Matthew Copus, genealogist, genealogy researcher, private indexes

Copus Family Lines (1) - Origins; Rarity Or Otherwise

Over the years, I have been contacted by people from all over the World who are very interested in the Copus surname or its variants, such as Copas. Before the publication of the original version of these present notes on this website in March 2007, I had very rarely found any connection which could be proven between these enquirers and my own family (as far as this has been traced back, to where relevant references in parish records unfortunately seem to peter out in the ancestral area in and near Stoke next Guildford in West Surrey, around the start of the 18th Century). This has often meant my having to answer in the negative such frequently asked questions as "Surely we must be related - Copus seems such a very unusual surname?" and has naturally been rather disappointing for these researchers.

Copus Family group 1921

In fact, in the 1901 Census index of England alone, there are altogether over 500 persons named Copus (275 entries) or Copas (248 entries), so that, even allowing for the inevitable quota of misindexed, missing or illegible entries, this is not such a very rare name as, for instance, Breewood (an ancestral surname on my mother's side of the family - rare, but unfortunately still very difficult to track down). The same 1901 Census index includes, in the whole of England, just 12 entries stated to be for Breewood, and 20 for Brewood, a total of only 32 persons.

There are also hundreds of Copus and Copas entries in each of the US Federal Census indexes from 1900 on to 1930. In 1900, 200 Copus and 523 Copas entries are shown; while in the 1930 Census there are 463 persons named Copus and as many as 842 named Copas listed (but none at all for Breewood and only 10 for Brewood). Of course, this being the US, it seems not impossible that these many persons named Copus or Copas included at least some few whose original surname, before they immigrated to that country, may have been rather, or even entirely, different.

In view of the number of enquiries about the Copus surname and many and diverse Copus families which my parents and I have received over the years, I was quite delighted when, in February 2007, Brian Copus started his own website, devoted entirely to the name of Copus - surname, origins and family history. Brian is always pleased to be contacted about "all things Copus", as he puts it. This growing resource can be found at and the "Photos" page even includes, among many others, a few pictures which I have contributed.

Another "FAQ" over the years has been, "I have heard that the surname Copus is of German" (or Dutch, or Hungarian) "origin. What are your views on this?" To which, my standard reply has always been that, given that my own family has been firmly rooted in England for at least three centuries and that there was no shortage of other Copus families even in Surrey at quite early dates, such more "exotic" origins, while they would be most interesting in themselves, regrettably do not seem very likely in our particular case at least. Some persons named Copus or Copas in, for instance, the US may of course very well have had origins in countries other than England. Not surprisingly, Brian Copus is also often asked about the origins of the Copus surname, and there are useful notes on the subject on his home page, while some of the notes on his message board do also refer to this problem.

Brian himself commented in response to my recent enquiry on this matter, "I feel that I have gone as far back as it is possible to go with my personal ancestry, having got as far as William Copus, born in 1638 at Great Hasely, Oxfordshire, and that justifies being able to claim being of English origin. However, the earliest reference to the name I have found is that of the Physician Martin Copus, who was one of the Centuriators of Magdeburg in Germany and was recorded as being their treasurer, 1552-1574; he was also recorded as being a Lutheran scholar. This almost certainly confirms him as being German or Austrian. Then of course there was the composer Caspar Copus, born in 1523, who is referred to as being Hungarian. Of course I do not think for one moment that either of these gentlemen was one of my ancestors, but it does raise the interesting question as to how the name became widespread in England during the 17th century but appears to have died out as a German/Hungarian name."

Brian also kindly supplied various references to the origin of the Copus surname. As well as those citing possible German or Hungarian origins for some persons named Copus, these include, for example, one in "Surnames of the United Kingdom, A Concise Etymological Dictionary", by Henry Harrison (The Eaton Press, 190 Ebury Street, London, S.W., 1912). I have often heard it said that the origin of the Copus surname may have been something like "House on a hill", which does seem at least a reasonable theory in the case of Copus families in (or originating from) England; the derivation given for Copus in Harrison's Dictionary does appear to tie up with this.

Although it is impossible to say with any certainty how well-founded it might be (as surnames evolved some 700 years or so ago and there is no known contemporary record of the development of the Copus surname, or indeed of many others), for what it is worth, the derivation given for Copus in this Dictionary is as follows:-

"Dweller at the Copp-House (under Copp, and + Old English hus)".

The notes on "Copp" referred to include the following (as well as other possible derivations, including some tentative German ones):-

"English: topographic name for someone who lived on the top of a hill, from Middle English coppe, Old English copp, 'summit'."

My father, Geoffrey Copus, who started researching local and family history over 70 years ago, continues to be very interested in matters genealogical and historical and especially in the local and family history of Chelsfield in Kent. The book he published a few years ago, "Chelsfield Chronicles", was well received and he continues to sell copies to people from around the World who look upon Chelsfield and its people with affection. He and my mother Brenda were married at Chelsfield parish church, where my grandfather, Leslie Welch Copus, was organist and choirmaster. My parents have been retired for some time, but were themselves professional genealogists for many years. Like myself, though, they have never aspired to a great knowledge of the history or origins of Copus families unrelated to our own. I am perfectly willing to consider researching such other Copus families where feasible, but although invariably offering a discount for research of this kind, being a full-time genealogical researcher, I do have to make a reasonable charge even for this, as surely is to be expected.

My parents keep in touch with many branches of our extended family, so that it has always been quite rare for someone to contact us who is genuinely connected with our particular Copus family, but who was not previously known to us. However, since the publication of the original version of these present notes in March 2007, we have been both surprised and delighted to be contacted by no less than three people previously unknown to us, who are researching families which are clearly and indubitably related to our own family. Not only that, but their interests and their proven connections to myself and my family lie in quite separate branches of the extended family, though in each case the connection can be traced back to the Lambeth and Marylebone areas of London (Surrey and Middlesex respectively) in the 19th Century.

There had previously, over many years, been just one notable new Copus contact - in 1999, Mrs. Gillian Poland from Essex contacted me, and turned out to be relatively closely connected to my own family, although that connection was, it must be said, around 200 years ago. My great-great-great-grandparents Charles Copus and Kezia Baker were married at St. Mary, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, in 1827. Charles and Kezia Copus went on to have several children baptised at the same parish church, including my great-great-grandfather Cyrus Copus (1841-1921).

Gill Poland's ancestors, George Copus (brother of my own ancestor Charles Copus) and his wife Harriet, had several children baptised at the parish church of St. Mary, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, as well, one being a daughter whom they also named Harriet (born and baptised in 1838), who married John William Morley at St. Thomas, Portman Square, Marylebone, in 1859, from which couple Gill is descended. Gill has kept in touch with us and she and her husband have visited my parents' home and also some of the local history exhibitions which my father regularly helps to organise in Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells.

In memory of my sister Rachel Copus (1960-2003).

Matthew Copus
307 Dale Street
Kent ME4 6QR

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