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Odell Genealogy and Odell Family History Information

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  • Abigail Odell (deceased)
  • Agnes Odell (1577 - 1626)
    Biography "It was shown in the last report that William Odell of Wharley, father of William and Richard, was buried in Cranfield on 22 June 1615. We now searched for William's will, which was found in...
  • Agnes Odell (1601 - bef.1633)
    Torrey, New England Marriages Prior to 1700, has William married to Rebecca Franklin in Concord, Massachusetts, 4 May 1629. Manning says he m (1) Agnes Franklin and (2) Rebecca Brown (1633). Mais h...
  • Justice Caleb O'Dell, Sr (1730 - 1798)
    A Patriot of the American Revolution for VIRGINIA - NORTH CAROLINA with the rank of LIEUTENANT. DAR Ancestor # A085590 "Over The Misty Blue Hills" p.121 "Caleb O'Dell and wife Alice arrived in Shenando...
  • Cranfield Odell (1436 - 1463)
    Reference: MyHeritage Family Trees - SmartCopy : May 22 2016, 2:19:14 UTC

About the Odell surname

Odell is an English habitational surname, used by families descending from the village and environs of Odell, Bedfordshire, England.

Per the Dictionary of American Family Names (Oxford University Press, 2013),

habitational name from a place in Bedfordshire, also called Woodhill, from Old English wad ‘woad’ (a plant collected for the blue dye that could be obtained from it) + hyll ‘hill’. Compare Waddell. (O’Dell) of the same origin as 1, but altered by folk etymology as if of Irish origin.

Today, almost all Odells live in the United States, with a little more than 2,000 still in England. Other Bedfordshire lines migrated to, in order, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand.

U.S. Odells

The first Odells to arrive in the United States did so during the Great Migration (1600s). Odells served in the American Revolution, in the American Civil War, and even in the United States Congress. The name has particular ties to Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

In the early 1900s, an alternative spelling of "O'Dell" began to emerge, and many family histories were altered to indicate an Irish background. Many American Odells have therefore been shocked to discover that they are in fact English. As of 2019, no American Odell line is known to connect to Ireland.

O'Dell & Irish (Mis?)Conceptions

As noted above, the Odell surname has consistently -- at least outside of England -- been perceived as Irish. In the U.S. in particular, some Anglo families have adopted a pseudo-Irish convention of "O'Dell."

In Griffith's surveys (1847-1864), 18 O'Dell families were found in County Limerick. In the 1964 Supplement to Irish Families, Edward MacLysaght stated -- based on family oral tradition -- that the Limerick O'Dells were descendants of the Bedfordshire Odells, and that they had originally used the spelling "Odle." The name "Odle" appears in historic Limerick records, beginning in the 1600s in association with an English Army officer and landlord stationed there. MacLysaght further contended that it became a common Limerick surname. Yet in Basil Cottle's Penguin Dictionary of Surnames (1967), he described the O'Dell surname as "rare: Clare-Limerick etc. English, originally Odell, a topomynic. Connected with Limerick since 17 cent. Remarkable reversal of usual trend." While there is no question that O'Dell families exist in Limerick, the O'Dell name certainly never became popular; as of 2011, only 75 people named O'Dell lived on the island of Ireland.

Foras na Gaeilge's extensive survey of historic Irish surnames has been unable to conclusively replicate MacLysaght or Cottle's findings regarding the origins or prevalence of O'Dells in Ireland, nor could Irish surname scholars Rev. Patrick Woulfe (1923) or Muiris Ó Droighneáin (1982). But the circumstantial evidence points to MacLysaght and Cottle being correct about the English origins. Almost all O'Dells live in the United States and England, and the U.S. and English O'Dells have their roots in Protestant England, not Catholic Ireland. LInguistically, there is no basis for "Dell" as an Irish Gaelic surname. And the population of O'Dells in Ireland is too small for it to be a native name.

What this amounts to is a quirky situation in which the "Irish" O'Dells are really of English origin, regardless of where they are located.

Swedish Ödells

Unrelated to the English and Irish families, there is also the surname Ödell, which exists in Sweden. Interestingly, the spelling "Odell" is more common there than "Ödell." It is most commonly found in Kalmar.