanding source book, which lists the ancestors traced by members of that organization. The records they submitted to the DAR in Washington, D.C., are available to you by mail, and a form will be sent to anyone requesting one, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. INDEX TO REVOLUTIONARY WAR PENSIONS will reveal if you can get pension papers from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. These are marvelous, and usually contain lots of good information on your ancestor, and oftentimes his descendants.

For some surnames there is a wealth of material easily found, and for others such as this column subject one must dig a little further. The material contained here was found in several different libraries. If anyone has the name PETTIT in his or her background, I will be happy to search the material I photocopied for this column, but please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a pedigree chart filled out as far as you know.

Other names are welcome for future column subjects. Please limit them to names that have been in the U.S. for at least three generations.

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[transcribed and converted to HTML by Brad Pettit]