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Penley Pearls

Our Name: Pinley/Penley Sanders/Saunders

Original Pinley and Penley Names

When this research began, it was assumed that early colonial records spelled as PINLEY and later variations were all phonetic mistakes for PENLEY, errors prolonged by 200 years of illiteracy on the frontier.  I am a Penley, and my direct line has been spelling the name rather consistently and "right" for generations.  Locating our Immigrant William Pinley's baptismal record in Staffordshire, England focused a new light on the spelling of our name.

Staving off an identity crisis,  PenleyPearls slowly and grudgingly accepted that my Penley spelling was probably the phonetic mistake.  Our William Pinley was born in 1618, only 40 miles from the village of Pinley.  William and his mother-in-law Hannah spelled the name Pinley. 

The name did not build this family. The family built the name, regardless of how it was spelled.

This should not be perceived as besieging anyone’s genealogy except my own. Fellow researchers should study the information and reach their own conclusions.

Debating the 'correct' spelling of Penley/Pinley/Pendley is a moot point until literacy allowed us to own and control our name. For 200 years after William and Hannah died, his orphans and their descendants struggled, with no sign of literacy in PenleyPearls' direct line until after the Civil War.  For seven generations in America, our family name was at the mercy of phonics. The literates who wrote down our name scribbled their own creative version of whatever they heard.  The random spellings of Pinley/Penley/Pendley/Pindley in the American colonies and along the frontier were happenstance, flukes of our own illiteracy. Maybe the various spellings and families were related in ancient times, maybe not. 

Even before esteemed genealogist Richard Scherer found our William Pinley's baptism, April 7, 1618, at Bradeley, Staffordshire, England, logic suggested the Pinley spelling.  As more and more colonial records were collected on William and his family, it was eventually noted that as long as William Pinley and his mother-in-law Hannah Mountney were alive, the name was almost always spelled with an I, Pinley or Pinly.  William and Hannah were literate and well educated for their day, both did legal work for courts, wrote and witnessed documents for others.  William's estate inventory was recorded as Pinley, the wills he wrote for others were signed William Pinley.  The Governor of Maryland arrested Wm. Pinley for sedition in 1650.  Hannah spelled her grandchildren's names as Pinley when she adopted them after William's death.   Read their chapters at PenleyPearls for more examples.   

Richard Scherer's discovery led us to William's parents and grandparents through the Bradeley Parish Register published in 1989 by the Staffordshire Parish Registers Society. The village is spelled as Bradley today, often listed as Bradley juxta[near]-Stafford, to distinguish it from another village by the same name elsewhere in Staffordshire.  As long suspected, William's parents' names were Thomas and Dorothy.  Bradley is located less than 50 miles from the village of Pinley, now within the city of Coventry. 

In spite of the close proximity to Pinley, spelling varies on the 20 entries of our name in the Bradeley Parish Register: Pinley-7, Pynley-5, Pinly-3, Pindley-3, Penley-2.  Spelling also varied between Saunders and Sanders, Bradeley and Bradley.  In England, most names with the Pinley spelling appear to rise from the Midlands, areas near Coventry.  A village, rugby team and many streets, clubs, farms, businesses and estates still bear the Pinley spelling, dating back to the Pinley Nunnery established there in the year 1132. 

Hereditary surnames were first used in 13th century England by aristocrats, mostly to secure inheritances.   Commoners lagged behind in choosing surnames for another 200 years, especially in rural areas. Henry VIII required the use of surnames in parish registers beginning in 1538.  Henry VIII wanted clear records for tax collection, with no concern for family historians.  When choosing a family name, birthplaces, occupations, physical characteristics or a parent's name were the most common inspirations.  No known occupations, given names or physical descriptions match any spelling of Pinley/Penley.  Ancient villages named Pinley, Penley and Pendley still exist. Thus, the origin of our name is most likely based on our geographic origin. 

The Sanders Mystery:

New finds in genealogy often generate new mysteries, and this baptism confirms that our Pinleys emerged from the Dark Ages connected somehow to a Sanders family.  As shown in the parish register, the name varied between ‘Pinley alias Sa(u)nders’ and ‘Sa(u)nders alias Pinley’ or just Pinley or Saunders/Sanders alone.  The earliest found use of the Saunders alias with Pinley was 1547 in Warwickshire, and randomly continued to appear through the 1740s.  Surnames were new for commoners in the 1500s, the process for assigning names evolved over time based on parents, locations, appearance or occupations.  Aliases were common additions for various reasons, most often used to preserve a connection to a maternal lineage of some importance.  Aliases sometimes reflected adoptions, second marriages, even illegitimate births.  Because the Pinley name was found with the alias for over two hundred years, it is thought most probable that it preserved an important maternal lineage rather than a singular event.  Beginning in 1534, Henry VIII required the recording of full names at birth, marriage and death.  There was probably a Saunders-Pinley marriage before 1534, or in a parish whose records did not survive, or have not yet been published online.

In the Bradeley register, the Saunders alias was most often used at birth. Only two burials and one marriage included the Saunders alias.   Our Immigrant’s parents were buried as Thomas Pinly and Dorothy Pinley.  There is no indication that William Pinley ever used the Saunders combination in Maryland or Virginia.  

And this is and will be