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Crain Ancestry

Family names were not common prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066; and were often suggested by some prominent characteristic of the person, his occupation, location or a natural object. The Doomsday Book of England, a record covering the period from 1066 to 1086 does not include the family name Crane. It is not until 1272 that the name appears among the tenants of a Norman Lord, Sir William le Moyne. Recorded are the names Andreas, John, Oliver and William de Crane, the “de” apparently indicating they were from the town of Crannes in the province of Maine, France. Since these names appear after the Conquest, it possible the Cranes of England were originally of Norman decent.

Although the Doomsday Book does not record any related family names, it does refer to the following places: Craneforda, Cranesford, Cranesforda, Cranesfordam, Cranewarda, Cranewisse, Cranefort, Cranawarda, Cranlea, Cranslea and Cranbone. Nearly all these names appear within the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, the very localities to which we trace the origin of the name. These names come from the Gaelic word cran, meaning shallow water. It appears the family name bares no special reference to the bird—instead both the family and the bird are derived from the description of the place.

As with other family names, great latitude has been taken with the spelling of our last name. Spellings such as Crane, Cran, Cranne, Crain, Craine and Crayne are all variations on the same. Many of our ancestors, although quite accomplished, lived at time when a man able to spell his name was the exception, not the rule.

The Cranes Of Chilton

There are numerous records which go back hundreds of years, some of which are located in the Harleian Collection of the British Library, London, England. The records, were collected by Heralds at the request of the crown as a way to document family marriages and heredity of the nobles. The Cranes in Suffolk, particularly in Chilton, seem to be a focus of the records.

A bbuttressed rick tower with battlemented parapet, and the body of the flint church beyond
St. Mary's Church, Chilton. By William Henderson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The Cranes of Chilton were quite influential and well connected. St. Mary's Church located there, includes a tower and a chantry chapel built in the 16th century for the family. In the Crane chapel are the table tombs of George Crane, who died in 1491, and Robert Crane, who died in 1500, and his wife. On the wall is a monument to Sir Robert Crane who died in 1643, and his two wives; this was carved in 1626 by Gerard Christmas. Also displayed in The Crane Monument is the family's coat of arms.

The Tie To England

There is currently little reliable documentation to establish an ancestral tie between England and our family’s first known colonial ancestor, Benjamin Crane. According to family tradition, John Crane of the “Muddy Brook” section of Boston, originally of Norfolk, was the father of Benjamin and brother Henry. The names John and Jonathan were used often in the first few generations of our colonial ancestry, which seems to indicate some significance or that it was a family name. In fact, Benjamin’s son Jonathan had two sons, one named Jonathan and the other John. Whether early generations honor John from the Boston area or someone else is still unknown.

Although there is currently little documentation to tie Benjamin Crane to a parent or a line of ancestors in England, the family is able to trace its lineage back to Suffolk through a coat of arms. The coat of arms documented in Ellery Bicknell Crane’s Volume I was reported to have been preserved by the family since their arrival to New England. The same coat of armor preserved by the family in New Engalnd is also on display within St. Mary’s Church in Chilton. The coat of arms not only provides the family a tie to the county of Suffolk, it establishes a tie more specifically to the family in Chilton.