A Researcher's Guide to the

Renslow Family History


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Renslow Family Origins

© 1999-2000 Lawrence B. Renslow

Where did the Renslow Family come from? More than a dozen researchers are currently working on the Renslow Family History, but so far, our research efforts haven't led us to the original home of the Renslow Family. There are tantalizing clues, each, of course, pointing in a different direction.

One clue points to Portugal as the home of our ancestors. A letter was written by a great-granddaughter of William Ranslow (1766-?) in which she said that William was "probably a Portuguese sailor." Her use of the word "probably" indicated that she wasn't sure, so we can't be sure. The current location of the original copy of this letter is not known.

The Portuguese connection is plausible. Portugal was a sailing nation, and their sailors went everywhere. Ships from many nations carried Portuguese sailors. Most of the sailors eventually returned to their homeland, but many "went over the side," settling all around the world, in places where the living was good, or where the girls were pretty.

For example, California has a Portuguese-American population that's descended from Portuguese sailors who settled there during the nineteenth century. Many Portuguese sailors settled in Hawaii; I've heard it said that nearly everyone in Hawaii has some Portuguese ancestry.

In the United Kingdom, there are records showing the name "Renslow" (including variants such as "Ranslow"). These records are too few in number to be conclusive, but the mere existence of the name in a place suggests the possiblility that the name originated there. So, the Renslow name may have come from England, perhaps Yorkshire. It should be noted that proving where a name came from and proving where a family came from are two very different exercises.

The Renslow name may be a corruption or variant of the Dutch name "Rensselaer." Rensselaer is common in New York State, but is of Dutch origin. There are known examples of Rensselaer being recorded as Renslow, and of Renslow being recorded as Rensselaer (including variant spellings of both names). Is it possible that the Renslow Family is of Dutch origin, descended from the Rensselaer Family of Holland? Mildred "Cam" Cassens of Traverse City, Michigan, thinks so, and she was kind enough to write her opinion and allow me to make it available for reading on this web site.
WAS RENSLOW-RANSLOW ONCE RENSSELAER? by Mildred Campbell Cassens.

The Historical Research Center has opined that "Ranslow" is related to "Ransley," both having derived from "Ravensley." This apparently came from A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames by Charles Waring Bardsley. A later work, Surnames of the United Kingdom, by Henry Harrison, says "Ranslow" derived from "Ravenslawe" (Raven's Mound). The assertion of a Ranslow-Ransley link inspired David Eitzen to write his comments on the Origin of the Renslow Name.

It's been suggested that Ranslow derived from Winslow, but the evidence for this has yet to come to light.


A discussion of our family origin wouldn't be complete without a retelling of John Falkowski's tongue-in-cheek story of the Native American genesis of the Ranslow family. Long ago, in a hilly part of the land where no sensible person would run anyway, there lived a Native American with all of the usual talents of a brave, except one. He couldn't run worth a plugged nickel. In all his growing up years, every foot race he participated in ended up with one consistent, if mortifying, result. He came in dead last every time. After a while, it became obvious that there was an achievement of sorts here. No matter who was racing, no matter how slow some of the competitors might be, this young fellow managed to be slower. And so, with manhood on his horizon, when it came time for him to take his name, there was no doubt as to the name which would glorify his greatest talent.

He took the name Ran Slow.

And there began the history of the Ranslow family, a long line of hard working but none-too-speedy people, many of whom continue and enhance the great family tradition, proving their merit in the difficult-to-achieve test of growing older in the time it takes to cross the sidewalk and get in the car.

Lawrence B. Renslow, Pleasanton, California, 1999 ( Essay revised March 14, 2000)
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This page was last revised on April 2, 2005

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