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Coffin Genealogy and Coffin Family History Information

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About the Coffin surname

The origins of the name Coffin, have be subjected to decades of research and speculation. Many different theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the name Coffin, and who the first Coffin was.

In the Coffin family, tradition has it that the name is of Norman origin, Coffin was originally spelled Cophin, then Coffyn, and now Coffin.

This family history, puts the first recorded Cophin at around the year 1020 as a treasurer and court member of Robert I, “Robert the Magnificent” Duke of Normandy who was William the Conqueror's father. This makes the Coffyn's loyal supporters of the House of Normandy, the first English dynasty and this story was to to the political advantage of Coffin's in England, and their relationship to the Royal family.>

Chateau Courtiton passed from the Coffin family when a French Count by the name of Le Clere, married the last Miss Coffin (Cophin), who had inherited the estate. Falaise and the areas surrounding became famous during the WWII Normandy Invasion, during the battle of the Falaise Gap, which left the region in ruins.The first record of the family name was at Chateau Courtiton, located three leagues (6 miles) from Fallaise, in Normandy France. Fallaise is home of the major Norman castle and stronghold “Château de Falaise “ and is the birthplace of William the Conqueror. Chateau Courtiton is the birthplace of Sir Richard, of English fame.

The first recorded Cophin was treasurer to Robert the Magnificent, (also known as Robert I, Duke of Normandy) grandson of Richard I of Normandy, great-grandson of William I of Normandy and great-great grandson of Rollo, the Viking who founded Normandy.

The Normans were Viking raiders who invaded France, and after a failed assault on Paris, signed a peace accord granting them Normandy as a Duchy in 911. Normandy was established by the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte between King Charles III of West Francia and Rollo, leader of the Vikings known as Northmen, or Nortmanni, in Latin.

Few families, especially in America, can trace their genealogy back more clearly in the many centuries of the past than his. Chronologically he goes back to Tristram Coffin, who landed in this country in 1642, and settled on the island of Nantucket in 1660; and from this stock sprang all the Coffin race of America, now number ing many thousands. Tristram Coffin's ancestors are traced back in a direct line to Sir Richard Coffin, Knight, who accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy to England in the year 1066 ; and the Manor of Alwington, in the county of Devonshire, was assigned to him, and has remained in the family ever since, passing from father to son, in accordance with the law of primogeniture of England. The original stone house which has been occupied by the Coffins for so many centuries is still the residence of one of the family, whose name is John F. Pine Coffin, and who has an interesting family of ten children, and on a recent visit by one of the American branch seemed much gratified in recounting the history of the family. He was very cordial in his hospitality to the American Coffin, and showed the various and interesting 'manuscript deeds of the property, extending back many centuries. During this social call by the American his English kinsman said : " You will take some refreshment with me ; you will have tea and cocoa. I am a teetotaler, and do not offer wine to my guests." The butler brought in excellent refreshments. It is not probable that all of the Coffin race have been teetotalers, but it is a singular coincidence that the present owner of the original English estate and the subject of this sketch are precisely of the same habits in regard to intoxicating drinks. The estate consists of two thousand seven hundred acres. The coat of arms of the present family at Portledge has been blended with that of the Pine family, — a noted family of Devon with whom the Coffins are intermarried, — so it is not now the original coat of arms of the Coffin family. It is a singular fact that the name has become extinct in Normandy, but has increased to thousands in England and America. A careful observer cannot fail to per ceive a strong family resemblance among these numerous people, and certain character istics which are strongly marked. A French Count, by the name of Le Clere, married the last Miss Coffin, who inherited the estate of Courtiton, near Fallaise, Normandy, which is the birthplace of Sir Richard, of English fame. This estate is now owned by the great-grandson of the Count. Monsieur Le Clere is very courteous to the English and American Coffins who visit France and pay their respects to the birthplace of their distinguished ancestor. Only a portion of the original chateau is standing, but in the old church on the premises are all of the Coffin records and monuments. The name was originally spelled Cophin, then Coffyn, and now Coffin, as shown by the manuscript deeds from one generation to another. For centuries there has been a Pine Coffin in the English family. Ever since the first Sir Richard from Normandy entered England, this family has occupied honorable positions under the British government. They are now to be found in the army, navy, church, law, medical, and scientific professions, in England. The American branch has equally distinguished itself, and now men and women in every State in the Union are to be found, who came from this same family. In every college in this country may be found the name of Coffin among the alumni. Merchants, bankers, manufacturers, navigators, the learned professions, and sciences are well represented by this family in the United States.

Nothing of the parentage of that first Cophin is recorded, speculation runs the gamut from Viking to Greek, Jewish... It's really anyone's guess. The first Vikings in Normandy slaughtered the men, and took their women as wives. The Vikings took up residence in the French castles, towns and villages replacing the men they had slaughtered. So the first generation of Normans, that were born in Normandy, were of half Viking and half French descent. The Cophin's were likely of this Scandinavian and French descent, but it's unlikely we will ever know with any degree of certainty.

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Theories of the origin of Coffyn (Cophin, Coffin)

  • It was a name for someone who worked as a person who made baskets. Coffin is derived from the Old French words cofin and coffin, which in turn come from the Late Latin word cophinus, which means basket.' (The English word coffin is a specialized development of this word which did not exist before the 16th century, early burial practices did not include any type of box, like we associate with the term coffin) So the theory goes, the man in charge of the basket or container of gold was named after his occupation.

“In a letter to Mr. William E. Coffin, of Richmond, Ind., written in October, 1880, he thus describes the old Norman chateau which he had several times visited: It stands at the bottom of a hill in front of a lake. The drive to it is through ornamented wood, a zig-zag road descending to it. There is only the dining-room, kitchen, and part of the old house remaining, and the new part has two drawing-rooms built two hundred years ago, but looking nice. It was upon this old estate, perhaps, that the first Norman Coffyn, of English fame, was born; and, being one of the younger sons, having no hope of an inheritance, if he rose to distinction in life it must be by his own endeavors. Reared within two leagues of Fallaise, he may have often sported with the youthful William, and been a favored guest at the Ducal Palace. When Williams father, Robert, made his pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, never to return, Coffyns father may have shared In the vicissitudes of that expedition; and, if in the capacity of keeper of the Dukes strong box, the name of Coffyn may have dated from the return of that mournful retinue as an individualized surname.”

  • Cyffin in Welsh signifies a boundary, a limit, or a hill. Cefyn is the ridge of a hill. This has lead some to believe Coffyn was a word for “Guardian of the Border” or something similar.
  • The surname Coffin may have its origin from Co, which means high, exalted, and fin, a head, extremity, or boundary.
  • The surname Coffin may also be a nickname derived from the Latin word calvus, which means bald.
  • Some researchers think that Cophin (Coffyn) is a variation on Chauvin or Calvin.

The following humorous lines, descriptive of the characteristics of the different families residing on Nantucket Island, were written by one Daniel Allen, a native of the island, more than a hundred years ago:

"The hasty Coffin, fractious, loud,
The silent Gardiner, plotting,
The Mitchells good, the Barkers proud,
The Macys eat the pudding;
The Rays and Russets coopers are,
The knowing Folger lazy,
 A learned Coleman very rare, 
And scarce an honest Hussey." 

The Starbuck and Coffin families were a group of whalers operating out of Nantucket, Massachusetts from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Some members of the family gained wider exposure due to their discovery of various islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Related Surnames

Coffyn

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