Espy’s the name: E-S-P-Y

Jan 23, 2015 | 0 comments

Espy Coat of Arms... Pehaps

Espy Coat of Arms… Pehaps

Last Sunday I met a woman who said she knows one of my relatives – “Sue Espy” who lives in Portland. I know (or think I know) all the descendants of my great-grandfather, R.H, Espy and, in addition, I know many of the descendants of his brothers and sisters, but I don’t know of a Sue with the Espy surname. I’m afraid my response to my new acquaintance was a bit skeptical but I hope someday to meet Sue Espy and learn more.

It was my uncle Willard who was considered the genealogist of our family and his response to such information was always, “Yes, we probably are related.” I concur with that. I just don’t know the how of my connection to Sue. If I had Willard’s interest in my family roots, I could undoubtedly find out, but I don’t so I probably won’t. I do often think, though, how much easier his quest would have been these days with internet access to sites like and social media conversations galore with the strike of a key.

Willard did most of his searching by good, old-fashioned longhand correspondence or by traveling to interview possible sources in person. His archive has entire boxes devoted to queries to and responses from county clerks and veterans’ organizations and individuals all over the country. He compiled his information into three large loose-leaf binders, copies of which he supplied to all of his immediate family and to all of his eighteen first cousins or their offspring. The pages of those books are chock-a-block full of amazing information!

He also checked out the origins of the family name. A certificate from Halberts in Bath, Ohio says that there are approximately 400 heads of households (yielding about 1,280 people) in the United States with the old and d Espy distinguished Espy name – a name with the most prominent variations being Delespie, Epis and Espie. (There is no mention of the Espey spelling which my own branch of the family used briefly in the 1890s.) Unfortunately there is no date on the Halberts certificate, but I think Willard received it in the 1960s or ‘70s.

Besides all that interesting information about our far flung “cousins” and their name-spellings, the certificate shows and describes the Espy Coat of Arms: Quartered: 1) and 4) blue, a gold ear of wheat in left diagonal position; 2) and ) silver, a red bull walking and in the black upper third, three silver shells. It goes on to explain: the surname Espy appears to be occupational in origin, and is believed to be associated with the French, meaning, “one who was a farmer.” Furthermore, according to Halberts’ certificate, Family mottos are believed to have originated as battle cries in medieval times. A Motto was not recorded with the Espy Coat of Arms.

Family Name Certificate

Family Name Certificate

So, if we were to believe all that, the Espys were farmers, not soldiers and possibly of French origin. I don’t know what Willard thought of Halberts’ information. He did claim that the origin of the Espy name was French – he said from the word espier meaning to spy. (The first known use of the word espy was in the 14th century – or so the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary reports.) So maybe we were spies and attached to the military, not farmers after all?  When all was said and done, however, Willard did not believe that any of our forebears were illustrious enough to have warranted a coat of arms.  Nor do I.

Perhaps of note:   the source of this lovely certificate, Halberts Publishing Company, is now out of business and according to many online reports, its information was not reliable. In fact, says   Beware of family history scams: First it was Halberts of Bath, Ohio Then Morphcorp in Denver, Colorado. is the latest to promote the scam!

Who knows… maybe Willard’s hand written queries and in-person visits were the best way after all.


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