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The Lambert Surname

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The Lambert Surname

         In the United States, Lambert is the 292nd most common surname, found in 0.037% of the population.  This is an ideal frequency for a DNA project, as the population is large enough to have a critical size but small enough to suggest some homogeneity.  Other spellings included in this project are present at lower frequencies.  Although most of the Lamberts in the United States and Canada are of British background, the name also is common in Ireland and on the Continent.  When the Lambrechts and Lambertis are included, one can expect family members from southern and central Europe as well (the Ghibelline Mosca de' Lamberti was placed in the Eighth Circle of Dante's Inferno as a Sower of Schism by helping create the feud between the Ghibellines and the Guelfs in 1215). 

         Surnames became common in England in the 1300s.  Before that time, both commoners and aristocrats carried a single name.  Titled land owners, however, also were known by the names of their estates.  When surnames were adopted, they fell into four main categories:  locations, patronymics, professions, and physical characteristics.  "Lambert" may have been a Christian name originally.  Its history goes back at least to St. Lambert (ca. 635-ca. 700), who was born in Maestricht (Netherlands) and died in Liége (Belgium).  His Latin name, derived from the German, is Landebertus.  The Christian name Lambert became common in the Low Countries and in France after his martyrdom.  It moved to England only after the Norman Conquest in 1066.  It has been translated either as "bright land" or as "innocent."  According to Surname Profiler, the Lambert surname is concentrated in the eastern half of England, with its highest concentrations in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Yorkshire. The surname is in small concentrations or nearly lacking in Scotland, Wales, and all of the western and southwestern English counties. These patterns correspond to either Viking or Saxon invasions, and do not indicate Celtic/British sources. Probably the most famous English Lambert was the Cromwellian general, John Lambert, active in the English Civil War in the middle 1600s.  On the Continent, the physicist Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728 - 1777) is associated with Lambert's Law, still studied by science students, although the "lambert," an optical unit of brightness, is no longer in use.

         There were Lamberts in New England as early as 1631, when Thomas Lumbert arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from Dorset, England.  Descendants had numerous spelling variations, such as Lumbard and Lambert.  Lamberts go back to before 1663 in the Southern Colonies, and Lamberts were prominent in New Jersey as well. 

         At least four groups of Lamberts lived in the southern United States prior to 1800. This surname project has demonstrated that each group is genetically distinct. Where then did all of these southern Lamberts come from?  There are many possibilities.  (i) Direct immigration from England.  (ii) Immigration from Nova Scotia.  Acadian Lamberts are known to have gone to Charleston (Charles Town) in the 18th century.  (iii) Immigration from New England, possibly via New Jersey.  The earliest of the New England group may have been Thomas Lambert/Lumbert/Lombard, born 1581/2 in Dorset, England, died 1663-4 in Barnstable, MA.  He had numerous sons, including Thomas, Bernard, Joshua, Caleb, Jovanseh, Jedediah, and Benjamin, born in England and MA over the period 1602-1642.  Thomas was in Dorchester, MA, by 1631, making him one of America's earliest immigrants.  From this generous number of sons, tens of thousands of descendants have come down.  If we can obtain DNA samples from Lambert descendants of these groups, we can prove or disprove a connection between the southern and New England Lamberts.

         Except possibly for Thomas Lumbert, no specific Lambert roots have been established in England.  Matches of DNA could specify exactly where in England our ancestors might have come from.  Here we would need DNA samples from Lamberts in England who can trace their lineages back to specific locales in the 17th or 18th centuries.  For Lamberts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa, similar connections might be established.  For example, if one group of Lamberts has identical DNA to Lamberts with ancestors from a particular village in England, we can conclude that their ancestors came from that village (or from a nearby village with related Lamberts). 

         DNA analysis is able to establish (or disprove) familial linkages by comparing Y chromosomal DNA (see DNA Analysis).  The objectives of the Lambert DNA Project are to use DNA analysis to establish links between the various American branches, to locate British sources of the American Lamberts, and to learn the extent of relationships among the English, Irish, Belgian, German, and French Lamberts.  Similar arguments hold for Lamberts elsewhere in the world who came from these sources, including Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. It is likely that some of the English Lamberts were Norman and hence have roots going back to France. The living Lamberts of France and Belgium could establish their own roots and possible connections with the English Lamberts. There are families with similar names in Italy (Lamberti), Germany (Lambrecht, but also Lambert), and other countries. It would be useful to see whether there is any chromosomal similarity of these other families.

         Many of these questions WILL be answered, if Lambert participation in the DNA project is widespread.


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