Sturgis – or Sturgeon?

In my study of Sturgis family history, I have found many branches of Sturgis families besides “my” branch, which begins with Edward Sturgis of Charlestown (1635) and Yarmouth (1639.) There are Sturgis (or Sturges) families in Connecticut, Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania.

I began looking into Pennsylvania Sturgis families because of Samuel Davis Sturgis, who was a West Point graduate and Brevet Major-General during the Civil War.[1] I am fairly sure that I am not a direct relation to the famous General, but I would like to learn more about his ancestry. I found that Samuel D. was born in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, on 11 June 1822, the son of Mary Brandenburg (or Brandebury) and James Sturgis.[2] There is quite a bit of information available about Samuel D., but very little about his ancestry prior to his parents. I learned that James and Mary Sturgis moved with several of their children to Burlington, Iowa, where James died in 1855[3] and Mary in 1872.[4] James’s tombstone says “Born in Juniata County, Pa., 1785.” According to Wikipedia, Juniata County wasn’t formed until 1831,[5] and it was originally part of Mifflin County. A search for “Sturgis” in the 1790 census for Mifflin County returns no hits, but there is one hit for “William Sturgeon” with four males (one 16 and over) and six females.

[A] search of Shippensburg census records prior to 1820 shows no Samuel Sturgis. But there are records of “Samuel Sturgeon” in 1810, 1820, and 1830.

In Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in the Civil War,[6] the claim is made that ”General Samuel David [sic] Sturgis was the grandson of Samuel Sturgis, a watchmaker whose shop was located on East King Street, between the Peoples National Bank and the Square. His father, James Sturgis, was a Shippensburg Justice of the Peace and was called ‘Squire Sturgis.'” Aha! Samuel D.’s grandfather! However, a search of Shippensburg census records prior to 1820 shows no Samuel Sturgis. But there are records of “Samuel Sturgeon” in 1810, 1820, and 1830. So, I decided to look into Samuel Sturgeon. In Kline’s Carlisle Weekly Gazette for 19 January 1803, I found the obituary of “Mrs. Martha Sturgeon, wife of Mr. Samuel Sturgeon, clock and watch maker of this place (Shippensburg).”

Is it pure coincidence that there are “Sturgeon” records that appear to match Sturgis people and places?

In a biography of General Sturgis in A Biographical Album of Prominent Pennsylvanians,[7] the assertion is made that “The progenitor of the family in this country was William Sturgis, who emigrated from County Armagh, Ireland, and settled in the Juniata valley about 1745.” A breakthrough? Maybe. In a biography of Elmore Y. Sturgis,[8] another Civil War veteran, I learned that he was a “son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Brasier) Sturgis, the former of whom was a native of county Armagh, Ireland” and grandson of “Rev. William Sturgis who likewise was a native of the Emerald Isle, whence he emigrated with his family when Thomas was a boy of ten years. The family took up their abode at Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.”

In a biography of another Civil War vet., John E. Sturgis,[9] I found that “His father, Thomas Sturgis, was born near Lough Neagh, county Armagh, Ireland, December 23, 1802, and was a son of Rev. William and Elizabeth (Gratz) Sturgis.” “… They removed to Pennsylvania and settled at Shippensburg…” Maybe the connection began in Ulster?

So I commissioned the Ulster Historical Foundation to investigate Rev. William Sturgis and his family, noting that they were in Ulster near Lough Neagh in the early 1800s. Their research found no one of the name “Sturgis.” But they did find the family of William and Elizabeth “Sturgeon,” with baptisms of children Joseph, Mary, Amelia, Martha, and Sarah, all prior to 1810. That Sturgeon family lived in the townland of Drumnahunshin, which is a few miles south of Lough Neagh in County Armagh.[10]

As an Agatha Christie character once said: ”I’ve often noticed that when coincidences start happening they go on happening in the most extraordinary way.”[11] It appears that if Sturgeons didn’t become Sturgises, they certainly lived in very close proximity to one another.


[1] American National Biography, Vol. 21 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 93.

[2] Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy Annual Reunion, June 12, 1890 (Saginaw, Mich.: Evening News and Binding House, 1890), 21.




[6] Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in the Civil War (Shippensburg, Pa.: Shippensburg Historical Society/Burd Street Press, 2003), 251.

[7] A Biographical Album of Prominent Pennsylvanians (Philadelphia: American Biographical Publishing Company, 1888), 237.

[8] Memorial Record of Northeastern Indiana (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1896), 534.

[9] Biographical Memoirs of Wells County, Indiana (Logansport, Ind.: B.F. Bowen, 1903), 435.



About Sam Sturgis

Sam was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University and worked as a Human Factors researcher in automotive safety for 13 years. He entered the field of commercial software development in 1983 and acted as software developer and development manager at Wang Laboratories and The Foxboro Company. Sam joined the NEHGS staff in 2005. Sam's interest in genealogy began shortly after moving to Massachusetts, when he and his family chanced upon the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, during a vacation on Cape Cod. There he discovered that he is a descendent of the Sturgis family that settled on Cape Cod in the 1630's. Sam and his wife Gail live in Medway, Massachusetts. They have two grown children: Katie, a Registered Nurse in Wrentham, and David, a software developer in Somerville.

14 thoughts on “Sturgis – or Sturgeon?

  1. Military service notwithstanding I wonder if your Irish ancestors were Quakers. Interesting story of your surname research.

  2. Be careful with the Sturgeon name as you head to the Middle Atlantic states and then south. My mother-in-law was a Sturgell/Sturgill and that name is also often intertwined with Sturgeon. I have no idea why it was so hard keeping an L at the end of the name or, in your case, an S!

    1. Thanks for the warning! Incidentally, my only Sturgis-related DNA match that I’m aware of that is not with a known first or second cousin is with a fellow in the UK whose surname is “Sturgess”. Now, if I could only find a DNA match with a “Sturgeon” …

  3. I can identify with your Sturgis posting. For years I have researched the JENNA ancestors in Vermont. I believe that name is really JENNEY as they were in the same small geographical area. However, no proof yet. Hopefully a distant JENNA cousin will eventually match a JENNY with Vermont roots.

  4. This may be OT but here goes: Ayrshire is crawling with Sturgeons. That is where from my stepgrandfather William Dickie Sturgeon emigrated to the US circa 1912. He subsequently adopted his new pair of Waldo stepsons (ages 8 and 10), changing their surname to his. One of the sons became a speculative fiction writer (who had always been called Teddy, so the first name had also been changed, at the adoption, from Edward to Theodore). To this day libraries and other types of databases errantly list his (legal) name as “Theodore Hamilton Sturgeon, pseudonym for Edward Hamilton Waldo.” During his lifetime, 1918-1985, this really used to bug Ted. No such problems for Peter Assheton Sturgeon, Ted’s older brother, who went on to found the American chapter of MENSA.

  5. David Hackett Fisher wrote “Albions Seed” which is a study of the 4 early migrations from England with their own distinct dialects. After the American Revolution when New Englander’s migrated West, speech patterns changed.

    My Rathbone descendants from the 1st emigrant John of Dorchester MA & Block Island RI, became Rathburn then Rathbun when they hit Chautauqua Co. NY.

    Remember, names were spelled phonetically by clerks recording those names.

  6. Yes, I agree with the last comment. The present First Minister of Scotland is Nicola Sturgeon, and there are lots of Sturgeons here (I live in Glasgow). It may be that your ancestors migrated to Northern Ireland after the Clearances, and being Presbyterians (see the obituary), did not quite fit in, so continued on to America with the large group of Scots who moved there. It’s very common for surnames to be shortened/modified en route. See C.K. Bolton, Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America, Boston, 1910.

  7. I am descended from Joshua Sturgis (1757-1845) of York County, South Carolina. He descended from a John Sturgis who arrived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia about 1660 and was married there. He is said to have been born about 1637 in Leicestershire, England, and he died in Accomack County, Virginia, in 1684. I have not seen the name Sturgeon in this line.

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