Round and round

After reading a recent news story regarding Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, his name immediately caught my attention. I know two other men named Mike Rounds, and we are all distant cousins through our descent from John Round (ca. 1645-1716) of Swansea and Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Descendants of John Round are treated in the 1983 work by H. L. Peter Rounds, The John Round Family of Swansea and Rehoboth, Massachusetts, which won the Donald Lines Jacobus award the following year. The South Dakota State Historical Society had published a partial ancestor table of the Senator several years ago, identifying him as an eleventh-generation descendant of the first John Round. There are some errors on the ancestor table, so refer to the chart and sources below, but the table serves as a good start.[1]

The Senator and I share the first three American generations, both descended from Jabez3 and Renew (Carpenter) Round, making us seventh cousins twice removed. Renew is the source of my Mayflower descent from John, Elinor, and Francis Billington, so Senator Rounds is also a descendant of Plymouth Colony’s first English man executed for murder! How the name Renew was continued in this family is also interesting, which I’ll continue in another post. While my closer Round kinship is through my mother, my father also descends from John Round, which I think makes me well-rounded!

As all of John Round’s male-line descendants in the seventeenth and eighteenth century have the surname Round, you might wonder why the Senator, the other two Mikes I know, and the genealogist Peter Rounds all have the surname Rounds today. For this I will refer the following paragraph in the introduction of the 1983 Round genealogy:

A special word should be devoted to the final “s” which is commonly added to the Round name. The compiler has found a number of instances where descendants have debated which form is “right”: with the “s” or without the “s.” The compiler feels this is often a debate not worth waging, since it has no simple solution. From the very earliest appearance in America of John1 Round in 1689, the name bore no final “s.” This was the case all the way through the 1700’s, with only an occasional instance when the “s” was added. Then, in the early 1800’s, it started showing up more and more often, sooner in some areas than in others. However, in most cases, there was virtually no pattern. It has become obvious to the compiler, having pored over hundreds of old, original documents, that the addition of an “s” came about largely by default. It was imposed upon them. Again and again it has been found that clerks, muster masters, census enumerators, attorneys and others were the ones who first wrote it with an “s.” The person himself, if he could wrote, signed without the “s.” But as they moved into the 1800’s, the “s” was imposed upon them more and more. So the Round family members themselves, one by one, started using it. Some lines of the family held out longer than others, but most eventually yielded. Finally, arriving in the contemporary age, it seemed that all branches of the family were unanimous in using the final “s.” However, the consultation of 1982 telephone directories from around the country proved there are still some geographical areas and some lines of the family where the absence of the final “s” is carefully followed. Though all ancient instances left the “s” off, most modern-day descendants use it. There is no “right” or “wrong” way.  

The change in the Senator’s line appears in generation six. Sylvester, Jr. was born in Rehoboth in 1788 without the s. His marriage at Rehoboth in 1811 is likewise without the s, although the marriage intention at Dighton, Massachusetts has it. The s is inscribed on his gravestone in 1849, and the plural spelling is used by all later generations.

The imposition of the “s” is something that I have a great deal of sympathy for regarding my own surname. Many branches of the Child family likewise have had the “s” added over the years and I even get Christmas cards today from some of my relatives writing my surname as Childs! I have sort of gotten used to it (apart from when I miss an email!), although I remember frequently as a child my father always spelling our surname to others to ensure they would not get it wrong, often to no avail! All four years in high school, my report card always came addressed to me as “Christopher C. Child,” and my parents listed as “Mr. and Mrs. William C. Childs”!

Sources for chart: Rounds, John Round Family, 11-16, 19-27, 52-57, 131-38, 218-94; 1841 Livingston Co., Michigan Marriage Record of Jabez C. Rounds and Mahitta Walker; 1870 Census, Marion, Clayton, Iowa, Jabez C. Rounds household; 1896 Iowa Birth Certificate of Marion Mather Rounds; 1914 South Dakota Marriage Record of Marion Mather Rounds and Mary Josephine Engabus; World War II Draft Card of Donald Dean Rounds; 2018 Obituary of Don Rounds; GSMD Application of Christopher Challender Child, no. 82877 (shown here beginning with maternal grandparents); “Seeing double” (with a special thank you for the comment by Kay Schmidt, correcting my descent from Obadiah and Katherine [Hyde] Holmes).


[1] For a discussion on the fictional John Round of Yarmouth, Mass., erroneously stated in earlier works as the father of John Round of Swansea and Rehoboth, see Robert S. Wakefield, “Round Family – Fact or Fiction,” The American Genealogist 54 [1978]: 37-38.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

9 thoughts on “Round and round

  1. Finally into my territory Rehoboth & Swansea sometimes spelled Swanzey. We so often fail to recognize that spelling was rather unimportant to many if pur ancestors. Documents can contain 2, 3, 4 even 5 different spellings of the same surname! They wrote phoenticly or not, seemingly changing on a dime. The original Robert Wheaton was first recorded as an abbreviation in Salem as Robt Wheato. Next occurrence as Robert Whedon, but by the time he reaches Rehoboth fairly consistently Robert Wheaton. However it looks like he may have been a Wheddon in England. Even the names of the villages change from time to time from Wheaton to Wheadon and so forth. Bottom line is our forebears did not much care how they spelled things as long as they knew who they were talking about. I think you would Roundly agree?

    1. Yes I would roundly agree indeed 🙂

      I also descend from Robert and Alice (Bowen) Wheaton, via the Daniel Fitts on my chart, who is their great-great-great-grandson, and also descends from Alice’s sister Sarah (Bowen) Fuller.

      1. If you ever ho to Salem there’s a mystery to be solved there about the original records of Robert Wheaton there. The Clerk was unhelpful. Someone needs to go in person. If interested let me know.

  2. HI Chris,
    my g g aunt Sarah Round Hazard (1839-1921 in RI) was named after her aunt Sarah (Marshall) Round (1792-1878 in RI) Her husband Daniel Round (1783-1865) was a Baptist minister who served in Nantucket and what is now Riverside RI, originally Rehoboth, MA. Rounds Avenue is reportedly named in his honor.
    Dan Hazard

    1. I am Rounds descendant through Jabez, Oliver, Sr and Jr. From Rehobeth, then Spencer, Andrew, Hiram and Elmer Rounds, all of whom lived in Bristol, RI where I still reside.

  3. Does your Renew Carpenter go back to William Carpenter and Abigail Briant who are my 10th great grandparents? I assume that she does since you mention Rehoboth MA. If so who were her parents? After William I am descended from three Samuels in a row. But I don’t believe that I have any Rounds in my ancestry.

    1. Yes, William and Abigail are Renew’s great-great grandparents. Renew was the daughter of Jotham and Desire (Martin) Carpenter, son of Benjamin and Renew (Weeks) Carpenter, son of Joseph and Marrgaret (Sutton) Carpenter, son of William and Abigail (Briant) Sutton. I have two other descents from William and Abigail, one through his son William, and another through his son Joseph (and his son Benjamin, splitting off at Jotham’s sister Elizabeth)

    2. Dorothy. I am also a descendant of William Carpenter & Abigail Briant. The line is William(1) Joseph(2) Benjamin(3) Jotham(4) Renew(5).

      My own line branches off with Benjamin’s daughter Elizabeth. Also descended from Benjamin: the Presidents Bush (2 lines from Keziah and Submit). President Garfield has a descent from Jotham’s son Jotham.

  4. I too am descended from John Round through Jabez and Renew’s son Oliver Rounds. Oliver, Sr and Anna Salisbury had a son Oliver who marries Jerusha Drowne of Barrington, RI. (Jerusha was the daughter of Johnathan Drowne who is a Revolutionary patriot.) Oliver, Jr’s son, from whom I am descended, was the father of Spencer, then Andrew Shreve Rounds, then Hiram Augustus, then my Dad, Elmer Allen Rounds. Most of my RI ancesters are buried here in Bristol, RI where I reside.

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