The Latta Name: The British Connection

The following article was submitted by Geoffrey W. Latta:

While most researchers into Latta genealogy have concentrated in the US, my own interest is rather different. I was born in Gillingham, Kent, about 40 miles south-east of London and only came to Philadelphia to live in the late 1970s. I am the first member of my direct family to come to the US. I had already started genealogical research in England and Scotland before coming here, but my curiosity was further enhanced shortly after arrival in Philadelphia by meeting one of the descendants of the "shipwreck" Lattas.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to trace my Latta ancestors back beyond my great-great grandfather, Thomas Latta, who was born around 1810, married Catherine McBlane (McBlain) in Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland in 1833 and died in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland in 1870. My so far unsuccessful efforts to trace his place and year of birth led me to compile a variety of unrelated information about the Latta name. While initially designed as a means of helping me find clues to my own family, this process became an end in itself as I became interested in the geographic distribution of Latta family members and the evolution of the spelling of the name. In addition, in the hope that family members might have come to the US, I also decided to research the 1850 US Census (aided by having to go to Washington frequently on business!).

The result is that I have:

The bad news is that although this constitutes quite a bit of information, it is not easily interrogated as I collected the information when I had more time than I have now so I have not computerized many of the records. (For the younger researchers, believe it or not there weren't PCs twenty years ago).

As many of you will recognize, records in Ireland are a disaster due to the destruction of most records in 1922. The single IGI page lists 23 records that meet the criteria for spelling and date listed above.


Clearly the lack of Lattas in England prior to the middle of the 19th century confirms that the name is Scottish (or Irish) by origin. There are 74 IGI entries for names prior to 1700. Of these, 60 are from Fifeshire, 6 from Ayrshire, 4 from Renfrew, 2 from Dumbarton and one from Aberdeenshire. The earliest entry is the birth of Janet Lata (or Glas) in June 1585 in Dunfermline, Fifeshire. Her parents were listed as John Lata and Margaret Glas. The second entry for May 1586 is the marriage of John Lata and Margaret Glass in Dunfermline! The relatively casual attitude towards the sequencing of marriage and childbirth is a recurrent theme in the records I collected.

The preponderance of Fife births has caused me to question the usual geographic explanation for the origin of the name. Black's Surnames of Scotland indicates that the name is a variant of Lawtie and is derived from the lands of Laithis in Ayrshire. It is possible that many of those with the name later went to Fife but the lack of names in Ayrshire is suspicious. While a partial explanation could be the better preservation and retrieval of Fife records, the existence of quite a number of earlier Ayr records for other names makes this a dubious thesis. The earliest Ayrshire reference is the birth of William Lata in Beith in June 1677. This is only the second non-Fife reference; the earliest is the marriage of William Lata in Aberdeen in May 1670.

After 1700, the name spreads across central Scotland with Fife remaining dominant followed by Ayr, Renfrew and Dumbarton. In the 19th century, entries for Glasgow and Edinburgh become more common. The name spreads into England in the 19th century, at first almost entirely to London and to a lesser degree the industrial and port areas of Lancashire (Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, etc.). The England and Wales registry has 97 entries between 1837-67; of these 69 are from London, 15 from Salford/Manchester, 9 from Liverpool and only four from anywhere else (2 from Sheffield, one from Leeds and one from Falmouth in Cornwall). The last of these was a death entry and one might guess that it could have been a seaman from somewhere else. This highly urban pattern of residence would certainly be consistent with immigrants from Scotland and Ireland. My own great-grandfather moved from Scotland to London at some time around 1860-65.

A perspective on the incidence of the name in Scotland is to recall the total population of the country. In the 1801 census, the population of Scotland was 1.61 million; at that time the population of England and Wales was 8.89 million. Scotland's population increased in the 19th century to 4.47 million at the 1901 census, while England and Wales increased even faster to a level of 32.53 million. By contrast, the population of Ireland fell. The area that is now Northern Ireland had a population in 1801 of 1.44 million, and by 1901 had fallen to 1.24 million.

Any views or research that can shed further light on the geographic origin or origins of the name would be most welcome.


Prior to 1700, I tracked names that were grouped together in the IGI. In order, the most common spellings were Lata (29), Lataw (8), Latto (8), Lattow (6), Lato (6), Latae (4), Latay (3), Latta (2), Latoe (2), Lattay (2), Laty (1), Latty (1), Lattou (1) and Latow (1). Spelling was as casual as one might expect in a society with limited literacy and two different spellings in the same family were not uncommon. The earliest use of Latta was in March 1644 when Walter Latta married Katharin Davidsone in Dysart, Fifeshire.

It is only in the mid-18th century that spelling begins to gravitate around certain patterns. In the 1750s, of 66 entries, 23 use Lata, 20 Latta and 8 Latto. By the 1790s, of 70 entries, 35 use Latta and a further 22 use Latto. The name Latto takes on a life of its own and seems to form a separate branch lasting down to the present day in Scotland. Geographically, the name is found mainly in Fife. Occasionally, the names still are mixed. James Latto, son of John Latto is born in Dumbarton in 1787; his brother, John Latta is born in 1789. The transition from Lata to Latta is more common as the latter spelling gains ascendancy.

Today, there are effectively only the two spellings of Latta and Latto that have survived. Casual review of telephone directories in the UK would suggest that the other variants have almost entirely disappeared.

First Names

Until the end of the 19th century, the selection of first names remained quite traditional. Prior to 1700, only 12 male first names appear in the listing of births; the most common were James (6), John (6), Thomas (5), Alexander (3), David (3), Robert (2), George (2), Patrick (2), William (2), Walter (2), Colin (1) and Charles (1). Among marriage listings and parents names, the name Andrew also appears several times although it had no birth listings and the name Hugh appears once. These 14 names dominate in the 18th century as well; the only names that are added during the whole century were Peter, Michael, Joseph, Matthew, Arthur, Henry, Durham and Graham, and in general these are isolated references. There are 12 female names prior to 1700; Janet (5), Margaret (5), Grissell (4), Christian (3), Agnes (2), Elisabeth (2), Eupham (2), Mary (2), and one each for Sophia, Alison, Katharine and Effie. Female names showed greater variety of spellings as well as including names that later fell into disuse like Grissell. The 18th century saw additional names for Ann/Anna, Jean and Helen. In contrast to the situation among the males all these three additional names were quite frequent. There were also additional references for Barbara, Lillias, Isabel, Ursula, Rachel, Bathia, Nelly, Marion, Susan, and Elspeth but these were much rarer.

Immigration to the US

The families that I researched from the US Census of 1850 were predominantly born in the US. Of the 132 families, 14 had heads of household who were born in Ireland, 2 in Scotland and one in England. Of the remaining 115, the majority had heads of household born in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, South Carolina or North Carolina.

These figures emphasize the Irish connection. As with the "shipwreck Lattas," Ireland was clearly a source of emigration. However, given the fact that the emigrants were mainly Presbyterian, they were Scotch-Irish, who presumably had moved to Ireland as part of the settlement that began early in the 17th century.

Accessibility of my Research

As I indicated, my records are only partially computerized. I am happy to try to answer specific queries if other researchers have British connections that you wish to explore. My address is given below.


As with all genealogical research, the odyssey through the existing records can be never-ending. I have had far more success in tracing back some of the other lines of my family than I have had with my Latta origins. However, even lack of success has brought its own intrinsic rewards of interest and I hope this article has shared some of those with you.


Address for Correspondence: 2432 Pine Street, Philadelphia, Pa 19103-6417