Select Menzies Surname Genealogy

This Scottish surname had its origin in the place-name Mesnieres near Rouen in Normandy and a Norman knight of that name who arrived in England at the time of William the Conqueror. 

One branch of the family remained in England and their name was anglicized as Manners.  Another branch moved north to Scotland where they were well received by the Scottish king.  The name here was first de Meyners but became Menzies over time.

The spelling of Menzies as Menzies reflected Gaelic influences and how it came to be written down and later printed.  But the pronunciation of Menzies in Scotland, although not necessarily elsewhere, was more like “Ming” or “Mingis.”  Thus the Scottish Liberal Democrat politician Menzies Campbell was called “Ming” Campbell; while the Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies went by “Menzies” (although he himself preferred the Scottish ”Mingis.”) 

The alternative Means and Minnis spellings, that can be found in Ireland and America, followed more the Scottish sound of the name

Select Menzies Resources on The Internet

Select Menzies Ancestry

ScotlandThe early Menzies in Scotland were of Norman origin, bearing the name of de Meyners.

Based initially in Midlothian, this family rose in prominence in court circles and Robert de Meyners was given the position of Chamberlain of Scotland under Alexander II in 1249.  The King turned out to be exceedingly generous to Robert and his family, granting them extensive lands in Perthshire, notably at Culdair in Glenlyon and at Weem near Aberfeldy.

Perthshire became the base for the Menzies clan:
  • the Menzies of Weem held the Palace of Weem, later Castle Menzies, from the 16th century onwards.  This senior line ended in 1910.
  • while the Menzies of Culdair - descended from Colonel James Menzies, a prominent Covenanting officer in the 1660‘s – were later Jacobite supporters and held Meggernie castle in Glenlyon at one time.  This line still continues.
Archibald Menzies from Weem became well-known in England as a naturalist and botanist following his voyages to the Pacific in the 1790’s.  He was the first European to reach the summit of the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa and he introduced the monkey puzzle tree to England.

Other notable Scottish Menzies have been:
  • John Menzies who as a young man of twenty-five started up a newspaper shop in Edinburgh in 1833.  This has expanded into John Menzies PLC, a national chain.
  • and Graham Menzies from Angus who was a whisky distiller in Edinburgh in the mid/late 1800’s and became hugely wealthy.  This fortune was later much dissipated by his son John.  John’s son Stewart was Chief of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, from 1939 to 1952.
Ireland.  Some Menzies departed Scotland for Ireland at the time of the Ulster plantations of the 17th century.  But the spelling generally changed in the crossing. 

It was Means in Tyrone and Fermanagh. 
There were early Means in the Clogher area of Tyrone and two Means families were recorded in Fermanagh by the 1650’s.  Joseph Means arrived in Fermanagh from Weem as a young man in the 1670’s.  His son John emigrated to New England in 1718, later settling in Pennsylvania.  His line was covered in Elizabeth Foglesong’s 1972 book Means in America. 

The spelling was more Minnis in county Down.  William Minnis was recorded in the linen business in Lisdoonan in the 1780’s.  John Minnis had by then departed for America where he was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and later settled in Tennessee.  His line was covered in Elizabeth Austin’s 1913 book Minnis Family of Ireland and America.

.  There are Menzies, Means, and Minnis names in America.  The Menzies numbers have been relatively small - only four in the 1840 census and less than 2,000 in family numbers today.  There have been a few reasons for this, other than the fact that not that many Menzies did come to America: 
  • some came, but then went back.  That was the case with James Menzies of Culdair who was captured and exiled to Maryland after the failure of the 1715 Jacobite rising.  He was later allowed to return. 
  • some had their name changed on arrival in America, or shortly thereafter.  Thus it was James Menzies who arrived in Virginia in 1753, but he was known as James Minnis from 1763 onwards.  And the descendants of Andrew Menzies in North Carolina around that time went by the name of Mings.  
  • and then there were Menzies Loyalists at the time of the Revolutionary War who departed for Canada.  Three Menzies families from New York left at this time and resettled in New Brunswick.  
The family of the Rev. Adam Menzies did stay in America and did keep their name (although the locals pronounced it Minnis).  He had been a Jacobite supporter in 1745 who had fled to Virginia after their defeat.  His son Samuel fought in the Revolutionary War and distinguished himself at the Battle of Yorktown.  Samuel moved with his family to Kentucky in 1805.  His son Samuel Jr was an army surgeon at the time of the Civil War and his grandson G.V. Menzies a prominent Indiana lawyer.

.  Robert and Catherine Menzies emigrated from Perthshire in 1832 at the time of the Highland Clearances when small farmers were being driven off their land.  They settled to farm near Milton, Ontario.  Their second son David moved away and started his own farm at Clinton in Huron county.  He and his wife Jane had two remarkable offspring: 
  • their son James Menzies, born in Clinton in 1885, who worked in China over the period 1910-1936 as a Christian missionary.  He also had expertise on ancient Chinese oracle bone scripts and was the foremost non-Chinese scholar on the Bronze Age culture in China. 
  • and their grandson Arthur Menzies, born in China in 1916, who became a famous Canadian diplomat, serving as ambassador in a number of Asian countries.  He returned to China as ambassador in 1976.
Australia.  Two Menzies arrived in Australia in the mid-1800’s, one from a notable Perthshire family and the other being a seaman who had probably jumped ship in Melbourne.  Surprisingly it was the latter’s line which was to have the bigger impact in Australia. 

In 1839 a young Scottish couple – Dr. Robert Menzies and his bride Margaret - arrived in Sydney with the intention of settling on a farm and making a future for themselves and their family there.  They established their farm at Jamberoo, some seventy miles south of Sydney. 

Sadly their time there was not to last long.  Robert Menzies’ untimely death occurred at the age of forty-nine in 1860.  His wife Margaret passed away a year later.  They left four daughters, but no sons to carry on the farm and the family name. 

Robert Menzies, a seaman, had rushed to Ballarat in the 1850’s in search of gold and a fortune.  Born and bred in the Glasgow region, he had little incentive to return to Scotland.  His parents had both died, leaving him no property.  His father James was in his time a bleacher, chargekeeper and gardener.

There was no gold for him in Ballarat.  But his son James was determined that he and his family should do well.

“James and Kate Menzies had little money, but they had all that respect for education and learning so typical of Scots of humble origin of their times.  They were determined that their children should achieve the best education of which each was capable.  What school taught him was supplemented by the habit the parents had of reading to their family.”

Their son Robert Menzies, born in Ballarat, rose to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Australian history

Select Menzies Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Menzies Names

Robert de Meyners was appointed Chamberlain of Scotland by Alexander II in 1249.
John Menzies
started up the newspaper chain of John Menzies in Edinburgh in 1833.
James Menzies
from Canada was a Christian missionary to China in the early 1900’s.  He was also the foremost non-Chinese scholar on the Bronze Age culture in China. 
Sir Robert Menzies
has been Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, from 1939 to 1941 and from 1949 to 1966.

Select Menzies Today
  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in Perthshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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