Cornish Roots

Since 1550′

The earliest Parish Registers of the mid 1500’s record four men carrying the surname Samble/Sambles who were living in very close proximity to each other in southeastern Cornwall England. Thomas, John, Gregory and William may have been brothers or at least cousins. Their births precede the beginning of the parish registers. In any case many branches of the Sambell/Sambells clans throughout the world today can trace their earliest ancestors to one of these four men living in the Parishes of St. Erney, Landulph, Pillaton or St Mellion. It appears that they all worked as farm labourers on several different manors in the region.

The Missing Link

However, there is a missing piece of the puzzle between these 16th century men and the earliest generations of the clan who were located in Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire during the tenth and eleventh centuries. The kinship links between these families and their first appearance in Cornwall in the 1400’s is yet unknown and awaits further research. In addition, Sambell, Sambells and Sambles are to be found in the census records of the nineteenth century in various other parts of England.

The Primary Records

Birth, marriage and death records of the Parish Registers were used to create my own Cornish descendent charts. These were based upon the Parish Registers of Cornwall and Devon. These have been digitized and are available to access on line or on microfiche at the Family History Centres through the generosity of the LDS church members. In addition numerous Manoral Documents held by the Cornwall Records Office have not yet been digitized and remain to be searched where they are held in Truro.


Information gleaned from wills, apprenticeships records, tithe surveys, and census records indicate that the most common Victorian occupation of the various Sambell/Sambells families in Cornwall was tenant farming supplemented by fishing and market gardening. A variety of trade skills including carpenters, net weavers, shipwrights, rope makers, and smithies are also recorded. In a few cases some families owned shops or serviced the ferries crossing from Torpoint to Plymouth. In addition several men entered the Royal Navy as “blue jackets” and served their tours of duty during the conversion from sail to steam powered ships.


Although some dispersion of the Sambells to other parts of Cornwall and Devon took place in the last four hundred years, international migration did not begin until the early 1800’s. A few Sambles, both male and female are to be found in the records of “transportation” ie. sentenced for criminal offenses and were transported to penal colonies in New Zealand or Australia. Economic opportunity drew other pioneers to sail for the south seas as well as the United States and Canada. Consequently, there are many international branches of the family today. You may be a member of one of them.

Surname Spelling

Today the most common spelling of the surname is Sambell and Sambells with few Samble and Sambles as well. Most commonly I tend to use the Sambells spelling because it seems to imply a plural form of the surname. In other instances I use Sambell/s to give recognition to the two most common spellings. Frustrated by the “proper” use of the surname I decided to express my feelings in the following poem.

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Emigrants leaving Cornwall invariably departed on the Torpoint Ferry to Plymouth and from there sailed to distant global destinations.


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